JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Rich Ellerson has long been regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the game. When he speaks, it pays to listen.
"There were 50 bowl games last year and the winning team gave up 24 points a game on average," said Ellerson. "Offenses are ahead and keeping defenses on their toes."
Take last year's thrilling national title game, pitting the two best teams in the nation.
Alabama 45, Clemson 40.
The score was good for the most combined points ever in a title game. A look here shows the results from last year's bowl season.
The plan to refute today's offensive fireworks is to counter explosion with pressure. In the Dolphins' pressure-based defensive attack, creating that havoc starts with the men up front.
"It begins with pressure. What we do up front isn't complicated but it is sophisticated," said Ellerson. "As offenses have evolved, offensive lines have become more efficient."
Junior Tyler Havenner played key snaps in all 11 games last season and looks to step into a starting nose tackle role this fall. The DeLand, Fla. product had 17 total tackles, six solo, 2.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles-for-a-loss, and two pass break-ups.
"You can't point to Havenner enough on how to do things. He becomes the example on how to do things. He doesn't hoard that over anyone but he inevitably becomes the example of how to do things."
Behind Havenner, redshirt-freshman Bumpy McGee has made strides to earn playing time.
"He's the most improved from the spring and has made a difference. He's going to contribute in terms of the stoutness of the outfit and gives Havenner someone to roll in and out with," said Ellerson.
At an end spot, Jareeq Crenshaw anchors down after a productive 2015. The redshirt-senior recorded 23 tackles (eight solo, 15 assists), 4.5 tackles-for-a-loss, two sacks and had one interception
"Crenshaw has a strong voice. He doesn't abuse it or talk a lot, but when he does talk he says it right," said Ellerson.
The Dolphins hope for continued development from sophomore Austin Yeloushan after the Land O'Lakes, Fla., native played in every game a year ago.
"Crenshaw and Yeloushan are very athletic," said Ellerson. "We're not going to be the biggest d-line but we have some real athletic guys and some that are going to come in and compliment that."
Redshirt-senior Chris Skukalek makes the transition from a bulldozing fullback to bull-rushing defensive end and "will be in the middle of the mix," according to Ellerson.
Senior Taylor McCullers is in the fold as well. The River City product is hoping for a successful final campaign.
"McCullers can do a lot of things and needs to. It keeps him in the middle of the action," said Ellerson.
Freshman Kaiden Page, from Fleming Island High School, offers a big body at defensive end. He and the rest of the unit will be aiming to cause disruption in the opposition's backfield.
"There's a direct correlation with collision on the offense's side of the field and turnovers," said Ellerson. "If the defensive front is having a day, then it's fun to talk about the linebackers and secondary."