Flexible ‘fifty-two’ solidifies ‘D’


LeShon Johnson can certainly handle getting the Huskie football team some points, but can he keep the other team from scoring?

Obviously not.

That’s why there are 11 talented players to take care of that on defense.

“I think we have a little more team speed this year than what we’ve had in the past on defense,” said defensive coordinator Gary Evans. “And hopefully the young guys who haven’t played can mature in a hurry and help us have a solid defense.”

So Huskie fans can look for this younger and faster squad to improve on last season’s numbers, which included allowing 17.6 points per game, 15.5 fewer than the 1991 squad, and 349.2 yards per game which was good enough for 49th in NCAA total defense.

“Our biggest goal is to try to improve on the number of points we give up in a game and for the season,” said Evans, whose “fifty-two” defense will feature just three starting seniors.

“We may not have a lot of seniors, but we have a lot of guys that have the maturity to go out there and play, and that’s the biggest thing.”

These are the starters that will make up the “fifty-two” defense. The front five, representing the “fifty” are linemen Mike Adams (Jr.), Greg Bryant (Jr.), and Duane Arrindell (Fr.) and outside linebackers Steve Wild (Sr.) and C.J. Rose (So.).

The “two” portion refers to inside linebackers Tony Smith, a senior quad-captain, and Gerald Nickelberry (Jr.). The remaining four are junior cornerbacks MacArthur Griffin and Eddie Davis and safeties Eric Lacy (Sr.) and Chad Smith (So.).

The advantage to running this setup on defense is that there can be a lot of different looks. It allows for flexibility on the defensive side of the ball.

“Everybody has a lot of offensive formations and motions and we have to be able to be flexible and adjust to each and every one of them,” said Evans.

One variation of the “fifty-two” defense will be the nickel and dime packages that will have five or six defensive backs. This is a look Huskie fans will see a lot of with NIU being in the Big West. This conference is more of a passing-type league that will require additional help on the pass coverage.

So who is going to be the LeShon Johnson of the defense, or the player whose name fans will hear over the loudspeaker most often?

There is not just one.

Tony Smith will be a force to be dealt with. Last season he recorded 142 total tackles (84 solos) with two sacks, two interceptions and two caused fumbles. And watch out for linebacker teammates Rose, Nickleberry, Wild and backup Larry Williams who last season combined for 321 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and caused six fumbles.

Defensive backs Griffin, Lacy and Chad Smith should make some noise on the pass coverage end of the game, Evans said.

“Those guys have really come into their own, and they are all going to be names that people look for,” he said.

How tough is the schedule and how confident are our Huskie defenders?

As far as conference games go, Evans specifically pointed out Louisiana Tech and last season’s Big West Champ Nevada as being tough. And of course the away games against Iowa State, Indiana, Iowa and Mississippi will be challenges.

“We’re excited about the challenges and we feel we can play with anybody this year,” said Evans.

“I don’t see any game that we should lose,” said Tony Smith. “As long as we come out and play like we were taught, we’ll win every game.”

“Everybody has a lot of offensive formations and motions and we have to be able to be flexible and adjust to each and every one of them.

Gary Evans Huskie defensive coordinator