Defense is the key for Tiger improvement in 2014.

There are some big offensive numbers that must be replaced for the St. James High School football team this fall.

However, it’s improvement on defense that will make or break the 2014 campaign, according to head coach Greg Harlan.

St. James begins practice on Monday, armed with a brand new home turf to show off.

The Tigers will practice at 3:25-6 p.m. both Monday and Tuesday on the newly-installed synthetic turf field at the St. James High Football Field.

Practice times will vary, as the Tiger football team shares the turf with the boys’ soccer squad.

On Wednesday of next week the football squad will practice on the game field starting at 6 p.m., back at 3:25 p.m. next Thursday and 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8.

On Saturday, Aug. 9 the Tiger football squad will practice from 8-10:30 a.m., which will include a short scrimmage.

Harlan welcomes back 20 varsity letterman from last season’s squad, which finished 4-7 overall and 1-5 in the Four Rivers Conference. Of that group returns six offensive starters and eight defensive starters.

"We have a decent number of guys coming back with experience," Harlan said. "We graduated some offensive playmakers. We were concerned where we could get production, but I feel we’ve got a group of kids who can step up.

"Offensively and defensively we have a good core group back. But for us to improve our defensive line has to get better, and this summer it has really looked good."

On offense, Tiger starters back include junior quarterback Brett Karnes, senior receivers Jake Money and Dan McCarthy, junior guard Sam Williams, senior tackle Marcus Bradshaw and junior guard/tackle Cody Yamnitz.

Other key players back on offense include junior tight end Thomas Casto, junior receiver Michael Phillips, senior running back Garrett Ubben, sophomore running back Dawson Lynch, sophomore center Dillon Gray, junior guard Devon Figueroa, senior tackle Derek Hale, senior tight end Noah Bartle and junior receivers Alex Harrop and Tyler Glidden.

The Tiger defense is paced by three linemen with starting experience - Bradshaw, Yamnitz and Williams. Other St. James defensive starters back include Ubben at outside linebacker, senior Cameron Orlando and Figueroa at inside linebacker, Money at safety and McCarthy at cornerback.

Other key STJ defensive personnel includes Harrop on the line; Karnes, junior Justin Taft and senior Seth Thompson at outside linebacker; Hale, senior Scott Sieber, junior Steven Huffman and Gray at inside linebacker; Bartle and Glidden at safety, and junior James Hall and Lynch at cornerback.

Karnes had a strong two-way performance last season at QB, hitting on 121-of-235 passes for 1,387 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while rushing for 339 yards and three TDs. Ubben rushed for 107 yards on 31 carries and scored four touchdowns while Money caught 26 passes for 299 yards and McCarthy had 10 catches.

Defensively Orlando led St. James in tackles with 91 (62 solo) while Ubben had 86 tackles (63 solo), Money 72 tackles, Yamnitz 54, McCarthy 49, Bradshaw 45, Figueroa 40 and Hale 24.

Harlan says the Tigers’ offensive and defensive packages will be very similar to last season.

"We’ll mix it up a little on defense," he said. "We’ll play some 3-4 defense. We’ll have a 3-3 and 3-4 look, depending on who we’re playing.

"We’ve got to get consistent defensively. At times last year we made really good plays, then we gave up big plays. It starts with the defensive line and more experience there. We have to be able to stop the run."

On offense Harlan expects to be able to exploit some opposing defenses with team speed.

"We have two or three kids who have really improved their speed," he said. "Lynch and Money are very quick. And Phillips is probably the fastest kid on the team; he’s stepped in there. We’ll definitely utilize their speed."

The coach is counting on a year of starting experience to make Karnes the offensive leader of the squad.

"When you’ve got a quarterback with experience it makes things a lot easier," Harlan said. "This summer Brett settled into the role. One thing about him, he’s a good-sized kid and a good runner. We’ll use his running, along with Ubben and Lynch, and look to do some things to utilize their abilities."

TIGER NOTES: Once again St. James travels to Four Rivers Conference rival Sullivan on Aug. 15 to compete in the Sullivan Jamboree.

The Tigers will be on the road to open their schedule, playing at non-conference rival Cuba on Aug. 22.

St. James will kick off play on their new home turf Aug. 29 in a non-league game against Houston.

The following week the Tigers begin FRC play, hosting Hermann.

Sullivan is the defending Four Rivers champion, going 6-0 last season followed by Union at 5-1.

Harlan’s coaching staff this fall will consist of Steve Betts, Tim Craft, Kerry Branum, Shannon Snitker and Kevin Conway.

Harlan will serve as offensive coordinator and coach quarterbacks and linebackers while Snitker will serve as defensive coordinator and coach receivers and defensive backs; Betts will coach running backs and linebackers; Craft and Branum will coach offensive and defensive linemen, and Conway will coach receivers and defensive backs and coordinate the kicking game.

The Tigers’ 2014 schedule (all times 7 p.m.):
Aug. 15...Sullivan Jamboree
Aug. Cuba
Aug. 29...Houston
Sept. 5...Hermann
Sept. Owensville
Sept. 19...Ash Grove
Sept. 26...St. Clair
Oct. 3...Sullivan
Oct. Union
Oct. Pacific
Oct. 24...District 1st round (tba)