USU football position previews: Defensive backs

<em>This is the second in a series previewing the 2017 Utah State football team’s position groups. The offensive line preview can be found <a href=”” target=”_blank”>here.</a></em>

LOGAN – The defensive back position looks to be one of Utah State’s strengths during the 2017 season, just like it was a year ago. USU was one of four teams in the conference to hold opponents to an average of less than 200 passing yards per game. Led by senior corner Jalen Davis, five starters and two letter winners return to the Aggie secondary in 2017.

Davis has the most experience among the defensive backs, and not just when it comes to his 36 games played. The senior corner, who earned honorable mention conference honors after his sophomore season, has totaled 147 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, six interceptions and three forced fumbles in his time at USU, but he is striving for more. He wants to ensure last season’s record isn’t repeated.

“After last year, I’m not going out like that,” he said. “I’m not going to have any of that be tolerated. I’m going to be all-Mountain West. I will be. That’s how I’m going to help my team out.”

The vocal leader, not only of the defensive backs, but of the whole defense, according to Davis, is Dallin Leavitt. The senior safety recorded 57 tackles and led the Aggies with three interceptions a year ago.

“(Leavitt) is the main one telling people straight up how it is and how he feels,” Davis said. “I just can’t wait for the season. There are a lot of people doubting us, and we can’t wait to prove everybody wrong.”

Leavitt believes the defensive backs have the ability to be the spark of the team, to be the group the rest everyone else can feed off of.

“It just comes down to making plays,” he said. “If we have an interception, a pass breakup or force a fumble it can really jump start a team and kind of kick things off and get things going. I think it comes down to doing our jobs and trusting the team.”

The returning starters, other than Davis and Leavitt, are corner Wes Bailey and safeties Gage Ferguson and Jontrell Rocquemore.

Rocquemore recorded 39 tackles and two interceptions in the first eight games of last season, but then experienced a season ending injury. Ferguson, a junior from Mountain Crest, played in eight games, started four and recorded 40 tackles. Bailey, a senior, played 11 games during his junior year. Aaron Wade, who played in 11 games last year, will be a junior this season at the boundary safety position.

Those returners bring a lot of experience, but there is heavy competition for the starting jobs. Ferguson explained it in a recent USU release.

“We have guys moving around on the depth chart, and when you have that happening it pushes everyone to be their best,” he said. “That’s a good thing we have going on for us.”

Davis specifically mentioned returning letterwinner Cameron Haney as a corner who had a good offseason. He also said Ja’Marcus Ingram is stepping up after redshirting his first year.

Ingram, described as a “long and athletic corner,” is far from the only redshirt freshman defensive back that could make an impact this year. Safeties Braxton Gunther and Baron Gajkowski will also be looking for playing time this fall. Head coach Matt Wells singled out Gajkowski before fall camp started as a guy that will be competing for playing time.

Junior college transfer Deante Fortenberry wasn’t cleared to practice until about a week into fall camp, but he has seen significant reps since. Wells is hoping to find a way to implement him into the rotation.

Andre Grayson, Jarrod Green, Chase Nelson and Zahodri Jackson are the four freshmen newcomers in the secondary. Chance Parker is a returning sophomore. Zack Swenson was a redshirt a year ago, but hasn’t been practicing this fall camp due to injury.

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