"You've got to get here fast because my corners are on an island."

Defensive coordinator coach Josh Newby isn't saying this to fill space. He wants speed off the edge. He wants his DBs protected.

On his count, the defensive line splits its gaps. Outside linebackers fly off the edge. The quarterback has less than 2 seconds before four players meet at his face.

Ardmore head coach Douglas Wendel sees the flashes up front and can't contain himself.

"Boy, that's quick," he says before moving on to another station.

If there's one part that's solidly in place for Ardmore, it's the front seven. And it's pretty fast.

Ardmore brings back all but one player from last season's defensive line and linebacking corps. All-Ardmoreite Defensive Player of the Year Elijah Clay has graduated, but the Tigers are filling his absence not with the size and physicality he brought to the front, but more mobility and quickness.

"Speed. That's our big deal — getting speed on the field," defensive line coach Grant Naylor said.

Not much has changed since last season. The only difference is with C.J. Long, who started last season at outside linebacker, but will slide down to defensive end. He'll join nose tackle Darius Lawson and end Trey Baptiste on the three-man front.

"C.J. is dang quick at that position," Naylor said. "And we're returning starters in Darius and Baptiste, and our linebackers are good as we've had in a while. We're just trying to get more people on the field speed-wise and athletically-wise."

Long's move makes room for Devin Reynolds, who brings what Naylor called "lightning speed" to outside linebacker. In preparation for the conversion to the defensive line, Long put on 20 pounds in the offseason to get to 215.

"You've gotta be pretty big to be on the D-line, so I got bigger and stronger," Long said of his move. "It's kinda the same thing, the blocks are a little different, but I think it'll be good."

"He was physical at the position he was at last year, but now he has a chance to be even more physical," said Lawson about Long. "Now, we can bring Devin on the field, which is going to help us out a lot — that's more speed on the field coming from the outside."

Wendel Williamson will line up on the other side at outside linebacker. He and Reynolds will bracket a rotation of junior Jarred Hall and seniors Kaine McCullough and Brenden Hemenway at middle linebacker. Hall was an All-Ardmoreite Super Team selection last season as a sophomore.

Getting to the quarterback is important, not only for the front seven but the back four as well. Ardmore returns two starters at safety (Carter Swanson, Rontrey Burkhalter), but the projected starting cornerbacks — juniors Kevion McGee and Keyshawn Brown — are first-time starters at the position. It makes what the pass rushers do even more important.
What's clear is that the guys up front are more comfortable than even in their current roles. Besides Reynolds, each member of the front seven is entering his second year as a starter on defense.

"It's makes things faster because we've been playing with each other — this defense — for the past two years," Williamson said. "We have a lot of chemistry and we know where everybody is going to be at.

"This defense is more physical, more fast than last year's."

The work put in this offseason is another reason this seven-man front is executing extremely well in the first week. Wendel has repeatedly said this week that this year's Ardmore team is the most well-conditioned he's fielded in his coaching career.

"Everybody on the defense runs faster than a 4.9," Baptiste said. "A lot of that is due to the summer program we had. The running program we had was a lot of explosion stuff, trying to be explosive and that's increased a lot of people's speed on the defense."

Follow Horne on Twitter: @ekhorneARD