Nose to the Grindstone: Penguins’ New Defensive Coordinator

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Jamie Bryant (above) is in his first season as the Penguins’ defensive coordinator. He’ll try to improve a YSU defense that struggled in 2013. Photo by Dan Hiner/The jambar.

The Youngstown State University football team separates into their individual positions; defense goes to the left side of the field and offense goes to the right. There are three groups practicing on the defensive side of the field.

Standing in the middle, looking over a list of play calls and overseeing the defense, is Jamie Bryant — the Penguins’ new defensive coordinator.

Bryant is trying to instill a new “attack” mentality in the defense, creating more pressure on the opposing quarterback this season.

“We want to be aggressive in everything we do. We want to attack the offense from a lot of different angles,” he said.

This style of coaching resonated with head coach Eric Wolford.

“He’s very aggressive. He likes to come after you,” Wolford said. “He likes to crush you in a lot of different ways, based on down and distance and formation.”

Bryant was the Penguins’ special teams coordinator last season, successfully turning around one of the worst special teams units in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Penguins will need their new defensive coordinator to facilitate a similar turnaround this season. Whether it was defending the run or stopping the pass, YSU struggled in all defensive facets of the game last year.

One area the Penguins especially need to improve in is their third-down defense; YSU ranked 116 out of 122 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision, allowing their opponents to convert 48 percent of their third-down opportunities.

“We placed a big emphasis on third down,” Bryant said. “We call it the money down because you need to make sure you take care of business on third down because if you don’t win third down, you won’t win many games.”

Bryant and his defensive coaches will also need to find a way to keep their opponents out of the end zone. Last year, YSU allowed their opponents to score 83 percent of the time they entered the red zone, ranking 83rd in the FCS in red-zone defense.

Pointing to the past successes Bryant has experienced as a coach in the Southeastern Conference, Wolford said he has confidence in Bryant’s ability to effectively elevate YSU’s defensive unit.

“I was at South Carolina and he was at Vanderbilt. I was really impressed with how he ran the defense in Vanderbilt,” Wolford said. “You don’t coach nine years at the SEC without being a good coach.”

From 2002 to 2010, Bryant worked at Vanderbilt University, coaching the defensive backs and eventually becoming the defensive coordinator. After spending just under a decade at Vanderbilt, he was hired as the linebackers coach at the University of Houston in 2011. Before the 2012 season, he was promoted to defensive coordinator and, during his brief stay at Houston, two of his starting linebackers recorded over 100 tackles in a single season.

Bryant said that he wants to build the YSU defense from the ground up, starting with the fundamentals and instilling physicality in his players before moving on to anything more complex.

“It’s really simple anywhere you’re at in the country. You need to get lined up, play with great fundamentals, play with great technique and great effort. That’s what people have to do to be successful on defense,” he said.

Bryant believes that the preparation you put forth in practice will eventually lead to successful results. It was a lesson he was taught by his parents when he was a child and a lesson that he tries to pass down to his players.

“Work hard; put your nose to the grindstone and usually good things happen to you,” he said. “That’s how I coach, and that’s how I live my life.”