MUNCIE – It's no secret the Ball State football team – including the defense – has struggled lately. The Cardinals were ranked behind nine other teams in the Mid-American Conference a year ago in total defense. New Ball State coach Pete Lembo isn't buying that this year's defense can't make substantial improvements and his team be competitive this fall.
“Every defense has its pluses and minuses,” Lembo said.
“We feel good about our ability to both hold up against the run and have a variety of zone blitzes.”
The Cardinals will play out of a 4-3 alignment, which is what Ball State did last season after switching from a 3-4 in 2009. Lembo believes the Cardinals have the talent and depth to implement his system.
“We're a base 4-3 because in most cases you can find two or three good inside guys and an adequate number of defensive ends,” Lembo said.
“This is what (defensive coordinator) Jay Bateman has done for years. He's got a system that he believes very strongly in.”
A lot of focus will be on the front seven defenders and how they can contain the opponents' running game, as well as pressure the quarterback. But Lembo believes a valuable asset to this year's Cardinal defense will be the defensive secondary.
“We knew we had an experienced secondary,” he said. “Those guys allow us to play a number of different coverages. From an experience standpoint and a talent level, we feel we can play zone or we can play man (defense). We can put a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.”
With the versatility the Cardinal players show also comes a lot of maturity to be able to grasp what the coaches are instructing and perform not just physically, but mentally.
“We want to become very multiple,” Lembo said. “We want our players to be students of the game. We're going to challenge them mentally, as well as challenge them physically to be very multiple. We're going to be demanding in terms of their ability to handle a variety of different schemes.”
In studying game film from a year ago, Lembo and his staff felt that often the mistakes made by the defenders were simple to evaluate and correct.
“Part of the mistakes was fundamentals,” Lembo said. “We are practicing longer (this year), and a lot of that time is being put into basics: tackling, pursuit and causing turnovers.
“The longer you are out here (in practice), the more time you can put into those little things that regardless of scheme, you need to do those things right.”