Young linebacker makes his case at scrimmage

Joe Harrington

Freshman defensive back Will Johnson tries to make it past a defender during the team’s scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Dix Stadium. Tracy Tucholski | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

The Kent State football team’s defense stole the spotlight from an offense that has dominated all the attention this spring during Saturday’s first true scrimmage at Dix Stadium.

Amid a fierce quarterback battle, a re-tooled offensive line and the Mid-American Conference’s leading rusher in 2007, defensive end Monte Simmons may have just made his case for the spring football’s most improved player. A true freshman last season, Simmons recorded eight tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble as the defense completely dominated the offense in the first of three spring scrimmages.

“It’s all about having fun, but doing your job, that’s what it’s all about,” Simmons said.

The Pittsburgh native played in all 12 games last season, recording only 19 tackles and three-and-half sacks playing behind seniors Colin Ferrell, Larry Brown, junior Darrius Carter and sophomore Kevin Hogan.

With Brown and Ferrell gone, Simmons’s ability to rush the quarterback will be crucial to the Flashes’ success.

Kent State plays a 3-4 defense, but frequently places a linebacker (Hogan) on the defensive line, so if Simmons can continue to generate these type of numbers, the Flashes may have one of the most improved pass rushes in the MAC.

“The thing to me, it’s not about numbers,” Simmons said. “It’s great to have it, but it’s not about numbers — it’s about doing your job. That’s the best thing about the transition from high school and college. High school is all about the big hit, getting the numbers and stuff.

“As soon as I got here, I was like, ‘Well, wow, I don’t have to do that.’ All I have to do is do my job and (coaches) will be happy,” Simmons said. “It’s not about the numbers to me, it’s a great thing … of course I want a sack once in a while.”

Other than Simmons, Hogan and senior linebacker Derek Burrell both had seven tackles. The defensive backfield, playing a majority of man coverage (a mandate from Kent State coach Doug Martin), took advantage of offensive miscues, forcing eight turnovers, some coming off the center-quarterback exchange. Junior Kirk Belgrave returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown.

“We’ve not played much man coverage around here, and now we’re playing quite a bit,” Martin said. “We did it designed to make the secondary play the ball. They can’t just stay in that zone and say what someone else’s responsibility is, or ‘you got this guy, you got to play it.’ I don’t know how much man coverage we’re going to play next year, but we thought it would make (the defensive backs) better.”

With sophomore quarterback Giorgio Morgan arriving late to the scrimmage — therefore spending two hours running around the track, running up stadium stairs and even pushing a golf cart around the football field — senior quarterback Julian Edelman had the most first-team offensive series. Martin said Morgan’s tardiness is disappointing, but after Morgan’s long day of physical workouts, the messages have been sent.

The offensive numbers were modest with Edelman throwing for 81 yards and adding 65 rushing yards with a touchdown. Junior quarterback Anthony Magazu also saw action for the second time this spring as he is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Junior Eugene Jarvis rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore wide receiver Leneric Muldrow led the team with 70 receiving yards and a touchdown.

But the debate will rage throughout spring: Is the defense that good or is the offense just struggling? But Martin isn’t worried about that just yet. He said Saturday’s first scrimmage was a typical one for early spring, with the second-team offense on a much lower level than the first team and sloppy play as the scrimmage winded down.

Toward the end of the scrimmage, with the Flashes going through situational plays and goalline formations, the team struggled with penalties ranging from jumping offsides to too many men in the huddle. But overall, Martin was pleased with his team’s first scrimmage.

“Offensively, I thought it wasn’t too bad for our first scrimmage,” Martin said. “I was pleased with the way our young offensive linemen looked and how senior Jameson Konz performed in his first live action at tight end.”

Contact assistant sports editor Joe Harrington at [email protected].