James Madison's defense took a turn for the worst at Richmond a season ago.
According to coach Mickey Matthews, the defense never recovered from losing senior linebacker D.J. Brandon for the season because of a knee injury. Brandon suffered the injury early in the Dukes' 38-31 win at Richmond October 11.
"We can't be even as close to as bad as we were in the last half of the season," says Matthews, whose team still finished second in the CAA in total defense in 2008. "Right now, we're so much better right now than we were in the playoffs."
Matthews says he's unfazed by the lack of experience the Dukes return at the linebacker position this season.
Sophomore Jamie Veney has the most experience at the position. A starter last year as a true freshman, Veney finished sixth on the team with 61 tackles.
This year, Veney is shifting from the "Mike" linebacker position to the "Sam" spot Brandon played a year ago. Sophomore Pat Williams, a converted safety who was CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, and redshirt freshman Chase Williams are competing for the other starting spot.
"I learned a lot through my redshirt year, but at the same time I just want to be on the field," says Chase Williams, who chose JMU over Northwestern and Cincinnati coming out of high school. "That's my goal for this year."
"I feel like competition is awesome. It pushes both of us to play well," says Pat Williams. "And the coaches always say the best man will play. And if so then we'll all rotate, if they have to do that."