For players on the James Madison defense, Saturday's season opener against Morehead State can't arrive soon enough.
"Me personally, I've had a couple of restless nights," junior safety Vidal Nelson said Wednesday. "Just up thinking about it; tossing and turning, thinking about it."
"We're ready to play someone else," said head coach Mickey Matthews. "We've been here for a long time, and the guys are really anxious to look across the line of scrimmage and play someone they don't know."
"It's been a while. A long spring, then a long camp. But finally that day gets here Saturday," agreed junior defensive end D.J. Bryant. "We get to see how great this defense really is going to be this year."
Statistically, the Dukes had the second-best defense in the CAA in 2009, and ranked 16th nationally.
Although Buck Buchanan Award winner Arthur Moats, the leader of that unit, is now with the NFL's Buffalo Bills, the Dukes return a half-dozen starters from last season.
"I mean, of course we can't replace guys like Sam (Daniels) and Moats. But we have a lot of firepower back," said Nelson, who was in the lineup at strong safety for all 11 games. "With the year of experience we had last year, I think we can do even better."
"I think last year we were a lot younger, but this year we're a lot more experienced," agreed Bryant, who started nine games in 2009.
Juniors Pat Williams, a linebacker, and weak safety Jon Williams also started all 11 games in 2009. And second-year free safety Jakarie Jackson forced his way into the lineup for the Dukes' final six games with his performance in practice and has continued to earn the praise of Matthews this summer.
"We can do the magic thing on defense: we can run. We can run fast. And when you do that, and you play like your hair's on fire, you've got a chance to be a good football defensive football team," said Matthews. "So we think we're going to have one."
"Honestly, this year as a defense, I think we can be one of the best defenses JMU ever had," said Bryant. "Just the veteran leadership we have at each position, and just how hungry every guy is to try and make a play."
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