So, Manuel Asprilla was asked early on in training camp, entering Year 2 in Don Brown’s defense what’s the biggest difference?
Is it less terminology, more time spent getting into the nitty-gritty? More X’s and O’s, less let’s-see-what-he-knows?
If you spent any time around Boston College during the preseason, the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Everett, Massachusetts, native’s answer might surprise you.
It was the volume level.
“Last year, there was a lot of yelling because we didn’t really understand everything that was going on,” Asprilla said. “But going into this year, I’m understanding my position and the man next to me [is understanding his].”
Now, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator hasn’t lost his voice. Brown can bark with the best of them, and in the portions of practice open to the media he often could be heard well above the fray -- even from the back fields at Shea.
But now that he’s not constantly having to correct his charges, Brown has been able to dial the barking back a bit.
“We’ve thrown a lot at ‘em and the guys have been very responsive,” Brown said after one practice last week. “We’re second year in now, so especially the core guys have a real understanding of what we’re trying to get done.
“We’ve been able to challenge the guys with more scheme. In this game, you’re looking to have as many answers for problems as you can possibly have. I think we’ve been able to ... not only just digest it but execute it to a certain level.”
And while head coach Steve Addazio wasn’t ready to say the BC defense will be ahead of the rebuilt BC offense to open the season, which starts Saturday at Gillette Stadium against in-state rival UMass (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3), he admitted there’s a clear difference from Year 1 to Year 2.
“I feel better about where the defense is right now relative to last year,” Addazio said. “Relative to a year ago, I think we have more veteran players back and I think we’re ahead of where we were. Again, does that always mean that it’s going to equal wins? You hope it does. But I think we’re ahead.”
While the Eagles will have to replace their leading tackler (Steele Divitto), second-leading tackler (Kevin Pierre-Louis) and leading sack artist (Kasim Edebali), they return six starters on Brown’s side of the ball in juniors Asprilla, linebacker Steven Daniels, defensive lineman Connor Wujciak, defensive back Bryce Jones, safety Sean Sylvia and graduate student strong safety Dominique Williams.
That’s twice as many starters as BC returns on offense, with only center Andy Gallik, guard Bobby Vardaro and guard Harris Williams back on that side of the ball.
Dominique Williams, voted a captain for 2014 along with Gallik, wideout Josh Bordner and linebacker Sean Duggan, said the defense isn’t focused on who it doesn’t have anymore.
“You can’t really replace those guys,” Williams said early in camp. “Those guys are great guys on and off the field. But one thing they did do was they took the younger guys under their wings, and those guys were able to gain experience on the field.”
Now it’s time for the remaining Eagles to make that experience pay off. The defense was going to look different this season anyway, Brown said, so now it’ll just be more so.
“We change about 40 percent of our pressure stuff on a year-to-year basis,” he said. “And I think there will be a significant difference. It’s really up to new dynamic guys to take place and kind of fill the voids that were left.”
To that end, both Addazio and Brown praised the linebacker corps, and in particular Duggan, who is slated to start at middle linebacker.
“He is the field general on the field for the defense,” Addazio said of Duggan. “Flat-out. He makes every check, every call. It’s unbelievable. He’s got total command. He’s really blossomed. I’d say he’s one of the guys in my opinion who’s really emerged, really blossomed. He might be as big as anybody in that category.”
“Very happy with Sean Duggan at mike,” Brown said. “Very happy with Steven Daniels there, as well. ... [Mike] Strizak’s had a good run. Josh Keyes at [strongside linebacker] has been very dynamic. I’m very excited about his preseason. He’s a key cog for us. And Matt Milano has backed him up and really done a good job as well.
“So maybe the faces will change, I’m just hoping the guys when we hit the game will be able to play at the same level if not higher.”
In Year 1 in Brown’s aggressive, in-your-face scheme -- “We always say solve your problems with aggression, you want to play fast, you want to play on their side of the line,” Duggan said -- the BC defense went from six sacks in 2012 to 36 sacks in 2013. That six-fold increase brought BC from 124th (also known as last) in the nation in 2012 to a tie for 19th in 2013.
Thirty-six sacks -- or three sacks a game in a 12-game schedule -- will be the target again in 2014. But that’s not the only thing the BC D is shooting for.
“I think the main goal is just build upon what we started last year and just grow as a defense,” Duggan said. “We want the stats to reflect how far we’ve come. There’s always statistical goals, but you just want to keep growing as a team and keep getting better.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.