photo courtesy of Denver Athletics
Creating a dominant, lethal defense, capable of shutting down opposing attacks with force and strategy is a science. The iterative process through trial and error to identity the balance between tenacity and tactic, University of Denver defensive coordinator John Orsen has created such.
Through a new system of “controlled aggressiveness” introduced this season, Orsen has revamped Denver’s defensive style of play.
“It’s a totally different style from what we’ve played in the past. It’s something we all enjoy,” Senior defender and captain Christian Burgdorf said. “Its fun to play, but as mentioned it’s controlled aggressiveness. We have to make sure we keep our sticks in control and our bodies in control so we don’t penalize [our opponent] and negatively effect our team.”
Orsen’s updated defensive strategy is overall quicker, the defenders have been able to avoid the opposing attack’s ride, which significantly improved the Pioneers clearing game [currently 63-for-75]. The long-sticks are now frequently make a longer runs, a difference in Denver offensive side from last season. The Pioneers earned their first shutout (12-0) Division-l history on Sunday, Feb. 26 against Canisius College.
With the absence of graduate Pat Karole, returning starters Burgdorf and sophomore Dylan Johnson had a spot to fill alongside them. The battle during preseason between junior Matt Jones and sophomore Dylan Gaines began. Gaines ultimately earned the position, but Jones serves as a vital fourth addition.
“I think last year they did a really good job of developing, especially Gaines, just developing as a player. He developed physically, maybe a little bit more than we thought he was,” Coach Orsen said. “He had a lot of experience going into Connor Cannizzaro last year and I think that helped his development. They really gel off the field. They have a great attitude of playing with each other and playing tough out there. They’ve developed physically and mentally. They’ve seen a lot of lacrosse.”
Gaines, a Baltimore, Md. native, prefers to amplify his style to the match the intensity admitted from the speedy attackman.
“I’m just more aggressive and I like to dictate the tempo. I like to play offensively on defense,” Gaines said.
With a frame of 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Gaines’ tenacious presence is pronounced as he lays grueling checks, battles for loose balls and utilizes his quick feet.
“I think the addition of Dylan Gaines and his own personal demeanor has brought us to a level we’ve wanted to be at for a while,” Denver head coach Bill Tierney said. “I think he’s raised he’s Christian Burgdorf’s attention to aggressiveness and toughness. He’s raised him a level. He’s certainly helped Dylan Johnson in that regard because now he has a coconspirator so to speak.”
Roommates with Johnson, and close to Burgdorf, the trio have developed an understanding that translates to their success on the field.
“I think we have really good chemistry. We are really good at playing off of one another. We’re playing a lot more aggressive this year. We’re playing more instinctively and not really thinking as much as last year. We’re just reading off each other.”
Understanding the balance between force and finesse is crucial as the defensive line adopts Orsen’s controlled aggressiveness.
“The best part about it will be when they can do this constantly over and over again be controlled, be aggressive and don’t foul people. That’s a fine line,” Tierney said. “You’re asking guys to be tough, be aggressive, get after the other guy and yet, don’t be too tough, don’t be too aggressive, don’t get after him too much. It’s this fine line, but they’re getting there. Once they start to understand that I think we got something pretty special.”
With four rigorous games (North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Towson) over the next month, it’s crucial the defensive line continues to implement Coach Orsen’s system against the opposing top-talent.