SK has a line on improving defense

Through the first couple of games in the 2005 football season, the South Kitsap defensive line had been engaged in its own version of musical chairs.

But at the halfway point of the season, the Wolves (3-2 overall heading into last night’s Narrows League Bridge Division game against Olympic), seem to have everything under control — just in time for the crucial stretch run.

And that’s a credit to the eight or so guys up front who stood firm and overcame a slow defensive start to make the front four the anchor of what is turning into a pretty stout defense.

“I think they are like every kid on our team. We expect them to get better every week,” South assistant coach Joey Dame said. “It doesn’t matter whether they are D-line, linebacker or whatever. We expect them to get better. We expect them to play hard.”

And they have, despite injuries that have forced a lot of movement up front.

Before the original starting four even got the chance to play a down together, things were changing. First, junior Renard Williams (6-0, 288) broke his wrist in a scrimmage and missed the first three games of the year.

Then, junior Carl Welch (6-0, 214) went down in the season opener and missed the next four games. Mike Cook (5-11, 244) was next to get hit by the injury bug and Dan Tajalle (5-5, 284) went down on the first series of the Shelton game

All of that made for some interesting decisions.

“We didn’t adjust the game plan at all,” Kevin Herington, who calls the defense for South, said. “We expect the next guy to step in and do that job. We don’t adjust the defense depending on which players are in there.”

But just when things looked pretty bleak, after the Wolves lost their first two games mainly because of a defense that couldn’t close the deal, everything seemingly came together.

Behind the leadership of senior ends Andrew Thatcher (6-1, 222) and Kyle Saltsgaver (6-1, 236), the return of Williams and the emergence of Landon Ludwig at the tackle positions, the Wolves have seen both yardage allowed and points given up slowly decline with each passing week, and SK’s winning streak has grown to three games.

It’s been the simple things that have gotten them there.

“There’s a lot more talking,” Thatcher said. “There’s a lot more of everyone knowing what the other guys are supposed to be doing. And I think there’s a lot of trust, too, trust that you know the other person is going to do their job.”

“We’re just making sure we get our gaps so the linebackers can get into their gaps,” Saltsgaver said. “If we do our jobs right, then everyone else can do their jobs right.”

It’s taken every one of them doing their job correctly to get South to this point, especially with the rash of injuries.

But all the shuffling and moving around has given South a solid and deep group of linemen. Beside the starting four, Brandon Turk, Joe Beitinger and Tyler Breshon have seen plenty of action, and Welch and Tajalle are expected to be back soon.

Dame said having so many guys capable of playing on the line is a luxury in that they can rotate players in and out and keep them fresh. But they can also pull guys out that are not playing up to expectations and coach them up on the sideline without having to worry about what’s happening on the field.

Everyone is covering everyone else, he said.

But the biggest surprise to come out of all of this may be Ludwig, who was moved from linebacker to tackle to give the Wolves a bit more speed up front. And despite his small stature — 5-9 and 180 pounds — he’s getting the job done.

“He’s one of those kids that will move around and do whatever. He wants to get on the field and he wants to help the team,” Herington said. “He’s one of those kids that whatever you ask him to do, he’s going to step in and do it.”

Ludwig said he gladly moved, and even though he is outweighed and out-muscled by everyone lined up across from him, he’s fighting for every inch of ground he can get.

“I’m just in there trying my best, trying to help these guys out,” Ludwig said. “I’m not a big guy, but I’m in there trying.”

It’s been that kind of attitude that has helped South drop opponents scoring from an average of 32 points a game to start the year down to 23.

In the past two games, the Wolves allowed just 27 total points.

“As they go, the rest of the defense goes,” Herington said. “They’re doing a great job. Saltsgaver, Thatcher, Tajalle, all of them, they are doing an outstanding job.”

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