The concerns were legitimate.
The linebackers were all new starters. The defensive backfield had only on true starter coming back and he was out with an injury.
Desert Vista’s defense was going to be tested no doubt, but there is one thing that was overlooked heading into the season opener against Palo Verde.
The foundation – the defensive front four – is as good as any in the state.
With defensive ends Lorenzo Melvin and Zack Tamburo containing the edge and Cole Preston and Dylan Fischer as the big bodies freeing up the linebackers, the rest of defense can find its way.
“It works that way sometimes” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said after the 20-10 win over Palo Verde (Nev.). “Lucky for us our strength is up front. If they can control things in the trenches it allows everyone else to do their job.”
Melvin had a sack and several other pressures, Fischer and Tamburo might as well transfer to Palo Verde after spending so much time in the backfield while Preston did his part although he missed some time after sustaining an ankle injury during the game.
When a defensive line is that active, it makes life easier for the rest of the unit.
“If the defensive line can make a tackle, that is a plus and a half,” Battle said. “Their job is to free up the linebackers so they can make tackles and that’s what they did.”
The Palo Verde offense was unique – it runs a double wing where most plays have all 11 players inside the box – and is not going to show multiple offensive sets, but it was clear as the game wore on that the Thunder defense, especially the front four, was not going to lose that game.
“We got off to a rocky start, but we pulled it together,” Preston said. “We schemed for it and we got a handle on it.”
After giving up 178 total yards in the first half, including a 71-yard touchdown run to Lee Griggs, Palo Verde had only six first downs and 44 yards in the second half as the defensive unit – especially the linebackers – got comfortable.
Senior Zach Gonzalez started at middle linebacker and he was flanked by Taylor Truelove and Aaron Green, who had an interception, at times along with Connor Cox, among others, seeing major minutes.
By no means was it a completely clean game by the linebackers, but a good start in showing they will be ready for what the season, which continues Friday at Mesa, brings.
The defensive backfield, which wasn’t fully tested against Palo Verde’s running game, had its moments as well. Despite playing without leader Nick Farina at safety, the Thunder made some good plays like Myles Boyns’ interception.
Austin Hicks, who started down the stretch last season because of Matt Smith’s injury, is a sure tackler and will be a leader along with Farina. Mark Smith and Keeyahn Haywood were big contributors as well.
One game doesn’t make a season but it is clear the foundation, aka the front four, is set.
“We know we have to be strong up front,” Fischer said before the season. “We have some new guys and they have some big shoes to fill. We will do our jobs and it makes theirs easier.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.