The continuity and dominance of Western Kentucky’s defense is becoming evident through fall camp. Even after head coach Tyson Helton praised the defense for dictating the outcome of a scrimmage Saturday, the Hilltoppers defense kept it rolling by finishing Monday’s practice with forced turnovers, ending with high visible energy.
“We have to fly around and help the offense get their game better,” defensive back Ta’Corian Darden said. “(Defensive coordinator Clayton) White says all the time before we come on the field that we want to turn our energy up, that way when a big situation comes, all we have to do is turn it up a notch and keep turning it up.”
White isn’t reading too much into a productive period of camp for his unit in the first fall scrimmage. White is still installing new defensive schemes and said he expects this level of energy every day.
WKU is about two weeks away from its season opener against Central Arkansas on Aug. 29.
“It’s really about the message,” White said. “You can pat them on the back and tell them great job, but once again we are in training camp. So, we’re putting in new stuff and still training to get them ready for the game. That’s what I’ve been preaching. We’re in training camp and still getting game ready.”
The confidence Helton had in what White showed leading the defense in two previous seasons is why the third-year coordinator and most of his staff stuck around for 2019.
Despite a 3-9 record and inconsistencies on offense, the Hilltoppers defense allowed 16 and 15 points in the final two games, respectively. White said he hopes the energy in fall camp so far will help WKU finish games down the stretch.
“It’s keeping it competitive,” White said. “We’re fueled by ourselves. With us, it’s about finishing games.”
White pointed to the defensive line as a unit that’s standing out two weeks into camp. That group of defensive ends DeAngelo Malone and Juwuan Jones and defensive tackles Jaylon George, Jeremy Darvin and Jaylon Madden pushed around WKU’s offensive line at the line of scrimmage Saturday.
“We bring a lot of guys through the rotation and that helps us in the long run,” Darvin said. “We feel comfortable two or maybe even three deep at some positions, and that saves everybody’s legs and bodies throughout the season.”
WKU’s early noise on defense comes despite facing one of its most depleted position groups at linebacker. The top two leading tacklers left after last season and Eli Brown, the third most experienced of that group, went down in the spring with an injury. The Toppers brought in two transfers in Malik Staples (Louisville) and Jaden Hunter (Georgia) hoping to add depth to an inexperienced unit.
Junior Kyle Bailey has moved from safety to linebacker and redshirt junior Demetrius Cain will move off the defensive line to play an outside linebacker role.
Third-year linebackers coach Maurice Crum said that familiarity with White’s system is what’s keeping the defense ahead midway through fall camp.
“Anytime you are comfortable in something, you feel a lot better doing it,” Crum said. “I don’t necessarily have to focus on so much of the details, we’re working with a broader picture.
“It’s not A-B-C ball, we’re at D-E and F now.”