When Towson lost sophomore Bryton Barr to a torn pectoral muscle in the second game of the 2013 season, the team was forced to adapt without their starting outside linebacker.
The Tigers will head into the upcoming campaign without Barr again after he tore a different pectoral while working out at home in June.
The season-ending injury is significant as Barr – who tied for second on the team in tackles with 74 as a freshman in 2012 – was expected to anchor a linebacking corps that graduated all three players that started in the team’s loss to North Dakota State in January’s Football Championship Subdivision national championship game.
Coach Rob Ambrose said while the injury hurts the defense, it has been even more frustrating for Barr, who ran sprints with some teammates in the end zone at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson.
“He’s an incredibly talented football player, and it’s rare that there’s a player starting on the Division I level as a true freshman,” Ambrose said after Thursday’s practice. “Being as successful as he’s been, he’s garnered a lot of respect from a lot of players and a lot of teams. Missing him for most of last season hurt us. His leadership was great, but losing his physicality hurt, and it’s going to hurt us even more now.
"But there’s a standard here for all of us, and he’s going to keep pushing himself to get better. He’s going to back everyone up on the sideline all the time. There is no greater fan of Towson football than Bryton Barr, and while we won’t have him on the field, he will be there in spirit.”
Barr’s absence opens the door for some of his teammates. When the first defense took the field, junior Walter Dunston and redshirt freshman James Simms (Reservoir) flanked senior middle linebacker Fred Overstreet in Towson’s 4-3 scheme.
The second unit involved juniors Vince DePaola (Hereford) and Joe McCargo (Old Mill) on the outside and sophomore Eric Handy (Wilde Lake) in the middle.
“It’s not like we haven’t been here before, and Bryton’s not the only guy we’ve got in the yard,” Ambrose said. “There’s a lot of good kids that have been recruited here, and they know that you never know when your number is going to get called. So they prepare to be starters – all of them – should anything like this happen. Let’s just hope it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
** Junior quarterback Connor Frazier has been getting the first-team reps, and his mobility in the pocket was on display Thursday. But senior Joe Brennan connected with junior wide receiver Willie Ponder for the longest completion during full-team drills, and sophomore Heath Dahlgren and freshman Ellis Knudson have helped Ambrose forget about the poor outings he saw from the quarterbacks in the spring.
“The difference is that Connor is here all the time, and he can participate in every drill,” Ambrose said, referring to Frazier undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason. “He’s 100 percent healthy. Joe has some great command of the offense right now. And I’m going to add while I don’t see a lot of mistakes out of Heath Dahlgren, the young buck from Virginia [Knudson] has got a lot of talent, and he’s not making many mistakes either.
"So, while I wanted to pull my hair out in the spring, they’re not putting the ball on the ground, they’re making good decisions, and they’re running the offense. So it’s going to make my job a lot harder to find out who’s going to run the offense.”
** To emphasize the importance of ball security among the running backs, the player responsible for the third fumble of the day must runs laps around the field during practice. That occurred on Thursday as sophomore Darius Victor ran five laps after he was stripped by junior defensive tackle Tungie Coker. Ambrose said the tactic was adapted from the New England Patriots and will also apply to players who commit pre-snap penalties.
“When the group of running backs puts the ball on the ground one time, it’s OK,” Ambrose explained. “Two times, it’s a conversation. Three times, our focus is lost, and the last guy to do it is running, and he’s carrying the weight for everybody else. They all know that if you put the ball on the ground, you’re running.”
** The Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders recently visited to watch a pair of senior defensive starters: cornerback Tye Smith and defensive end Ryan Delaire. Smith, who led the Tigers last season in passes defensed (14) and pass breakups (12), and Delaire, who led with 11½ sacks, were named to the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason All-Conference defense. Smith is a nominee for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the top defensive player in the FCS.