NORMAL - Adversity has been a built-in obstacle for the Illinois State football team's defense during spring practice.
Injuries to several key players have the Redbird defenders hurting for numbers. And when they line up against the experienced and talented ISU offense, the lessons are often stern.
"That's all right. It's good for you," new Redbird defensive coordinator Steve Szabo said. "I like to swim uphill. It will make you better later on."
ISU is experimenting with a new defensive scheme this spring. Among those not participating in contact drills because of injuries that will not prevent playing in the fall are linemen Eric Brunner and Nick Broome, linebacker Leonard Hubbard and cornerbacks Steve Nelson and Marcus Harris.
The Redbird offense opened Saturday's scrimmage at Hancock Stadium with a 98-yard run by tailback Ashton Leggett. Other touchdowns came on an 80-yard pass from Cameron Meredith to Tyrone Walker, a 54-yard connection from Matt Lancaster to Marvon Sanders and Cameron Hunt's 4-yard run.
"That part is probably the blessing in disguise," Szabo said of the offense's skill. "I would rather have it hard than easy."
ISU head coach Brock Spack called his defense "very inconsistent. I felt we were poor coming off the goal line. Our offense had their way with them. They played a lot better over the field, but gave up too many big plays."
An outside linebacker in the past, Austin Davis is lining up on the inside.
"I'm getting used to fighting off blocks in a different way. A few technique things are a little different we have to do," said Davis. "It's a learning process. Nothing comes easy."
University of Illinois transfer Nate Palmer recorded eight tackles and two sacks from his end position.
"Nate is going to be a good pass rusher. He's an athletic guy," Spack said. "He's showing up quite a bit this spring."
Converted receiver Ben Ericksen led the ISU defenders with nine tackles from his new safety position. Adam Rebholz had an interception.
"Our progress is progress, but it's slow," said Szabo. "Their effort is good. They mean to do the right thing. It's just right now they are not very good assignment wise. Technique wise they are very sloppy, but that will get straightened out."
Leggett paced the rushers with 131 yards on 10 carries, while Walker caught four passes for 106 yards. Lancaster completed 10 of 16 for 160 yards. Meredith passed for 175 yards on 11-of-20 accuracy.
Former defensive lineman Milton Owens was the right tackle on the first team offense Saturday.
"He's done a great job," said Spack. "So far, so good."
Charles Dennis was the first team center as starter Cal McCarthy sat out the scrimmage with an ankle ailment.
Personnel matters: Defensive end Shelby Harris is under disciplinary suspension for the spring but remains on the team, Spack said. Harris was seventh on the team with 39 tackles last season.
Former Normal Community players Jake Detmers and Billy Dickson have left the team. Detmers departed on his own accord, while Dickson's departure was for academic reasons, according to Spack. Detmers had five tackles in a reserve role in 2010.