BOWLING GREEN - Coming into spring football practice, Bowling Green State University returned just four starters on defense from last year's squad.
Couple that with a new coach implementing a new system, and the Falcons had their work cut out for them.
Now, with the dismissal of senior defensive lineman Michael Ream last week for an unspecified violation of team rules, the remaining Falcons have plenty of growing up to do before the team's home opener against Troy on Sept. 3.
"It's tragic, you know, what happened," said senior safety Jahmal Brown of Ream's release. "But we just have to step up, the next player just has to step up and play as hard as he can. That's all we can do really."
This week at practice it's been business as usual for the Falcons.
"We're not going to dwell on it," first-year coach Dave Clawson said. "It happened, and we're moving forward. We certainly feel good about the depth and the players we have at [defensive] tackle, so that won't hold us back at all."
Clawson and co-defensive coordinators Mike Elko and Shannon Morrison have been busy installing their multiple-scheme defense that will feature three, four and five-man fronts.
Leading that transition are senior returning starters P.J. Mahone and Brown in the secondary and Jerett Sanderson at linebacker.
Mahone led the Falcons last season with 95 tackles and was second on the team with three interceptions. He started all 12 games, finishing in double figures in tackles on four occasions.
Brown was third on the team with 83 tackles, adding 3.5 tackles for loss and seven pass break-ups.
"If you look at the second level of our defense, those are the two guys that really have a ton of experience, along with Jerett Sanderson," Clawson said. "We need those guys to step up and not be just good players for us but great players. They need to be all-conference type guys."
Question marks remain on the defensive line, where Ream was expected to be an anchor in the fall after posting 27 tackles, three tackles for loss, and five quarterback hurries last year.
That role will now be shared between juniors Darius Smith, Angelo Magnone and Nick Torresso and sophomores Kevin Alvarado and Andrew Johnson.
Johnson (ankle) returned to practice Wednesday, while freshman defensive lineman Winston Etheridge remains sidelined due to injury.
Junior defensive end Carlos Tipton sprained a ligament in his knee and will likely miss the remainder of spring practice.
"So far I like what I see from the defensive line," Brown said. "The defensive line to me has stepped up their level of play. They're playing aggressive."
With three spring practices remaining, including the spring game April 25, Clawson said he likes the progress his defense is making.
"I think the important thing is as they've learned the new system, they're starting to play faster with it," Clawson said.
"That's one thing you look for as a coach."
Contact Zach Silka at: