Dukes aiming to improve defense

HARRISONBURG – The last two years have been rough for James Madison University’s football team on defense.

The Dukes allowed 28.7 points and 403.5 yards per game last season. Two years ago the Dukes allowed 29.0 points and 424.8 yards per game. JMU redshirt senior linebacker Gage Steele said that the players are very aware of what’s happened the last two years and are determined to change things this season.

“It motivates us a lot,” Steele said last week. “That is definitely something that we want to change. We’re well aware of what the past few years were like, and that’s why we’re so bought into the defensive scheme and we want to make it the best that we can. We want to come out here and get better every day.”

Bob Trott is the new defensive coordinator this year for the Dukes, and he has changed JMU’s base formation from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5.

Trott said the players have handled the changes well.

“The guys have been great. They’re buying into it,” Trott said. “It’s one step at a time. We’ve got some young guys here and it’s all new to them.”

Trott is one of many new coaches on the staff this season, brought in by first-year JMU head coach Mike Houston. Trott has 40 years of collegiate and professional coaching experience.

He has nine years of experience in the NFL, including working under former NFL coach Bill Parcells with the New England Patriots from 1993-95 and the New York Giants from 1991-92. He was a defensive assistant with the Giants and the defensive backs coach with the Patriots.

JMU redshirt junior linebacker Andrew Ankrah said the players are enjoying  playing for Trott and Houston this season.

“They’re pushing us and I know they’re never going to let off pushing us,” Ankrah said.

JMU returns most of their defensive players from last year and having experienced players should also help them.

Ankrah said that he feels like the defense is coming together so far.

“We feel like we’re connecting and were clicking on defense,” Ankrah said. “So we’re motivated to do well because we had a good spring defensively. We had a good spring ball. We’re just trying to continue. We’re just trying to build and it takes time. It’s going to take time, but I have faith that we’re going to continue to build and we’re going to be a good defense this year.”

Houston said the mental side of things is the biggest obstacle for the players to overcome.

“The big thing we’ve got to do is we just got to make sure we clean up all the mental stuff,” Houston said. “So we got to get everybody out there on the field, everybody healthy, everybody practicing on the same page.”

The Dukes have been strong on the offensive side of the ball the last two years, and with a lot of players returning on offense they should have another productive season.

If JMU’s defense can improve, the team has good reason to have high expectations. Steele said for the defense it’s simply a matter of pride.

“It’s definitely something that we want to change the view about JMU defense, and if we do it will be a good thing,” Steele said. “I’m really excited to see where this defense is going.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com