For a team that posted some of the worst defensive numbers in the league last season, the Columbus Lions may be returning one of the strongest defensive units this spring.
After three hours of training camp, the intensity was high, new plays were fitting in well and — most importantly — the players were ready to work, returning defensive back Ramone Nickerson said.
“It’s just the attitude,” Nickerson said Saturday after the first of two practice sessions at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium. “Everyone is thinking as a team. We know we have to work to succeed as a defense, playing together.”
Despite reaching the playoffs, the Lions finished the 2008 season last in the AIFA in total defense. Indoor football defenses rarely are made to look good in a game designed to benefit high-scoring offenses, but the squad is hoping to make up for last year’s numbers when they open the season March 14 at the Carolina Speed.
“We want to be one of the top five defenses this year,” Lions coach Jason Gibson said. “I expect us to shut people down with our physical play this year.”
Nickerson, fellow defensive back Damian Daniels and returning linebacker Justen Rivers give the Lions a solid core of players who Gibson said would feed off of one another.
“Damian led the league in interceptions the last two seasons, and Ramone is the fireplug of the defense,” Gibson said. “With Justen Rivers in there with them, we’ve got a good defense this season.”
The Lions signed linebackers Maurice Jones (South Florida), Ryan Babb (Troy), Clifton Dortch (Furman), Maurice Simpkins (Coastal Carolina) and Leon Foster (Union) and defensive backs Chris Goffer (Youngstown State), Tramaul Marshall, Bruce Johnson (James Madison) and Dexter Reid (North Carolina).
The new signees have a combined eight years of professional experience and five of them are rookies.
“The whole defense is mentally a unit and stepping together as a unit,” Rivers said. “Everyone is coming together for this season.”