BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO " The change, going from defensive end to defensive tackle, will be a subtle one for Mundrae Clifton.
Clifton will be the main man in the middle for the Nevada football team, which opens fall camp Monday afternoon at Wolf Pack Park.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Clifton was used mostly as a defensive end at the start of the 2007 season. Whenever the Pack went to a 4-3 defense, he moved inside with Matt Hines. When the smoke cleared after the Wolf Pack's 6-7 season, Clifton had finished with 33 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss.
Clifton, who is built more like a tackle than an end, welcomes the full-time change to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Nigel Burton.
"There are more options in the 4-3," Clifton said. "I liked being the defensive end in the 3-4. I liked it better, because you could freelance a little more. I didn't have the height to be a defensive end, though. I feel better inside."
However, he has the ability to play inside because of his strong upper body. According to defensive line coach Jim House, Clifton has broken records for squat and the bench press previously held by Hines.
And since he's built low to the ground, he can get under the pads of taller offensive linemen.
"To me it's not a big thing whether you shade the tackle or shade the guard," said House. "It's just a little different mindset. He actually played some tackle last year when we went to some 4-3. He played there the entire spring. He had a good spring and summer."
Clifton, whose best game was a 10-tackle effort against San Jose State in a 27-24 loss, has plenty of resolve and his work ethic in the off-season has shown that.
"He's been very conscientious about his senior year," House said. "He wants to have a big year. He studies his opponent. That comes from being around Matt (Hines) all the time."
Added Nevada head coach Chris Ault: "He has become a leader by way of his work ethic."
One of the things that House said Clifton needs to improve on is his footwork.
"He has to work on his feet," House said. "If you feet stop, you're not going to get to the quarterback; you are not going to make a play. He's working hard on that."
House said the Pack has a little more depth this year and he hopes that will enable him to keep everybody fresh.
"Last year we only had two or three guys we trusted to play (inside)," House said.
The veteran coach is hoping that guys like Zack Maldonick, newcomer Mike Andrews and Chris Slack will step up this season.
The pressure is on Clifton and the rest of his defensive teammates this season. Ault challenged the group that, despite a wealth of returning starters, was woefully inconsistent in 2007. The group yielded 440 yards per game, including 32 points a game, which ranked sixth in the Western Athletic Conference.
Only three times in 2007 did Nevada hold an opponent under 300 yards " against Nicholls State, Idaho and Louisiana Tech.
"The key for us is our defense," Ault said. "When you play defense, you have to play with emotion. Last year we didn't get it done with any consistency."
Clifton agreed with Ault, admitting that the defense didn't share its load. He said last year's results were especially disheartening because there were so many returning players on that side of the ball.
Since Ault appointed Burton, in his first-year with the Wolf Pack, Clifton has noticed a difference.
"(Burton) has sped things up, turned up the heat," Clifton said. "He is a little more about getting after it. He wants up-tempo. We have to put up better numbers than we did last year. Defense wins games and championships. If we stop teams, we know our offense will move the ball and put points on the board."
- Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or (775) 881-1281
THE CLIFTON FILE
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Position: Defensive tackle
Year in school: Senior
Major: General studies
Sports hero: Warren Sapp