Defense hopes to improve against Tennessee State


Bryan Bund

Corneliuss Page and Iziah Gulley chase down Illinois State wide receiver Braxton Haley during Eastern’s 48-10 loss to the Redbirds at Hancock Stadium on Sept. 8.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Eastern football head coach Kim Dameron was honest when discussing the state of his team’s defense, which has given up 52.7 points per game this season, saying that he knows the unit has to be better. 

But even after a week of practice and learning, he was not sure if it would be improved Saturday against Tennessee State. 

“I hope we’re going to be much improved, but I don’t know,” Dameron said. “It’s going to remain to be seen. (Tennessee State) has great athletes, they’ve got great coaching and we have got to find a way to tackle people. Especially when they get in the open field, right now we have not been able to get them on the ground.”

The defense this season has been so bad it prompted the coaching staff to look at every aspect of the unit. Personnel, schemes, everything and anything that could be looked at to help the defense turn itself around has been. So, it will be very interesting to see what the defense looks like when the Panthers take the field on Saturday. 

The past two weeks of practice for Eastern have been focused on fixing the defense. Prior to the Indiana State game, the main thing being looked at was the secondary; now, however, the secondary and every other unit has been under the magnifying glass. 

“What we’re doing is trying to get better fundamentally,” Dameron said. “I mean we have always been some three-down and some four-down. So, depending on what we do or what’s working, but right now we’re going to start off with three down, but who knows, we’re going to do whatever we can find that works.”

Dameron went on to say that what set they line up with will not be as important as the team simply just tackling better.

Tackling has been the major theme of all three of the Panthers’ games on defense this season. To put it frankly, Eastern has not been tackling. It cost them big plays against Illinois State and Indiana State. Linebackers and defensive lineman were letting the running backs slip right through their hands and the secondary had just been flat out missing guys.

Eastern gave up 326 yards on the ground to Indiana State and 254 to Illinois State. Some of this was because of tackling, and some of it was Eastern’s lineman getting bullied up front by the big offensive lineman that the SEC and MVC typically boast. 

Perhaps facing an OVC team will help correct this problem somewhat, but as Dameron said, the team just needs to be better fundamentally. 

Tennessee State does not run the ball much, but Eastern’s secondary will be tested by the Tigers’ passing game, led by quarterback Michael Hughes. Hughes will be aided by receivers Steven Newbold, Chris Rowland and Treon Harris. Eastern knows what the trio brings to the field and is expecting them to cause problems.  Newbold was selected to the preseason all-conference team.

Other notes:

-Tennessee State has two all-conference defensive backs in Vincent Sellers and Dajour Nesbeth. They will be testing Eastern quarterback Johnathan Brantley all game. 

-After a quarterback battle that dates back to last spring, Johnathan Brantley is now listed as the No. 1 guy on the depth chart. However, Dameron said Harry Woodbery will still see playing time behind him. 

-Running back Jamal Scott, who leads the team in rushing, has moved up to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Prior to week two he was not listed at all, and prior to last week he was listed as the number three. 

-Tennessee State has only been able to play in one game this season because of weather cancellations. 

-Tennessee State is 2-9 at O’Brien Field. 

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