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ODU: Monarchs are in a rush

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: August 28, 2007
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Aug. 28, 2007

The first game is still two years away, but Old Dominion's football staff is burning the midnight oil. Of everything there is to do, nothing takes precedence over finding players.

Starting from scratch, the Monarchs need everything -- right down to the long snapper. Yet one player head coach Bobby Wilder will pay special attention to is a pass-rusher.

Whether that means a defensive end or outside linebacker, the Monarchs want one.

"No question that's a top priority for us, to get a game-changer at that position," Wilder said. "What it comes down to is game-changing plays, and we're looking for game-changers. If you can get a pass-rushing specialist who can change the momentum and the field position, he can change the game."

You see it in the NFL, where guys like Shawne Merriman and Julius Peppers make life miserable for quarterbacks.

And you see it in college, where everybody seems to have a sack master. As offenses evolve, defense must evolve with them.

None of this is a news flash to Wilder, who a year ago was the associate head coach at Maine. The Black Bears were third nationally in their division with 38 sacks, 11½ coming from All-American end Matt King.

Not by coincidence, Maine gave up only 13.1 points a game, fourth in the nation.

"I'm reading a book right now called 'The Blind Side,' which is about how the left tackle position developed based on Lawrence Taylor coming off the quarterback's blind side," said ODU defensive coordinator Andy Rondeau, Maine's secondary coach last season. "As a defensive guy, I pick the starting point to be the blind side and the rush element. It's massive to get a guy like that."

But how does ODU go about recruiting a pass-rusher? It's easy in the NFL, where everybody knows a guy like Gaines Adams of Clemson has potential.

But it's tougher evaluating pass-rushers in high school for one simple reason -- generally speaking, there's not a lot of passing in prep football.

"The most help we get in evaluating those players is off their (individual) tapes and in the summer camps," Wilder said. "What they do specifically in the showcases and summer camps, they match up one-on-one rushing the passer. You might only get to see four or five in the course of a game, when the kid knew it was a pass and rushed the passer, but in the showcases you see 20 or 25 reps. And generally, (the rusher is) going against (a lineman) who's as talented as he is."

Chip West, the Monarchs' recruiting coordinator, has been scouring the state looking for prospects. The camps are invaluable, even if they do offer at least one drawback.

"For the most part," he said, "they aren't in pads."

Old Dominion will begin signing its first recruiting class on Feb. 6, and while there's no particular area of need -- because everything is an area of need -- there are vital positions. Everything starts with your quarterback, and you need a tackle to protect his blind side.

But when the other side has the ball, you have to rush the passer. If you don't, good luck disrupting anything.

"A good pass-rusher can take the vertical passing game out of the playbook," Wilder said. "The offensive coordinator will say, 'You know what? We don't have 3.5 seconds to throw right now.' They can change the way the game is called."

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