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MUTKA: Coaching stability should prop up Crusaders defense

Valparaiso University safety Alex Grask. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media

Valparaiso University safety Alex Grask. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 25, 2013 10:36PM



What many successful college programs have in common at any level is stability. When athletes are dealing with a coaching merry-go-round just defining their roles can be a major headache, let alone performing on the not-so-friendly fields of strife.

Defensively, Valparaiso has been dealing with that, which might explain understandable confusion on that side of the football. Not this year, though. Defensive coordinator Tyson Silveus has returned, which merits a collective sigh of relief.

Safety Alex Grask appreciates the continuity implicit in the status quo.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve had three or four different defensive coordinators,” said the senior from Naperville, Ill.

What does that mean?

“There’s no guessing,” he said. “We know exactly where we’re supposed to be so we can play faster.”

Hesitation can sabotage any defense, especially one as young at VU’s was last year.

Grask emerged as a defensive leader along with linebacker Pat Derbak. They ranked 1-2 in tackles, but the Crusaders gave up more points than Wall Street on a bad week.

“Hopefully, he’ll play with a chip on his shoulder,” said Coach Dale Carlson, referring to Grask.

Derbak shares Grask’s enthusiasm. He stresses the importance of team unity.

“You can’t have 10 guys in the right spot,” he said. “One guy messes up and it’s seven points.”

He doesn’t plan to be that one guy because of his high football IQ.

“I study a lot of film,” said the senior outside linebacker. “My experience allows me to play faster.”

Derbak has started 22 straight games for VU. The Crusaders have won only twice in that stretch, but he has no regrets.

“Other than the wins not being there I don’t have any complaints,” he said. “I stayed to help turn this program around.”

Each game often boils down to five or six plays. One breakdown can blow up an otherwise strong team effort.

“We have a lot of senior leaders who know what it takes to win,” Grask said. “It’s time to step up.”

Valparaiso’s improved comfort zone on defense can make a difference, especially in heartbreakers like last year’s losses to St. Joseph’s (36-34) and Davidson (28-27).

Silveus acknowledges the importance of repetition, which makes it easier for a defense to become instinctive.

“They don’t have to learn a whole new system,” he said. “They’re much more comfortable. It’s good to be on the same page.”

Defensive concerns start with the front four, which was overpowered much of the 2012 season. Opponents rushed for an average of 258 yards, burning the Crusaders for 45 points a game.

Recognizing the need to beef up, the Crusaders zeroed on on defensive linemen.

“We recruited seven or eight,” Silveus said. “A lot bigger kids. It’s going to be a work in progress.”

To name a few newcomers: Jon Powell (6-3, 320), Matt McGinnis (6-4, 230) and Jon Coyne (6-3, 255) spring to mind.

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SEC: Same old, same old with this conference dominating the polls again. If defending champion Alabama slips, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, LSU and Florida are waiting in the wings. All six are listed in preseason dandy dozens.

An early reason for football TV addicts to salivate: Alabama at Texas A&M on Sept. 14.

Mediocrity: Here’s an indictment of the Wrigley Field mentality. Only Cubs fans would give a standing ovation to pedestrian outfielder David DeJesus, who returned shortly after being traded away after less than two years on the North Side. Meanwhile, they booed ex-Cub Alfonso Soriano mercilessly until he departed for New York, where he has single-handedly revived the Yankees’ sagging playoff hopes.



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