John Denton's Knights Insider: A Look at the Defense With John Skladany

April 4, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - When a UCF linebacker failed to scrape off the edge and bottle up a tailback who ultimately scampered for a 20-yard gain, Knights' defensive coordinator John Skladany left a trail of items on his way to the root of the problem.

Skladany frustratingly dropped his black visor, shed his two pages of play scripts and defensive calls and made a bee line to the linebacker to correct the error right there on the spot. Team managers ultimately picked up the items and returned them to UCF's defensive coordinator, but not before his point was made to the linebacker who had blown the play.

Skladany, the man charged with rebuilding UCF's nationally acclaimed defense, has been locked in on every single detail this spring in hopes of making major strides. Some days, UCF's new defensive coordinator is encouraged with what he sees from a relatively young linebacking corps and an unproven defensive line. But there are other days when Skladany knows that his Knights still have plenty work to get done before opening against Charleston Southern next August.

UCF head coach George O'Leary made his Knights repeat Saturday's practice on Sunday because of several botched plays, but Skladany actually emerged from the back-to-back sessions encouraged by the work of UCF's defense. Nine practices into the spring, he is highly encouraged, but he isn't ready to give UCF's rebuilt defense a passing grade just yet.

``Ask me at the end of the whole thing. Each day I see some things that are good and then some things that I don't know about yet,'' Skladany said. ``I'm just going to wait until the spring is over and I'm going to keep making my daily notes. I'm seeing some daily progress. I did see some things better the last two days than Thursday, so that's good. It's just about continuing to make little steps forward.''

Skladany, a linebackers coach on last season's UCF team that went 11-3, finished ranked No. 20 in the nation and won the Conference USA and Liberty Bowl titles, was promoted to defensive coordinator after Dave Huxtable left that position for Wisconsin. Skladany, UCF's defensive coordinator in 2007 before Huxtable took that post, was a natural fit for the position because of his experience level and familiarity with the program. He knows all too well UCF's high standards as a defense and that nothing less than that will do next season.

``It's a tremendous help having already been here. Just being a part of the program and knowing how the whole system works here, it's been very beneficial,'' he said. ``Knowing the strength coaches and the way the program runs and exactly what Coach O'Leary expects from everybody is a big help. Now, we can keep those high expectations and high standards up that are already in place.''

To keep UCF's defense rolling the Knights will need some big contributions from several unproven players. Gone is Bruce Miller, UCF's all-time leader in sacks, a linebacking group that included Derrick Hallman, Lawrence Young and Chance Henderson and veteran defensive backs Reggie Weams, Justin Boddie and Emery Allen.

The Knights are trying to re-tool the defense with a stellar recruiting class and some players who are being looked at to step into starting jobs. Defensive end Toby Jackson, the MVP of the Junior College National Championship Game, was personally recruited to UCF by Skladany and he showed some great pass-rush promise before suffering a minor injury.

With a veteran defensive backfield in place, much of Skladany's focus this spring has been on the linebackers. Middle linebacker Josh Linam is the lone returning starter and he should be a fixture calling the signals once again. But the Knights are trying to evaluate converted running back Jonathan Davis, former Division I basketball player Ray Shipman and Junior College transfer Ray Cottman at linebacker this spring.

``Jonathan has shown some flashes. He's quick on the edge and he brings some punch to him. He has the quickness and explosiveness that you like. He's got a long way to go, but there are flashes that you like,'' Skladany said. ``With Shipman, he's a big basketball player and we have to wait until the end of the spring and see where he sits. There are times when you think he's going to be fine and times when you wonder. He's a work in progress.''

Skladany, who is also eager to work with top linebacker recruit Leilon Willingham in the summer, said he sees no reason why the Knights can't be a dominant defense once again next season. Returning starters Kemal Ishmael, Josh Robinson, Victor Gray and Darius Nall should be anchors on the defense that is loaded with playmakers.

Skladany said there's a strong belief that with continued progress and plenty of hard work that the Knights can be very good defensively again.

``Dream big, that's what I tell our kids every day,'' Skladany said. ``But on the other hand with that, you've got to pay the price and work big while you are dreaming big. You've got to want to outwork everybody to get to where you want to go.''


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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.