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2015 Butler Bulldogs Football Preview: The Defense

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – As the Butler Bulldogs head towards a new football season under head coach Jeff Voris in 2015, the key word on the defensive side of the ball is clearly “experience.” The Bulldogs certainly had their highs and lows on defense in 2014. While teams found it nearly impossible to run against the Bulldogs as Butler ranked 1st in the Pioneer Football League in Run Defense, the Bulldog passing defense was simply torched, dragging their tails behind their legs as the eleventh and worst team in the PFL in Passing Defense.

THE LINEBACKERS

Photo: Butler Athletics/Sean Horan (Brent Smith)
Photo: Butler Athletics/Sean Horan (Brent Smith)

Thankfully, Butler’s linebacking unit is the most experienced personnel group. Defensive coordinator Tim Cooper also serves as linebackers coach and he’ll have a lot of his play-making options back from 2014 to choose from as he puts together the depth chart each week.

“We have some guys there that have been through the system now 3-4 years,” said Tim Cooper. “They’ve got a really good knowledge of the overall scheme that we’re doing. Playing downhill, playing fast and being physical.”

While the Bulldogs lose top sack artist Bret Shannon to graduation, leading the team and 2nd overall in the PFL in 2014 with 8.5 sacks, Butler’s top five tacklers at the linebacker position return from a season ago. Headlining that group is redshirt junior Sean Horan. The Kings Mills, Ohio product recorded a team second best 80 tackles a season ago, including a team second best 9 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

Sophomore linebacker Ethan Brunhofer had 68 tackles in his freshman campaign for the Bulldogs, the third most on the team. He added an interception and 3 tackles for a loss. Redshirt senior linebacker Jordan Massey returns after posting 61 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and fumble recovery a season ago. Massey had a career-high ten tackles against both Wittenberg and Stetson.

Junior David Starkey and senior Kyle Payne round out the linebackers who bring back significant snaps from 2014. Starkey had two interceptions two sacks and a forced fumble along with his 54 tackles including 7.5 tackles for loss. Payne saw action in seven contests in 2014, making 28 stops, 2 tackles for a loss and one forced fumble.Sophomore Chris Boudoures appeared in five games for Butler a season ago with one tackle and 0.5 tackles for a loss.

“As far as the competition goes, we want to play a lot of guys. The more guys we can play on defense, the better we’re going to be,” said Tim Cooper. Sometimes the competing is just because those kids are so competitive themselves, as far as wanting to be with the 1’s, 2’s or whatever it is. It’s really about showing us they deserve to play.”

The newcomers feature one transfer and six true freshmen. Redshirt sophomore Dylan Banks arrives from Terre Haute, Ind., by way of Indiana University. Xavier Colvin is a local product from North Central High School in Indianapolis and is part of a true freshman class that includes Dan DelGrosso, Jack Disser, Nick Mahalak, Ryan Perkins, and Carter Raleigh.

THE DEFENSIVE BACKS

Photo: Butler Athletics/ DB Zach LaRoche
Photo: Butler Athletics/ DB Zach LaRoche

Among the position groups with the most to prove, the defensive backs are the team’s youngest and weakest…and it isn’t close. The Bulldogs will be without their team leader in tackles JoJo Ciancio and solid safety play from David Burke, but while they are young, several of the players gained valuable experience in their first season and will look to rebound together in 2015.

“Just getting that confidence and cohesiveness of working together, I think that is the big thing with the secondary, “ said Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs Coach Joe Cheshire. “You got to have four guys on the same page to make it work. That’s been our primary focus for camp. They’ve done a nice job, got a ways to go, but I like the improvement of the overall group for sure.”

Redshirt sophomore DB Jacob Balder finished the 2014 campaign fifth on the team in tackles with 59, including two for a loss. He also added an interception, a forced fumble and fumble recovery while appearing in all 11 games. Redshirt junior DB Zach LaRoche posted 44 tackles in 11 games, including one for a loss, and a fumble recovery and will be called upon as one of the secondary’s elder statesmen.

Redshirt sophomore DBs Adam Chappelle (10 tackles) and Taylor Wilson (seven tackles) also return to the unit, along with several players who saw action a season ago. Sophomore DB Isaak Newhouse played in all 11 games and had seven tackles. Sophomore DB Ryan Bradley appeared in Butler’s final eight games of the season. Redshirt senior DB David Leach enters his fifth season for the Bulldogs. He returns to the line-up after missing the 2014 campaign to injury and only playing in three games during the 2013 season, just recording one tackle.

The remaining portion of the roster will see their first action in a Butler uniform. Five defensive backs redshirted their initial season. That group includes Mac Carrier, Mike Cerone, Noah Cralle, Kevin Driscoll, and Cameron Langer. True freshmen include Parker Chalmers, Dan Ellsworth, Justin Markus, Michael Reilley, Dalton Rogers, Luke Sennett, and Eric Stepp.

The Bulldogs ranked dead last in the PFL last year in pass defense. It was a squad that allowed opponents to complete 64.1% of pass attempts for a total of 3443 yards, 7.9 average yards per attempt, a league high 30 touchdowns and 313 average yards per game. Butler ranked 9th out of the 11 PFL teams in pass efficiency defense with a 147.9% mark.

Butler’s secondary will rely on young talent in 2015 as the group matures together and gains experience along the way. No doubt a tough task, as they look to replace JoJo Ciancio, who led the team with 83 tackles, including 3 interceptions, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, and David Burke, who recorded 43 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble, in 2014.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” said Joe Cheshire. “I think its fun though. As a coach you kinda get a fresh group to mold. That’s kind of what we’ve been working with this whole group. Molding that image and molding that brand of who we are and what we want to be.”

 

THE DEFENSIVE LINE

Photo: Butler Athletics/ 2015 Butler Bulldogs Defensive Line
Photo: Butler Athletics/ 2015 Butler Bulldogs Defensive Line

 

The Butler defensive line will include increased snaps for several players in 2015 and some initial action for others as the Bulldogs reload along the defensive front after losing a good portion of the position group to graduation.

“I think we have a core of leaders,” said Defensive Ends Coach Lee Rose. “We definitely graduated some really good players last year, some guys that have been starters for 2-3 years, guys that have been all-conference guys, guys that have won a lot of accolades. I think we have a good, talented young group right now.”

DL Josh Willis returns for his junior season. The Maryland native recorded 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 2014. He’ll be one of the Bulldogs called upon to lead this unit after being second on the team in quarterback sacks with three in 2013. Sophomore DL Connor Andras will play a larger role on the defensive side of the ball this season after gaining experience on special teams a year ago. Andras recorded one tackle last season.

Redshirt junior DL Jordan Ransone and DL Adam Rodgers will log significant minutes up front, utilizing their size to disrupt the pocket. Ransone recorded 11 tackles, including three tackles for loss and had one pass break-up last season. Redshirt sophomore DLs Chad Burdo and Ellis Cupit will be part of that rotation as well. Burdo recorded eight tackles, including one tackle for loss last season. Both Burdo and Cupit were named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll in 2014. Redshirt freshman Matt Hawkins will benefit from a year in the program after earning Butler’s Co-Defensive “Unsung Hero” Award (Scout Team MVP) and being named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll.

Redshirt sophomore DL Danny Banks transfers into the program from Indiana University. He’ll see time along the defensive line along with two other holdovers, Redshirt sophomore DL Curt Beckman and redshirt freshman Mark Geers. Beckman recorded eight total tackles, including two tackles for loss, .5 sacks and two pass breakups. Geers possesses a 6-7 frame that should disrupt throwing lanes after earning Butler’s Special Teams “Unsung Hero” Award (Scout Team MVP).

Depth comes in the form of redshirt sophomore Zach Bacon and true freshmen Jared Harris, Nik Kessel, Tyler Reed, Joseph Camacho, Aleks Dragin, Barrett Kelly, Matt Loberg, and Sammy Szames.

The Butler defense will rely heavily on the defensive line applying pressure on the quarterback. This will be a bit more difficult with the loss of DL Kyle Annis and DL Glen Sommers. The Bulldogs ranked second in sacks by with 25 total sacks, two shy of first, 174 total yards and an average of 2.27 yards lost in 2014. The Bulldogs also hope to reciprocate the success of ranking 1st in run defense in 2014 after losing such key players to graduation. On 385 attempts, opponents earned 1218 yards for 3.2 yards per carry average. The 9 rushing touchdowns allowed led to an opponent average of 110.7 rushing yards per game, both conference bests in 2014.

THE DEFENSE: OVERALL

As far as overall defense, Butler finished 9th in total defense by allowing a league best 1218 rushing yards, a league worst 3443 passing yards allowed, 822 plays against, 4661 total yards allowed, 5.7 average yards per play,  39 total touchdowns and 423.7 average yards per game. Butler managed to put up high marks in rushing defense (1st) and sacks by (2nd) in the conference. Butler even had the best Red Zone Defense, allowing scores on 29-of-41 attempts (70.7%), 20 touchdowns (7-13 run vs passing scores), 9-of-11 on field goals and 3 turnovers. But the highs didn’t outweigh the lows for Butler in 2014. The Bulldogs will look to improve on a 7th place finish in Interceptions, 6th in Scoring Defense, 8th in Opponent First Downs with 244 and a dead last rank in Pass Defense in 2015.

The Bulldogs open the 2015 campaign Saturday, Sept. 5 at Indiana State. The home opener is slated for Saturday, Sept. 12 when Butler hosts Franklin. PFL action begins Sept. 26 when Campbell visits the Butler Bowl for Butler’s Homecoming Weekend.

Chris Fultz is a senior writer for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by Butler Athletics and has full media access. Follow @CafultzISR and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter

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