Stingy Longview Defense Leans on Talented Front Line
LONGVIEW -- Being a former offensive lineman at Northwestern State, John King always emphasizes the importance of line play.
Longview's head coach knows good linemen when he sees them. Fortunately for him, he sees some every time his defense takes the field.
Longview (9-3) needs a big performance from its defensive line in Saturday's 4 p.m. Class 5A Division II Region II semifinal against run-heavy Austin Westlake (8-4) in Midlothian. If the Lobo defensive front's performance to this point in the season is an indicator, Longview will get that needed boost.
Longview's defensive line has been perhaps the Lobos' most consistent unit all season. During a five-game winning streak, Longview has limited opponents to 9.4 points per game and held the first four foes of that span to a combined 22 points. The defensive line has played a key role in that stretch.
A quintet of players spearhead Longview's defensive efforts up front: senior Cornelius Williams (5-10, 290), senior Jalen Porter (6-0, 225), junior Derodrick Alexander (6-0, 240), junior Zaycoven Henderson (6-3, 290), and senior Tre Allen (6-1, 230), who transferred from Chapel Hill and has played the last seven games.
"Cornelius Williams has started 40 games in a Lobo uniform. I think Jalen is 36 or 37," said Longview defensive line coach Mark Peters. "Derodrick was a program guy that played on the JV last year and got to play. He probably could've played some on the varsity, but we kept him down and allowed him to progress as a player. That's probably the thing that's helped him the most.
"Zaycoven is just a gifted child size-wise. He's an intelligent football player. Tre Allen moving in has been a big plus for us with his athleticism and his size, and he's an intelligent football player.
Peters pointed to Williams and Porter's experience as a key to the group's success.
Williams, who anchors the line from his tackle spot, enters Saturday's game with 73 tackles -- the most among the Lobo linemen -- 16 tackles for loss and three sacks. Porter, an end who said he will miss Saturday's game after suffering a knee injury in last week's 57-25 rout of Dallas Jesuit, has 70 tackles, 14 for loss, and five sacks, which ranks second on the team.
"They've seen almost everything," Peters said of the senior tandem. "Having them on different sides helps with communication and being able to know what's coming. That's probably the most important thing."
Peters praised the group's willingness to study film. He also said their interchangeability helps their effectiveness.
The players speak highly of their position coach.
"Coach Peters does a really good job of teaching us our techniques and coming off blocks," Allen said.
The head Lobo credited Peters and defensive coordinator Casey Pearce with putting the talented linemen in the best situations to succeed.
"(Peters) does a great job of getting the kids to believe in playing tough, getting them lined up correctly, and playing physical," King said. "I think our defensive line is well-schooled. If you're not gonna play hard for Mark Peters and Casey Pearce, you're not gonna play."
"I think our defensive line is well-schooled. If you're not gonna play hard for Mark Peters and Casey Pearce, you're not gonna play."
-- Longview coach John King
The Arkansas State-bound Allen has had a huge impact on Longview's defense since his arrival.
In seven games, Allen has amassed 43 tackles and a team-high 11 sacks from his end position. His 16 tackles for loss match Williams' total.
Primarily an offensive player for Chapel Hill, where he played a key role as an H-back on the 2011 Class 3A Division I state championship team, Allen has looked like a defensive veteran since arriving in Longview.
"When I first moved here they asked me what I played and I told them I could play defense a little bit," Allen said. "They were like, 'We can use you on defense.' I was like, 'I'll just do the best I can.'"
"It's made a big difference to the defense," said Porter, who has a locker right beside Allen. "He came down here and said, 'I'm gonna hold it down on the other side,' and I was like, 'All right, we'll see.'"
Longview has used Allen in various capacities, including standing him up in some situations to blitz him off the edge as an outside linebacker. That's where his athleticism comes in handy.
Peters points back to the ability of the rest of Longview's defensive line as a big reason for Allen's penchant for making plays, especially when rushing the passer.
"Anytime that you've got Cornelius Williams playing next to you, he's gonna almost command a double team at all times," Peters said. "If you're gonna try to block (Williams) with one guy you're gonna be in trouble. That one guy better be really good. Having Cornelius next to him gets him singled up quite a bit. Then having Jalen, Zay, and Derodrick play the other side normally, it's created some deals where it singles Tre up and has allowed Tre to be effective in some of the blitz game and being able to go one-and-one and rush the quarterback."
Rushing the quarterback is a big part of any defensive lineman's duties, and usually his favorite thing to do.
But not this group.
"Stopping the run, that's our job," said Henderson, who has 40 tackles, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries.
"I just like playing the run," Williams added.
That's good because the Lobos need their defensive line to negatively impact Austin Westlake's run-first attack in Saturday's regional semifinal. Westlake's play selection this season is about 65 percent run, 35 percent pass.
Longview's D-line size is larger than usual, so that should help the Lobos.
"We've played with guys in the last eight or nine years since I've been head coach that have been under 200 pounds and some that have been 300 pounds, but we get the same results with different kids," King said. "I think that we're bigger across the board with Zaycoven and Cornelius. It gives us two big tackles that are hard to handle, regardless of how you play. A spread team or a power team, that's gonna be tough to handle. We have defensive ends that are 225 and 240 pounds per guy. If I'm on the other side, that's gotta concern me."
Porter echoed his coach.
"We're big up front," he said. "We're strong. We use our hands very well."
Porter's absence opens the door for Alexander to get more snaps. That means Longview's defensive line will get that much bigger since Alexander outweighs the 225-pound Porter by about 15 pounds. Alexander has played well in the rotation this season, recording 36 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles.
"We're big up front. We're strong. We use our hands very well."
-- Longview defensive end Jalen Porter
Perhaps the best preparation for a run-first opponent is the same thing Longview's defensive linemen have seen since August: their own offense.
Longview also adheres to a run-first offensive identity, which feeds into the stop-the-run mentality the players said is so important to them. The Lobo offense averages 230.3 rushing yards per game on 70-30 run-pass play selection.
"If you play against Longview and against coach King and our offense on a daily basis, you better learn to love to stop the run," Peters said. "That's our defensive M.O. We're gonna play run-first and we're gonna try to stop it first and force you to throw the football. When we get into a pass rush situation we can turn them loose a little bit.
"Stopping the run first is gonna be something that we're gonna do at Longview. Most places high five and all that on quarterback sacks. We do it on stopping the run. It's a mentality around here to stop the run. If you can't run the football, you're gonna have trouble."
King and Peters are the first to say that the defensive line's ability create opportunities for Longview's back seven -- which typically garners the most attention from outsiders -- is a huge reason for the defense's success. With players such as Williams and Henderson clogging the middle, senior linebackers DeMarkus Lathan and Torean Sheppard are able to combine for 261 tackles, which they've done through 12 games. The line also keeps blockers off safeties Stephan Maxey and Corey Bartley, two of the Lobos' biggest hitters.
That defensive front, which Henderson calls a "band of brothers," understands its role in the Lobos' overall defensive scheme. Williams said the Lobos have "built a relationship over time as a team."
That's exactly what King and company want to continue to see from the team's most steady unit, which has made life easier for everybody.
Well, except opposing offenses.
"When they don't have people in their lap," King said, "it's a heck of a lot easier to play linebacker."