This fall, as the influence of the spread offense continues to grow and the Wildcats go through a shift in their own personnel, that philosophy is going to change.
Villa Rica will transition to more of a traditional 4-3 defense in 2010, away from the 8-man front directional scheme that featured their smaller, quicker performers in other seasons.
It’s a move designed to harness what the team’s top-line defenders can do best, Wildcat coach Rob Cleveland said.
“We’ve kind of changed into more of a three-linebacker defense, so we don’t put ourselves at a disadvantage,” Cleveland said. “We’re probably not as athletic and as quick as we’ve been in the past few years. But we’re bigger. So that’s why we’ve sort of changed our style a little bit.”
The Wildcats have five returning defensive starters, led by captain and strong safety Tay Monroe, who will start for the third straight season.
“We play more as a team than we do as individuals,” Monroe said. “We’re not worried about individual stats so much as we are winning. We all want to win, and that’s the main goal.”
Last season, VR encountered more spread offenses. That left the Wildcats vulnerable to zone read plays and running backs coming out of the backfield in passing situations. Monroe said opponents’ shift in focus from rushing to passing was a big reason why VR has made the adjustment.
Cleveland also operated as the team’s defensive coordinator last season. This fall, he’s given those duties to assistant Jason Robinson.
“We just feel like it will be better for us in the long run with the different type of offenses we’ll see this season,” Robinson said. “The defense we used in the past was more of using the speed of our defensive linemen to get in the backfield and make plays. We don’t have that quickness up front right now.”
That will put more of the onus on the team’s linebackers, a unit led by middle linebacker B.J. McCoy.
“Of course, the 4-3 defense is centered around the MIKE linebacker, and that’s B.J. McCoy,” Robinson said. “He’s had a good year in the offseason, in the weight room and all. We’re looking for him to have a big season.”
Defensive ends E.J. Varner and Jacob Turner, who both started last season, will account for some of the Wildcats’ increased physical presence up front. So will senior defensive tackle Brandon Brown.
“We just have to play as one,” Brown said. “Not try to go for yourself. Just play as one. One program.”
Adjusting to the new defensive strategy shouldn’t be the biggest challenge VR’s defense faces this year. Both Cleveland and Robinson said dealing with a lack of depth throughout the unit will be the focus in case of injury.
Still, the talent is there among the starters to make the switch work.
“We don’t have a lot of depth,” Cleveland said. “But the kids we’re gonna put out there to start the ball game are very capable of playing solid defense and giving us a chance to win every Friday night.”