The University of Rhode Island’s football team recently scored a new linebacker coach in Mark Criner, hoping that he can revive a defense that has been too susceptible to getting carved up.

Criner, before he made the move up to URI, coached at Lamar University in Texas. He also played college football at Boise State University as an outside linebacker. His many years of experience will kick start the Rams as they move from their spring game, to summer practices, and finally their fall 2016 football season.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to come to URI,” Criner said. “I’ve been at URI for about a month, and I’ve already seen the great quality of our coaching staff.”

Not only has he seen quality coaching, but Criner has seen it from the athletes as well. The words “commitment” and “communication” describe both the staff and athletes.

“I see commitment from the players and the commitment from the coaches,” Criner said. “The communication that the players have is the same things the coaches are telling them. That type of communication will bring a good opportunity to change what has been happening in the past.”

The opportunity to win ball games and be at a high-caliber level is the type of opportunities Criner meant.

“There are players very committed to the program and trying to get over the hump and into the winning category,” Criner said.

The defensive line is Criner’s specialty and there is plenty to improve after the team surrendered nearly 200 rushing yards per game last season. The team has to understand the defense philosophy and where there help on the field is, something Criner plans to work on with the Rams.

“We want to be able to put the best team on the field, be a physical defense, and a defense that understand all of the help,” Criner said.

Criner knew there was potential for both coaching and the athletes at URI when he heard from URI’s head football coach, Jim Fleming.

“I’m working great with Coach Fleming,” Criner said. Spring ball can get confusing because of the offense versus defense strategy game, but one common goal between Fleming and Criner is to keep the offense and defense working together.

Between watching film, team walk-throughs and repetition Criner knows the team will be prepared for the time fall comes around.

“We have to embed that into them now,” Criner said. “They have to know if they understand it, and believe it, they will be able to do it on the football field.”

The Rams’ Blue-White game is coming up on April 25 at 10 a.m. at Meade Stadium. Their fall 2016 season opener against Kansas will be played Saturday, Sept. 3.