As a young and inexperienced offense cuts its teeth on the early portion of the schedule, North will depend on its defense to hold the fort in the meantime.

“Remember, we’re counting on you guys,” joked offensive coordinator Adan Rendon during pre-practice warmups Monday evening, as he walked past the group of stretching defenders.

While he may have been kidding, there is some truth in that jest, and the Cougar stoppers will take great relish in being the focal point of the September effort.

Prominent in the team’s charge will be perhaps the best set of linebackers in the league. In Robert Rodriguez, Blaze Walker, and Alan Garza, the Coogs have seasoned veterans who can stick and move.

Rodriguez, who worked like a demon on the weight room this summer, is a physical player who loves to tackle. Garza is an underrated senior who makes a habit of being in on the play. Walker is a physical marvel who hopes that for the first time in his career, he can play a full season without injury. Each is 190 pounds or so, with excellent strength. Walker could be the surprise of the year; he’s a fine athlete who is more than ready to rock.

If all goes as planned, that trio will make it hard to move the ball against the Gold Rush Defense. Coordinator Rene Saenz knows that his LBs are the strength of the club, but he is also excited about the vast array of options he can use on the front four.

“We have a lot of kids in the rotation this year, which is the way we like it,” said Saenz, whose troops improved each week last year and ended the 2009 campaign with a string of dominant performances. “This defense has the chance to be very good.”

On the line, the end slot features a couple of steady hands and a potential star. Steve Najera and Andrew Lozano hold their position well and rarely get turned, while 260-pound Cory Esparza is a beast with awesome strength and surprisingly quick feet. He has battled injuries in the past after a superb sophomore season, but the senior track star is poised to be a huge part of the equation in 2010.

Head coach Roy Garza says that Esparza has been through a lot, but he can really help the team this season.

“He is a very fine athlete, strong and quick,” Garza said. “And we are glad to have him back with us.”

Inside, one will have to make ample use of the game program to figure out who is on the field for each snap. Expect veteran Jacob Garza to be out there often with Jacob Salinas, Jody Valdez, Eddie Olivarez, and Evan Garza also seeing minutes. The Coogs hope to run fresh legs in every series, and wear down opposing O-lines. They have the depth to do just that.

As for the secondary, the team experienced severe graduation losses but there are still some talented kids in camp. One of the unsung heroes is Moises Beltran, one of those guys whose sum is infinitely greater than his parts. Last year he was at his best in the big games, including a terrific effort in the area playoff game against Sharyland.

After that, the mix is less settled, but look for rangy Amaury Diaz and newcomer Vince Ortiz, a tall and agile sophomore, to be there. The latter appears to be a future star in the making. The coaches are looking to Jorge Zapata and Jerry de la Garza to come on strong, along with a handful of other guys. There are opening available here, for sure.

Bottom line, if it can keep some vital cogs healthy, the defense should be able to make its mark while the offense comes up to speed in the early going.