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Bowling Green Defense To Lean On Ryland Ward Early

The MAC's best defense from a year ago must replace three starters in the backfield. Competition in camp will determine who will play alongside of preseason All-MAC selection Ryland Ward.

BG Athletics

A famous quote that has been attributed to legendary coach Bear Bryant goes something like this, "offense sells tickets and defense wins championships."  At Bowling Green State University they know that all too well.

Over the last twenty years the Falcons have had their fair share of high powered offenses with quarterbacks such as Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs leading the way under the tutelage of offensive masterminds Urban Meyer and Gregg Brandon.

However, it was on the strength of the MAC's best defensive unit that propelled the Falcons last year to their first league championship since 1992.  The BG defense last year led the MAC in both scoring defense and team defense.  Opponents averaged only 15.9 points per game against the Falcons last season.  That was almost 10 points less per game than the next MAC team, Buffalo.

The Falcons return six starters from last year's defense and seem to have a good rotation in place on the defensive line and two anchors at linebacker in preseason All-MAC selections Gabe Martin and D.J. Lynch.

The challenge for the Falcons defense will be replacing three veterans in the defensive backfield in Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates, Cam Truss and Aaron Foster.  The lone returning starter from last year is redshirt senior Ryland Ward (5 foot 10, 206 lbs) who was recently named to the Jim Thorpe Award 2014 watch list.   Ward started all 14 games at free safety finishing second on the team in tackles with 81 and tied for the most interceptions.

Speaking to Hustle Belt on Media Day at BGSU, Ward said the Falcons should have no problem replacing the departed standouts in the back of the defense from last year.  "We will be in good shape. We got some guys that even though they weren't starters for us last year they played a lot of football for us."

Ward mentioned redshirt senior Jude Adjei-Barimah (5 foot 10, 204 lbs) and senior Brian Sutton (6 foot, 190 lbs) as guys that have seen plenty of playing time in the past that should be able to step into a starting role easily.  He also said redshirt junior Darrell Hunter II (5 foot 8, 174 lbs) and junior Will Watson (5 foot 11, 175 lbs) could be competing for the last spot in the starting defensive backfield for the Falcons.

Two others expected to be in the mix for a starting spot, or at least significant playing time, is redshirt junior Diontre Delk (5 foot 9, 179 lbs) and early enrollee and true freshman Nick Johnson (6 foot 2, 183 lbs) from Canton Timken High School.

BG secondary coach Nick Monroe, the lone coaching holdover from former coach Dave Clawson's staff, welcomed in seven freshman defensive backs to fall camp this year and expects someone from that group to contribute this year.  "In my four years here we have had six true freshmen that have seen playing time," said Monroe.  "Statistics would tell me that some guys from this new group are going to be on the field this year."

The Falcon offense and the new up-tempo system being installed by new head coach Dino Babers is grabbing a lot of attention as fall camp gets underway at BG.  The Falcons defense faced it for the first time during spring practice and will get a steady diet of it leading up to their opener on August 29 at Western Kentucky.  Ward said practicing against the Falcon's new up-tempo offense will make the defense better.  "Our new offense is definitely a game-changer," said Ward.  "Practicing against it will certainly help us against teams like Indiana and Toledo, which also likes to play fast."

After tasting the champagne of a championship season last year with the Falcons, coach Monroe knows this is a new season with nothing earned yet. "It's harder to stay on top than climbing the mountain is what we are telling the players," said Monroe.  "We are going to get everyone's best shot this season."

If the back of the defense develops quickly this year, the Falcons just might be celebrating in early-December again in Detroit.