<em><em>Editor’s note: This is part seven of a nine part series that will highlight each position group of the USU football team leading up to the season opener on Aug. 30 against Southern Utah.</em></em>
<strong>LOGAN—</strong> While the USU front seven saw a decent amount of turnover – at least on the starting unit – the Aggies secondary was young in 2011. Now with experience under its belt, the Utah State defensive back unit may be the best in the WAC.
“I would definitely say experience is (a strength), we return a lot of guys. We have about seven of us that have a lot of game experience … we have a lot of guys that can play and have a lot of experience,” senior safety McKade Brady said. “I think we’re ahead of most teams that way.”
Brady is the top returning tackler from a season ago with 86 stops, six pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. The former Sky View product, who is the Aggies starting free safety, is just one of many defensive backs at the top of that list.
Junior corner Nevin Lawson, and senior corners Jumanne Robertson and Willie Davis were all in the top 10 for tackling leaders in 2011. Lawson started all 13 games for the Aggies, while Robertson started 10 and Davis started five. However, Davis has been the story of camp at the corner spot, and will be starting opposite Lawson this fall.
“Corner wise, there is just crazy athleticism. Will Davis has been leading our group, and Jumanne and Nevin are not far behind,” new USU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. “Terrence Alston’s been a very productive nickel in terms of blitzing and covering slot receivers. It’s an exciting group, I think we had 38 picks in all of camp and we’re trying to take some of that into Thursday.”
Alston, a senior, will be seeing plenty of action in nickel and dime sets, along with senior Quinton Byrd, senior Jamaine Olson, and sophomore Rashard Stewart. The sheer depth and experience at the position should allow the Aggies to be in more man-to-man situations and free up the front seven to blitz or stock up on the run.
“When you don’t have to worry about receivers being double covered and stuff and you can rely on those corners to do their jobs, then you can get safeties and linebackers more in the run equation, so it definitely helps with that,” Brady said.
Joining Brady at the safety position is another player who had a stellar camp in redshirt sophomore Brian Suite. The Hawaii native is in his third year in the program, but redshirted his first year and then missed all of last season due to an injury.
At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 205 pounds, Suite is a big roving safety that can cover ground quickly and make solid tackles as well. Both Brady and Aranda said the defense is excited about Suite and expecting big things from him this season.
“He’s always been a good player. He’s been in the film room a lot and he knows what he’s doing. He’s been here for a while, so it was just being able to get him healthy,” Brady said. “Once he’s been healthy, he’s making plays and doing what he’s been doing the past two years, just finally able to show it.”
Backing up Brady and Suite is sophomore Frankie Sutera and junior Cameron Sanders who converted from corner in the spring. Aranda said both have worked hard in the offseason, and should be more than serviceable backups for the Aggies.
“First of all, they’re an intelligent group. It’s rare to have the mix of athleticism with the gym rat mentality. In the safety group, they run the ship, so they make the calls and the checks,” Aranda said. “Frankie Sutera has made a tone of plays. Cameron Sanders moved over in spring and has been making a ton of plays. They’re both very bright and very vocal, and are knowledgeable of the defense. They can both play man and zone and blitz effectively.”
Brady also said some of the younger guys in the defensive backfield have looked good in practice and could find their way onto the field. He singled out freshmen Dredan Snowden from American Fork High School, Marquan Ellison, and Devin Centers – who made a highlight reel sideline catch during one of the fall scrimmages – as players to watch.
“I think we’ve got a lot of talent and a lot more experience back there this year. People knowing where they’re supposed to be … we’ve been in the film room a lot more and I think we’re more comfortable with the scheme,” Brady said. “We should be able to make those plays when they come our way.”