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Needham Defense is all swarm, no swagger

Posted Thursday, October 08, 2009 by Freshman VPs

All swarm, no swagger

With a 4-0 start and back-to-back shutouts, Needham High football coach Dave Duffy is having success with a new defense.
With a 4-0 start and back-to-back shutouts, Needham High football coach Dave Duffy is having success with a new defense.
(Jon Mahoney for The Boston Globe)
By Brendan Hall
Globe Correspondent / October 8, 2009

Zach Morgan
 first heard the rumor last December, during a workout session in the weight room at Needham High, via freshman football coach Doug Kopcso.

The Rockets had experienced a bit of success running a 3-4 defense in a 42-32 loss to Bay State Conference rival Framingham High late in the season, and head coach Dave Duffy was contemplating abandoning his longtime eight-in-the-box look and going full time to the scheme of three down linemen and four linebackers. Duffy later confirmed the move when Morgan, a middle linebacker, visited his office to find out more.

And four games into this season, with a 4-0 start and back-to-back shutouts the last two weeks, it appears that it was a change for the better.

“We get to go out and pop people,’’ said Needham free safety Greg Angel.

Added strong safety Ross Burdett, “I like how it’s a lot more free and open, really designed for us to go out and make big plays.’’

Like several other area high school football coaches this season, Duffy is opening up the playbook; in his case, it is after three decades of a fairly conservative philosophy. With the talent lining up in the secondary, and the numerous blitz packages the scheme allows, Duffy says the switch was an easy call to make.

Where the Rockets, however, differ from other swarming defenses is in their attitude. Their undersized defensive line looks to shoot the gaps rather than take blockers head-on. What they lack in size, they make up in speed.

Sure they swarm, but without the swagger.

“If you look at the games, I mean, we’re not cocky,’’ said Morgan, a senior co-captain. “We’re very disciplined, very down to earth. We’re a very tight group.’’

Duffy has decided to modernize the offense a bit, too. With the transfer of quarterback Eric Bertino to Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School, Kevin Brennan has stepped in with the passing skills to air it out.

A group of receivers Duffy calls “five of the best I’ve ever had since I’ve been here’’ - led by Kerry Hecker (seven touchdown catches), and complemented with Kevin CrayMatt McCormackBen Gould and Burdett - allows the Rockets to add some spread looks to the game plan.

The principles of the I-formation that helped produce a Bay State Conference all-star in Jean Baptiste a season ago are still there. But Needham is also showing opponents such formations as “Storm,’’ a four-wide, double-slot shotgun look.

It may be more of a standard run-and-shoot scheme, but Brennan can make plays with his feet, too.

“He’s still a junior, he’s still learning,’’ Duffy said of Brennan. “He doesn’t play perfect, but he plays tough and he’s got a great arm.’’

Brennan admits getting fired up watching the Rocket defense play. And while there may not be much swagger on the field, there’s plenty of attitude in the locker room.

Whether it’s the standard pregame heavy metal and rap, the postgame selection of tracks from MGMT’s “Oracular Spectacular’’ (“Our victory song,’’ defensive tackle Charlie Rotman said with a laugh), or Morgan’s pregame address to his teammates, there’s the feeling of something special.

“I tell them the same thing before every game,’’ Morgan said. “I say, ‘We’re not the biggest, we’re not the fastest, we’re not the strongest. But I’ll tell you one thing: we have the most chemistry.’

“We play for each other. I don’t ever think I’ve got that type of charisma, having each other’s back, the type of pride this team has.’’

The Rockets play at 2-2 Norwood on Saturday at 1 p.m.

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