YOUNGSTOWN - Emmanuel Kromah isn't one to hide from what has held back the Youngstown State football team.
It's the same problem the defensive line confronted during a 2013 season that started out so promising but ended with heartbreak.
"Consistency," said Kromah, who didn't hesitate when responding to a question about what must improve on the defensive line. "From beginning to end. From September all the way through November. We started off hot and then, the last four games, we fell off. We weren't consistent."
Kromah wasn't just talking about the defensive front of the Penguins, who were 8-1 last year before losing their final three games and missing the playoffs. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound defensive tackle started all 12 games for YSU in 2013 and led the team in quarterback hurries (6) and tied for sacks (4). He admitted there were times when the line was good and other moments when it struggled.
Now that former defensive end and team leader Kyle Sirl graduated, Kromah and a few other veterans will be relied upon not only to stop the run and rush the quarterback, but also to lead a beleaguered defense.
The line didn't appear to be a strong point last year, but Penguins coach Eric Wolford believes appearances can be deceiving.
"A lot of times, the guys on the line of scrimmage take heat when things aren't going well, and when things are going well, they don't get any credit," Wolford said. "I like what we're doing up there. It's an active group. They had a great summer. We've just got to stay healthy because we feel good about where we're at with that group."
One of the big reasons is a healthy Octavius Brown. At 6 foot and 300 pounds, Wolford said Brown is one of the Penguins' strongest players and can be a force at nose guard. His main problem has been staying on the field as he started only one game in 2013, mainly because of injuries, which are hard to avoid when other 300-pound men are falling on him throughout a game.
"It's rough down there," Brown said with a laugh.
Wolford hopes it's not too rough.
"He's very disruptive," he said. "You have to double team him, and that means you're occupying two guys and now you have a linebacker who's free behind him. When he's healthy, he's an impact player."
So is Kromah, as well as defensive end Terrell Williams (6-3, 255), who started all 12 games last year. Wolford said Williams, a junior, is playing at the highest level he's ever seen - "He's doing things I've never seen him do before," Wolford said. Williams said his improvement is more mental than physical.
"I really matured from last season till now," he said. "As a younger player, you think you can just run out there and do whatever you want, but as the years go on, you start to realize that you've got to be patient sometimes and apply what you know."
The main area the Penguins need improvement is rushing the passer. YSU was second to last in sacks last season with 22. Conference champion North Dakota State, which has now won three straight national titles, led the Missouri Valley Conference with 44.
"We need to affect the quarterback more," Williams said. "That'll definitely help. But in our conference, we've got to stop the run first. If we stop the run, nobody can beat us. Because on first and second down, (teams are) going to run the football, more than likely, so if we can stop the run, we can get to the pass."
They all need to be on the field for that to happen.