By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah football coach Paul Barnes is often amazed during the Hornets' defensive team meetings. He blithely absorbs the meetings along with the rest of his team, which is making the transition from a base 4-3 scheme to a 3-4.
Barnes, a former offensive line coach, sits, listens, watches, wonders. Defensive coaches plot schemes and plays on a board, and Barnes is swept away.
"The stuff they get up on the board, I feel like I'm in a meeting with Dick LeBeau, I really do," Barnes said.
LeBeau, the NFL's Hall of Fame cornerback turned Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator, developed the zone blitz, a scheme run out of the 3-4 set. The zone blitz consists of a traditional four-man rush, but is a masterful concept because it sends pass rushers into pass coverage and vice versa.
"We think the 3-4 does a lot of things to you," Barnes said. "No. 1, it puts the offense in a guessing game, because you don't know which linebacker is coming, and in pass protection that's very critical."
A year ago, Shenandoah boasted one of the strongest defenses in the USA South. By season's end, SU ranked third in scoring defense (21.4 points), first in pass defense (145.2 yards), and first in total defense (303.3 yards).
But as proud as Barnes was of his defense's toughness and grit and durability, the Hornets managed only 14 sacks for a loss of 63 yards.
To compare, defending USA South champion N.C. Wesleyan sacked quarterbacks 36 times for a loss of 227 yards.
Shenandoah's switch to a 3-4 is meant to take advantage of its aggressive linebackers, who were the strength of last year's defense. Middle linebacker Joe Lunsford has graduated, but Corey Giffing will move from weak-side linebacker to fill Lunsford's vacant spot. John Redmond returns at strong-side linebacker, Trey Cregan will line up on the weak side, and former defensive end Blake Campbell will fill the fourth spot.
"I hate to say this, but I think we should have done it earlier," Barnes said of moving Campbell to linebacker. "We just thought he was an athlete -- I mean what he could do ... he can get back and drop and cover some people -- he's a pretty good athlete and we like what we did back there with him."
The defense's question marks, Barnes explained, are on the defensive line, where Shenandoah returns only one starter -- sophomore Nick Erdman.
Khalid Johnson and Colby Martin impressed Barnes in the preseason, but like Erdman, they're both sophomores.
"They're more than capable of doing the job," Redmond said. "They play some smart football, which is what we need on our defense.
"We don't want any individuals ... we want someone who's going to buy into our team concept, and that will do their job every single play and do it hard."
Barnes was also impressed with cornerbacks Pat Purcell and Phil Volz, who should bring stability to a position that was in a state of flux last season.
At safety, returning juniors Sean Purcell and Larry Gibbs will complement the linebacking core splendidly: Purcell will captain the secondary, and Gibbs had six interceptions last season.
On special teams, Shenandoah might have stumbled upon a gem. Former James Wood place-kicker Andrew Lloyd, who was greyshirted at Virginia Tech last season, will solidify a special teams unit responsible for much of last season's 1-9 debacle.
Barnes is quick to point out that Lloyd hasn't won a game for the Hornets yet, but there's no denying Shenandoah has made a significant upgrade at the position.
Last season, SU lost six games by three points or fewer.
Barnes said that, at least in practices, Lloyd has done away with last year's place-kicking concerns: he's converted kicks from more than 40 yards out, and his kicks have been quick enough to beat the oncoming rush.
"[Kicking coach Fred Pinciaro], he's an awesome coach," Lloyd said. "So I went ahead and took the opportunity [to play at SU].
"Hopefully I can help them out this year on special teams."