CANBY - Canby head football coach Nick Kockelman thought his team's defense was set last fall with eight starters on defense returning from a group that gave up just 18.2 points per game in 2010.
That state of mind lasted all of two quarters into the 2011 season, when the Lancers gave up 27 straight points to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in the season opener, eventually falling 40-36.
From there, Canby's defense never found a way to put together a complete effort, giving up 29.4 points per game in 2011, one of the worst marks in the Little Sioux Conference.
Photo by Joe Brown
Canby linebacker Michael Sisk waits for the snap during first-team defensive drills Thursday in Canby. The Lancers look to shore up their defense this fall after giving up 29.4 points per game on the way to a 3-6 record in 2011.
"The year before, we played the bottom half of the Little Sioux, which made us more comfortable, I guess, in my first year," Kockelman said. "So I thought last year that defense was going to be our strength, but it wasn't.
"It seemed like we couldn't stop the run," Kockelman added. "We'd do something and stop the run, but then we couldn't stop the pass. It was pick your poison for the most part."
Removing a shutout victory against winless Lakeview, the Lancers allowed 33.1 points per game in 2011, and allowed 40 or more points in three games, including a 46-27 loss to MACCRAY in the first round of the Section 5A playoffs.
2011 Record: 3-5
Little Sioux Conference Finish: 7th (3-5)
46-27 loss to MACCRAY
(Section 5A first round)
Points Allowed/Game: 29.4
Key Losses:?QB Stephen Huber,
OL/DL Matt Jelen,
WR/DL Chris Kaddatz
RB/LB Wyatt Kraus,
WR/DB Michael Slaba,
QB/LB Michael Sisk
"When I came in (as head coach), I was an offensive guy, then it was like, 'OK, we'll do some defense,'" Kockelman said. "And that came and bit us in the butt last year."
So when Canby suited up for the first week of practice, it was obvious where the focus would shift as Canby looks to make up ground in the Little Sioux.
"We've been spending more time on defense than we have in the last two years," Kockelman said. "Probably combined, to tell you the truth."
Canby will have a new defensive coordinator in 2012 in Jay Christianson, and the focus through the first week was drilling the team on its gap assignments in the 5-3 defense.
"They're on us this year," said senior outside linebacker/defensive end Michael Sisk. "You mess up, they're going to let you know. There are people out here who aren't going to take that well, but if you want to start varsity, you got to be ready to take something like that."
The key, according to Kockelman, is having a wide array of options with stunts and blitz packages to keep opposing teams guessing.
"We just got more diversity in switching gap assignments, doing slants, blitzes, changing up blitz packages and coverages over the top," he said. "Last year, we were pretty vanilla, I think, so we're just going to have a more diverse defense."
Having more aggression out on the field has also been a point of emphasis.
"We weren't physical enough last year, I don't think, and this year, we're working a lot on defense in practice," said senior linebacker Wyatt Kraus, who is the Lancers' top returning tackler (74).
"We're trying to really get that to be the key for us instead of giving up 30 points a game," Kraus added.
The Lancers look for big things from its linebacker core, which returns Kraus, Sisk (41 tackles, one sack) and Tate Citrowske (53 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles).
"It helps just connecting with the guys," Sisk said about the experienced returning linebackers, "signaling plays, saying, 'I got this, I got this,' or just doing your signals to the guys behind you. The connections are a lot easier."
Canby opens the 2012 season against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, which will have one game under its belt after facing Pipestone in a Zero Week contest.
After putting defense on the back burner in 2011, the Lancers are hoping some big stops against the Knights can set the tone for the rest of the season.
"We've been really drilling it in, pounding it into them so they seem to know their assignments and everything," Kockelman said. "They're correcting each other and it's not the coaches having to go out there. They're knowing where they need to be and where the three guys around them need to be."