Dameron confident in defense

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Jason Howell

Jason Howell | The Daily Eastern News Red-shirt junior saftey Jourdan Wickliffe covers red-shirt freshman wide receiver Jack Kwiatkowski during the football team’s Monday night practice at O’Brien Field. Wickliffe was named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference first team last year and was named to the All-OVC team this preseason.

Aldo Soto, Sports Editor

The Eastern defense lost starters both in its secondary and defensive line after last year’s 12-2 season.

With a new head coach in Kim Dameron came a new defensive philosophy and the need to replace defensive backs Pete Houlihan, Alex McNulty and Nick Beard.

Those three seniors from last year’s conference-winning team now have to be replaced with either transfers or younger players.

A lot of experience left with the trio, as Houlihan made 13 starts at cornerback, McNulty played in 14 games making the final eight starts at the other cornerback position and Beard made 13 starts at safety earning All-Ohio Valley Conference honors last season.

The transition with a new defensive scheme has gone well with the new players, as the season opener at Minnesota approaches.

“Our young corners are starting to come along,” Dameron said. “The fact that we were able to get Anthony Standifer and Cedric Julius, that were both transfers, as well as bringing along some other young guys makes me feel good about corner.”

Standifer transferred from Ole Miss in May following two seasons with the Rebels. The junior cornerback played in three games each of his two years with Ole Miss.

Julius was a part of Dameron’s first recruiting class this past February, when he transferred from San Bernardino Valley College. The 5-foot-10, cornerback is a sophomore.

One area of the defense that does not concern Dameron is the safety position, where junior Jourdan Wickliffe returns after starting all 14 games last year at strong safety.

Wickliffe led the Panthers in tackles with 91, (eighth in the OVC) had four forced fumbles and had three interceptions last season. He was voted to the All-OVC first team.

Despite the confidence Dameron has in the secondary, he said the defensive roster is not as full as he would want it to be.

“At safety we have a little bit of experience, but we’re thin at all spots of our defense to be perfectly honest with you,” Dameron said. “We have to move pieces around kind of like a chess match.”

The Panthers do have more experience in their secondary to go along with the SEC-transfer Standifer and Juluis. Red-shirt senior DJ Bland made five starts as a defensive back, playing in all 14 games and Anthony Goodman, who played in every game making one start, also provide some depth for Dameron’s secondary.

Eastern has its linebacking core back intact.

Junior Kamu Grugier-Hill and seniors Adam Gristick and Robert Haynes played in all 14 games last year. Gristick started all 14 at outside linebacker, while Haynes started 12 games at middle linebacker. Grugier-Hill only made five starts, as he split time with two other linebackers.

The biggest name no longer on the Panthers’ defensive line is Pat Wertz, who led Eastern in sacks last season with 6.5.

“For the most part we’ve got some guys who are capable and they’ve played a lot last year and won a lot of games,” Dameron said.

Red-shirt junior Dino Fanti and senior Laquesse Taylor are a few players from the defensive front that Dameron said are stepping up so far during this preseason camp leading up to the start of the season.

Fanti was a disruptive force last year along with Wertz, as he finished with five sacks, starting all 14 games at defensive tackle, while leading the team with 14.5 tackles for loss.

Defensive end Fedney Delphonse, who made 10 starts last season, is also making good progress along with Fresno City College transfer Thomas Coronado.

After two seasons in junior college, Coronado joined by Delphones looks to cause pressure on the quarterback from their respective end positions.

“We feel good about the fact on where we are,” Dameron said. “We just have to stay healthy. We can’t afford to have a bunch of guys hurt and like anybody we could get thin in a hurry.”

Aldo Soto (@AldoSoto21) can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]