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Northern Michigan football team has its secondary concerns

’Cats are taking their lumps with inexperienced DBs

September 27, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - After the Northern Michigan University football defense gave up 45 points at Findlay in Brian Newberry's debut as defensive coordinator, the former Baylor University Bears defensive back admitted to a restless bus ride back from Ohio to the Upper Peninsula.

Newberry said Wednesday his sleeping habits haven't improved much five weeks into the season. However, he insists the Wildcat defense has.

"I'm a competitor and it's human nature as a defensive coordinator, defensive coach, you don't want to give up points," Newberry said. "It's frustrating, but I think we're taking steps to getting it corrected.

"We're getting better despite giving up 40 to a very, very good Ashland team."

In three GLIAC games this season, the Wildcats have given up 40 or more points, with 47 being posted by Ohio Dominican in Columbus in Week 3 and 42 being scored last week by Ashland at the Superior Dome on Homecoming.

Ashland picked up its points in a much different fashion, however, than Findlay or ODU. The Oilers and Panthers used big-plays of 20-or-more yards and short drives of less than five plays to bury the Wildcats, with five of the 12 touchdowns coming on plays of 40 or more yards.

The Eagles only had one touchdown come on a play of 20-plus yards, however. All but one of AU's six scoring drives came on nine or more plays, giving Newberry confidence that 40-point outings will soon be a thing of the past, starting with Northern's 1:30 p.m. North Division game Saturday at Hillsdale.

"We told them last week going into the game, 'If they're going to score, they're going to earn it. We're not going to give them any gifts,'" Newberry said. "I thought we did that for the most part."

"What we didn't do was give up the two- or three-play drive, which was good. We did have a different plan. We dropped eight, we mixed our coverages a little bit, but we kept everything in front of us."

Northern rushed three down linemen for much of the game because of its inexperience in the secondary, which has been shuffled since the start of the season.

The move has resulted in the Wildcats getting younger in the backfield.

Junior Brandon Parson has moved from free safety to his natural position at corner, with sophomore cornerback Nick Krause joining him on the opposite side.

True freshman Thomas McNamara is playing free safety and sophomore Derek Beltrame of Ishpeming just last week worked his way back into the starting lineup at strong safety after being benched for two games following the loss at Findlay.

NMU had brought in a pair of junior college transfers out of Santa Rosa, Calif. during training camp in juniors Chris Collins and Armoni Broussard to play corner, but both have taken back seats to younger 'Cats.

"What we want to do is get our best players on the field," Newberry said. "It's never about age or youth or anything like that. We're trying to get the guys on the field that give us the best chance to win."

Krause leads all defensive backs in tackles with 17 solos and 11 assists for 28 total - second behind senior linebacker Eddie Knoblock - while Parson has 15 solos and six assists.

Parson, originally charged to lead the secondary during training camp, said the switch has been good not only for him, but for McNamara and the team as a whole.

"It's more of a natural feel to me," said the former Alabama A&M corner. "I feel like it was a better move for the team, so we just decided to move me to corner.

"McNamara has stepped up. He's been doing a good job at safety, embracing his roll."

Parson said McNamara has been able to grasp Newberry's defensive scheme quickly. After a little help from the junior at first, is now handling most of the play-calling in the secondary.

Newberry said the free safety position can be a stressful role for a true freshman, but McNamara is handling the pressure well.

"Thomas is a very smart kid," Newberry said. "He's done a good job of getting us lined up. Every week, I'm getting more and more confident in him."

Hillsdale (3-1 overall),in a four-way tie at 3-0 atop the GLIAC with Grand Valley State, Northwood and Michigan Tech, statistically has been a more productive offense than Ashland this season, averaging 37.5 points and 428 yards of total offense per outing.

Running back Joe Glendening leads the Chargers' attack, averaging 138.8 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry and has five touchdowns on the season.

Meanwhile, Chargers quarterback Anthony Mifsud is throwing for an average of 224.2 yards per game and has 10 TDs through four games.

Newberry said he plans to continue the more conservative approach from Homecoming of keeping the play in front of the defense backs and not leaving corners alone in man-to-man coverage.

"As a coach, you have to put them in a position to be successful," Newberry said. "I've got to do a better job of putting guys in position to be successful and we have to learn from our mistakes."

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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