After a long and grueling practice last Wednesday, the defense was quick to rush off the field. But one player remained: defensive lineman Brandon Copeland.
This is not unusual for Copeland. In fact, it is this relentless work ethic that led Copeland to be selected as Penn’s first solo captain since 1997.
Copeland, the big man in the middle, is the anchor, heart and soul of the Quakers’ defense. But he cannot do it alone.
In two games thus far, the Quakers have yet to register a single sack. Against Villanova, Penn didn’t force a single turnover. The Quakers will need big plays on defense to take the pressure off their offense come Ivy play this weekend.
Copeland puts some of the blame on himself.
“One of my problems is I get to the quarterback, but I’m a step or two too late,” he said.
But defensive coordinator Ray Priore doesn’t think it’s fair for Copeland to take the blame. On many plays against Villanova and Lafayette, Copeland faced double teams.
“Whether it’s one guy blocking or two guys blocking, he is using great technique, great speed and power,” Priore said.
With Copeland double-teamed, simple math says that another defensive player should be free to get to the quarterback. But two inexperienced passers, Lafayette’s Zach Zweizig and Villanova’s John Robertson, looked at ease against Penn’s defense.
Despite having more experience than last year’s unit, this defense is still less seasoned than Penn’s championship teams of 2009 and 2010.
“We have a lot of young puppies,” Priore said.
Priore is actively trying to play as many defensive players as he can to see who stands out. He played 22 in both the Lafayette and Villanova games.
But the defense still looked lost at times, especially against Villanova, when it yielded several big plays to the Wildcats’ offensive weapons.
Copeland had a respectable seven tackles in each of the first two games, leaving him second on the team in tackles behind defensive back Sebastian Jaskowski. Not bad, but far from the numbers of an All-American defensive lineman.
It’s clear that Penn cannot depend solely on Copeland to make big plays.
“Our package isn’t about getting one guy to dominate,” Priore said. “It’s us playing as 11 pieces to our puzzle and fitting in and doing our job.”
Thus far, the puzzle pieces do not quite seem to fit together. Priore has stated that given the young defense’s inexperience, they will need time to develop consistency.
“This year, we’re looking for an identity,” Copeland said. “Last year we escalated a little too fast. This year we’re back to the basics and I hope that will work out.”
But the basics should have been taken care of in the offseason. Penn doesn’t have the luxury of time. Its first Ivy League test will come in three days at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H.
To win against the Big Green and contend for an Ivy title, Penn’s defense will have to get better. And fast.
DAVID GREENBAUM is a senior economics and international relations major from Short Hills, N.J. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.