Although Northern Arizona’s offense struck on the first drive of Saturday’s scrimmage in the Walkup Skydome, the defense stood out as it has through the first half of spring practice.
Case Cookus and Emmanuel Butler went to work on the opening drive, with Marcel Myers lined up against the All-American receiver on the outside. With starting corner Khalil Dorsey joining the track team in the Valley, Myers filled in with the first team and struggled in the initial drive.
After coming away with a big gain to reach the red zone, Butler scored on a fade to the right corner of the end zone.
“They are trying to improve a lot of technique things because we have to go against some really good players in Emmanuel and Case,” said Lumberjacks defensive coordinator and associate head coach Andy Thompson. “Especially right off the bat, you saw at the start of the scrimmage if you are not ready to go, they scored in about 20 seconds. So we are going to continue to improve, and I was really happy with the effort, and the attitude -- it’s been awesome.”
However, it would be the final touchdown Northern Arizona’s first team on offense could put together as Myers and the rest of the Lumberjacks defense stalled nearly any progress. While he offense’s depth remains weak during spring practice, Northern Arizona’s defense returns much of its core group past just the starting 11.
“I think it’s been huge. Our guys, especially in the first group, they really know what they are doing and how to do it,” Thompson said. “They are a year older, a year stronger, a year smarter, so they are off to a good start.”
Playing on the second unit against the second-team offense, Northern Arizona’s Seth Long and Brandon Lawless produced stops in the backfield to highlight one of the defense’s many impressive drives.
With Northern Arizona’s defensive line typically in a rotation, the depth past the first unit of Carson Taylor, Aaron Andrews, Quentin Robinson and Chauntez Thomas could be vital for the Lumberjacks’ success.
“We want to be better for longer,” Thompson said. “We want to push through and play our best football at the end of the year. To do that, you’ve got to play multiple guys and have fresh bodies in there so they can go play.
“Any great defense, if you can rush four guys and you can beat their five once and awhile, that makes your secondary so much better,” Thompson added.
The only other blemish for the Lumberjacks defense came past the midway point of the scrimmage, with second-team quarterback Connor Leavens pump faking the secondary to break forward as Luke Nguyen sprinted to the end zone.
Dropping the ball in to a wide-open Nguyen, Leavens gave the offense its second and final touchdown of the day.
The Lumberjacks will hold practices on Tuesday and Thursday at 4 p.m., with their third scrimmage set for Friday.