Defensive depth has been a popular phrase this summer for Mercer football head coach Bobby Lamb, and the Bears are counting on that being a key to their success this season.
The Bears return 10 defensive starters, and several of those leaders are seniors preparing for their final season. Mercer’s depth has been given a big boost the past two recruiting cycles, as well, and Lamb, his coaching staff and the players are looking for a lift for the defensive unit.
“We have talent at every position,” senior safety Zach Jackson said. “Everybody’s capable of making big-time plays. We have a lot of big-time playmakers on this defense. Not just one of us is capable of making a play. We’ve got ball hawks and big-time players all over the field.
“God forbid one of our guys goes down, but we have depth. It’s the next-man-up mentality. We have depth, which helps give some of the older guys some rest in practice and being able to rotate guys in the games and practices.”
That wasn’t always the case last year when Lamb said he had to hold his breath about injuries. But this season, there are more players to count on, which at the same time gives players more rest and quality repetitions.
That starts up front with Austin Wysor (a sophomore end), Dorian Kithcart (a redshirt freshman nose guard) and Isaiah Buehler (a sophomore end), along with Tunde Ayinla (as senior end), Austin Barrett (a junior nose guard) and Destin Guillen (a redshirt freshman end).
“As long as we stay healthy and do our plays and execute, I feel like the sky’s the limit for us,” senior linebacker Tosin Aguebor said. “Depth’s a big thing for us. As we saw last year, we lost a lot of games tight in the fourth quarter, which a lot of that comes with being tired in the fourth, so when you have depth, it allows you to get rest and play other players so everyone can be fresh and ready to go in the fourth.”
Aguebor’s linebacker group also has quality talent with Lemarkus Bailey (junior) and Kyle Trammell (junior) at the strongside spot, Lee Bennett (junior) and Devin Davidson (senior) in the middle, Tripp Patterson (senior) and Tyler Ward (senior) at the weakside position and Aguebor and Kyle Williams (junior) on on the outside.
The cornerbacks are Jeremy James (junior), Brandon Gurley (sophomore), Eric Jackson (redshirt freshman) and Stephen Houzah (sophomore) with safeties Zach Jackson, Brandon Coney (sophomore), Lendell Arnold (senior) and Mike Gray (senior).
“This defense is the fastest and strongest and hardest-hitting defense that I’ve been a part of,” Ward said. “The football IQ this year is unreal as far as everybody knowing where to be on each play, knowing what gap responsibility to have coverage-wise, being able to check based on the offense’s formations. So it’s huge.
“This is the best defense I’ve been a part of in my life, and we’ve got a chance to be very good on defense.”