Optimism is palpable with respect to the University of Akron defense.
In practice Monday, the Zips continued to impress, getting three picks and showing speed and intensity.
But right now, the linebackers — Justin March, Jatavis Brown and Nick Rossi — look the most impressive. Ask coach Terry Bowden and he says things remain close in that regard.
“When you look at [defensive linemen] Cody [Grice] and Nico Caponi and the possibility of [others], I’d say there are other positions that give it a battle,” he said.
Indeed they could, but in practice March and Brown impressed with their speed and the ability to cover receivers in man coverage.
“I’d start with Justin March. No one has the intensity level and effort level on defense that Justin has,” Bowden said. “He understands the different level. When everybody gets to understanding that, they will be as good as they can be. I think the linebacking corps is closer than anyone else in understanding that.”
March plays with his motor on one speed, something the coaching staff emphasized the importance of since he arrived in Akron. But his confidence in his teammates allows him to do that.
“I know I can play overly aggressive because they are always around or somewhere near,” said March, a 6-foot, 226 pound junior. “I like their speed. I like how smart they are. I like everything about them.”
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato sounds as if he appreciates what he has not only for starters but their backups as well. “They can run and the three guys behind them can run,” he said.
But he’s honest in wondering just how good they can be given the Zips’ offense hasn’t been at full strength, having been hit hard with injuries to wideouts.
“Time will tell. Our wide receivers are decimated with injuries and I don’t want to put false confidence in them,” Amato said.
But there’s nothing wrong with a little optimism.
“Justin March is the one person who knows how to [play with intensity] every time,” Bowden said. “If everyone on our defense could do it like him, it would be an incredible defense. Every day they have to work on full speed from point A to point B.”
March said he will keep doing what he does.
“I try to lead by example. They know I play hard,” he said. “So I think it motivates them. We want to be around the ball; we want to get things going. I appreciate it.”
Williams on switching
Offensive lineman Isaiah Williams, who recently switched from defense, has little problem with coaches moving him. It gives the Zips some much-needed depth on the offensive line and gives Williams an opportunity.
“I moved to offense to give myself a chance to start. I have a good chance [to do that] playing offensive line,” said Williams, a 6-foot-3, 284-pound junior, after practice Monday.
He comes to that side of the ball with experience, having played left tackle in high school, he said.
“The switch isn’t too difficult. It’s about learning the plays and the assignments,” he said.
Answering the challenge
The Zips wideouts who are able to play answered Bowden’s challenge to step up. Most of the receivers caught balls, but more importantly, there were plays downfield as opposed to just dink-and-dunk passing.
“When the defense is playing as much man coverage as we did this spring, you have to get off the line of scrimmage,” he said. “If you don’t do that, and if you can’t make a catch downfield, you’re just playing flag football or Division III ball.”
Wide receiver Imani Davis returned to practice, but sophomore receiver Zach D’Orazio will be down for a few days, Bowden said.