Eastern Illinois puts heavy focus on stronger run defense

Eastern Illinois puts heavy focus on stronger run defense

Junior defensive lineman Tim Varga is one of three returning starters this season on the Eastern Illinois defensive line. (Photo by EIUPanthers.com)

CHARLESTON — Trying to stop the run last season was a chore for Eastern Illinois.

Seven different times during a 1-10 season, the Panthers gave up at least 150 yards on the ground and ranked last in the Ohio Valley Conference by allowing 180.6 yards. On four occasions, they gave up at least 200 yards.

“You lose a little bit of motivation,” junior defensive end Tim Varga of Elk Grove High School said of the team’s struggles against opposing run games. “The confidence is not there, and football is all about confidence.”

With two weeks to go before their season opener at Northern Illinois on Sept. 1, the Panthers are determined not to repeat their 2021 performance.

“That has been a big focus for us,” first-year head coach Chris Wilkerson said after Saturday’s practice at O’Brien Field. “We believe if you control the line of scrimmage, you’ll at least have a chance (to win).”

Varga is one of three returning starters for EIU, including fellow defensive end Jordan Miles and interior lineman Cameron Leach, a 295-pound junior. Three players who were listed as backups in the 2021 season finale also return.

“The nice thing is that all of these guys are back,” second-year defensive line coach Adam Morris said. “We have a lot of experience.”

Morris’ unit – which Wilkerson called one of the deepest on the team – also has several new faces.

The Panthers added three junior college defensive linemen along with 6-foot-4, 275-pound transfer Tre’jon Lewis from Texas Tech. Three of the four additions weigh at least 275 pounds.

Adam Morris

“In an ideal world, we want to have as many guys that you trust going into a football game as possible,” Morris said. “When you have more bodies, you can cycle guys through. We have more guys who are going to be game ready. We had guys playing 60, 65, 70 snaps at times. I’d love to keep that number closer to 40.”

Wilkerson said having more available players on game day also gives the team flexibility to match opposing offenses. He said against some run-heavy opponents, Eastern could play with five defensive linemen or, in some cases, with five of its biggest bodies.

Junior Braylon Willis, a 6-4, 245-pound transfer from East Los Angeles College, said he has seen plenty of evidence that the Panthers have turned a corner.

“Leadership. Everybody taking accountability,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who really want to get after it. I see this defense really jelling together. Nobody wants a repeat of last year. That doesn’t look good.”

Advertisement:
Advertisement:

Welcome to ChicagoNow.

Meet
our bloggers,
post comments, or
pitch your blog idea.

Meet The Blogger

Dan Verdun

Blog co-authors Barry Bottino and Dan Verdun bring years of experience covering collegiate athletics. Barry has covered college athletes for more than two decades in his “On Campus” column, which is published weekly by Shaw Media. Dan has written four books about the state’s football programs–“NIU Huskies Football” (released in 2013), “EIU Panthers Football (2014), “ISU Redbirds” (2016) and “SIU Salukis Football” (2017).

Subscribe by Email

Completely spam free, opt out any time.

Latest on ChicagoNow

Eastern Illinois puts heavy focus on stronger run defense

from Prairie State Pigskin by Barry Bottino posted today at 6:11 am

It’s the end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine

from I’ve Got The Hippy Shakes by Howard Moore posted Wednesday at 8:22 pm

Join Cosmic Chicago’s Social Media Channels for the Latest Launch Updates and Space News

from Cosmic Chicago by Sophie Sanchez posted Wednesday at 5:55 pm

Camp evaluation process continues as Western Illinois prepares for season opener

from Prairie State Pigskin by Dan Verdun posted Wednesday at 11:41 am

Puzzles and mysteries

from Margaret Serious by Margaret H. Laing posted Tuesday at 9:12 pm

Read these ChicagoNow blogs

Cubs Den

Chicago Cubs news and comprehensive blog, featuring old school baseball writing combined with the latest statistical trends

Pets in need of homes

Pets available for adoption in the Chicago area

Hammervision

It’s like the couch potato version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Advertisement:

About ChicagoNow

FAQs

Advertise

Recent posts RSS

Privacy policy (Updated)

Comment policy

Terms of service

Chicago Tribune Archives

Do not sell my personal info

©2022 CTMG – A Chicago Tribune website –
Crafted by the News Apps team

Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.