Eastern secondary hopes to be better against Sycamores


Bryan Bund

Illinois State receiver Andrew Edgar catches a touchdown pass as Eastern cornerback DySaun Smith trails behind. The Panther secondary gave up too many big plays in the team’s eyes in a 48-10 loss to the Redbirds.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

The Eastern football team has faced some problems this season, that fact has been very prevalent through the team’s first two games. 

Issues particularly in the secondary plagued Eastern in its two losses this season, and ahead of the team’s home opener against Indiana State, remedying the secondary has been a focus. 

After suffering a 48-10 beatdown against Illinois State last week, one in which the secondary was torched multiple times deep down the field, head coach Kim Dameron and his staff vowed to look at every aspect of their secondary, and they followed through with those post game words this week in practice.

“We have looked at people, we have looked at combinations, we looked at coverages, we have looked at game plans, we have looked at everything we can think of,” Dameron said. 

The personnel in the secondary has consisted of all-conference cornerback Mark Williams generally playing on the right side, cornerback DySaun Smith on the left, Raymond Crittenden at free safety, Iziah Gulley at the rover position and Antonio Crosby at the hybrid star position. 

“The thing about college football is that, the guys that we have are the guys that we have and so when you are playing a young group there is going to be growing pains, but it’s not an excuse to play as poorly as we have,” Dameron said. “So, we have got to keep coaching, we have got to keep working.”

Cornerback Mark Williams, who has probably been picked on the least by opposing quarterbacks this season, had similar ideas to Dameron as to what has been happening in the secondary. 

“It’s just been a couple of busted coverages, we just have to get those tightened down,” Williams said. “It’s something we can fix, that’s the good thing so we have been looking into getting it fixed, so we’re hoping Indiana State will be a different game.”

Williams included that this secondary is young, but it is also talented. Smith is fast and athletic, Crittenden is a big and physical safety who also runs very well, so to this point, there has definitely been a feeling of under-performance by the unit. 

“In my eyes it’s definitely been a little bit of a letdown but we’re going to pick it up,” Williams said. “I’ve got faith in my guys that we’re going to pick it up.”

Counting Dameron, who used to play defensive back in college, Eastern has four secondary coaches on staff, and at this point Dameron feels all that is left to do is for the players to execute the plan on the field. 

Dameron is optimistic already that the secondary will be better on Saturday against the Sycamores based on what he has seen this week in practice.

“By no means are we all of the sudden going to be the best secondary in the country but we’re going to be better than we were a week ago,” Dameron said.

After studying film this week, it became clear to the staff that players were letting their eyes beat them rather than opposing receivers. 

“That’s the issue is that we have given up longer passes but just because of the position and our eye discipline and seeing the ball thrown,” Dameron said. “Our eyes, when we see the receiver running down the field, we have the tendency to lock in to more of a receiver than we do seeing the ball thrown.”

To explain exactly what is happening, Dameron cued up one of football’s old mantras, “the ball always takes you to the receiver, but the receiver won’t always take you to the ball.”

“If I am playing zone coverage, I need to see the ball, and that’s what we’re not doing,” Dameron said. “And that takes discipline and it takes reps. Its actually about that simple. So, we’re working, working, working this week to make sure that we get better.”

Other notes:

Eastern is expecting a physical game from the run-heavy Indiana State offense. The Sycamores, like the Panthers, utilize three running backs pretty regularly; Ja’Quan Keys, Titus McCoy, and Christian Covington. All of them have a rushing touchdown this season.

Indiana State quarterback Jalil Kilpatrick has only completed 11 passes this season. 

The Sycamores were 0-11 last season, one of those losses coming to Eastern, but Dameron is expecting to see a much-improved Indiana State team this time around.

Eastern will once again use both Harry Woodbery and Johnathan Brantley at quarterback.

After rushing for 99 yards in the loss to Illinois State, running back Jamal Scott is now listed as the No. 3 running back on the depth chart. He was not listed at all in the first two weeks.

This will be Eastern’s last non-conference game before moving into OVC play against Tennessee State next week.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].