Rusty Emling has been busy shoring up the defense for the upcoming 2019 football campaign.

And with solidifying the defense — along with keying in on and selecting the right players for the correct positions — the Chanute Blue Comets’ defensive coordinator must know the subtle changes that may impact his 11 players who are tasked with stopping the pigskin from crossing over the goal line.

In February, the National Federation of State High School Associations enacted rules that will impact defensive football players, and of course, the offense, too. One rule says “grabbing the name plate area of the jersey of the runner, directly below the back collar, and pulling the runner to the ground is now an illegal personal contact,” though Emling said the rule is merely just additional terminology to what’s been misconduct for several years.

“With that rule change on that horse collar, it used to be the hand inside of the collar itself, and what they did is add on the back name plate, so if you grab anything on the back of the name plate, where usually a name is put on a jersey, that will be considered horse collaring now,” Emling said.

With training camp wrapped up and the players transitioning to position-specific conditioning at the Chanute Community Sports Complex, the fourth-year coach said he has been preaching to the defensive unit to eliminate the chance for an offensive player to even get past defenders in an effort to not worry about horse collaring a player.

“Don’t let the players get past them, because if you did a horse collar and you’re running up behind somebody, that means they already passed us,” he said.

Emling said his players operate in a gap control defense, and if each athlete is manning their assignment, the offensive player shouldn’t get past the first, second, or third line of defense, preventing players from chasing from behind. This message and rule change, Emling said, has been communicated to players from the beginning of training camp early in the summer.

A horse collar is one rule change; tripping is another. The NFSHS has also made it clear that tripping a runner intentionally with a lower leg or foot is strictly prohibited — also an addition, Emling said.

“They got the tripping rules in place where their offensive linemen were tripping defensive linemen. What they did is add in with the running back where you can not trip the running backs,” Emling continued. “And what it is, is that the linemen are tied up, and can’t get off blocks, defensive linemen get off blocks and they just take a foot and try and trip up an offensive running back.”

Emling from day one has been on the job coaching his players to avoid this scenario. It’s really simple: get off the blocks. The name of the game is getting off blocks and making tackles, and that’s exactly what Emling said he has been emphasizing to his players through training camp and into the position-specific conditioning.

While the rules are important, generally these rules have been implemented for years, but every year the NFSHS assembles in a convention, and based on football information from each of the 50 states, the organization modifies or adds certain variables to the rule. In this case, it’s the “name plate” and the “running back.”

Emling has been focused on coaching his defense to play fundamental football within the guidelines of the rules, but the defensive coach is also focused on the players buying in to the defensive unit’s new base set.

The defense this this year will be a 5-2 defense as opposed to a 3-3 stack defense. In this defense, more defensive linemen will be on the line, and there will be more traditional defensive ends boxing in that are coming off the edge in an effort to keep the offense inside the tackle box.

Certain players have stood out in this defensive change.

Senior linebacker Tyler Davis has been stepping up in this new scheme. Last year, he was one of the leading tacklers for the Blue Comets and that intensity has showed up in training camp and in conditioning. 

Senior defensive back Jaden Costin has been turning heads, too, with his covering and tackling ability. Emling said he will expect a high level of productivity from senior Briley Peavy on the back end of the defense as well, though he hasn’t gotten that many reps because he hurt his foot — an injury that happened from dropping a weight on his toe.

Not just making split-second decisions in the pocket as a quarterback, senior Ty Bowman has also been practicing as a defensive end, and his exceptional play at this position in training camp and conditioning is expected to transition well into the season.

Junior Garrett Almond is the other defensive end Emling is looking at to depend on.

Emling said he has been emphasizing to players that they need to step up and take on roles for the rest of the defensive line, and the same message will be apparent in a week or so, when the majority of the team will be competing for jobs.

“For the tackles and nose tackles, we are looking for a lot of kids to step up and help us out there,” Emling said. “That could be a rotation basis where we can get the kids to play their best — give us two or three snaps, and we will have somebody else come in and try and do a rotation with our defensive line.”

But all other defensive positions are up for grabs.

“Right now, everything is wide open, and it depends on how we have a fall camp and see what happens the first two weeks,” Emling commented. “Evaluate them and watch the video and put the people in the right spots.”

The Blue Comets’ first official practice is Aug. 19, the Jamboree is in Fredonia on Aug. 30, and the first game will be Sept. 6 versus Circle High School in Towanda.

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