33 touchdowns. 3,860 passing yards. A 63 percent completion rate. The Colorado State defense has heard all about their struggles stopping other teams’ aerial attacks.
But after fielding questions all offseason, they intend to quiet all those people who question whether this unit can survive in the pass-happy world that is Mountain West football. According to those secondary players, as well as their coaches, that starts with better communication on the practice field and on game day.
“I think our biggest problem last year was a lot of miscommunication and just not communicating well out there,” safety Kevin Pierre-Louis said. “A lot of times when the stadium gets loud we’ll use hand signals but we’ve got to get better with those too.”
And while those communication errors should be easily fixable, co-defensive coordinator Marty English knows there is always work to be done for a group looking to shed their reputation as a “soft” defense.
“When we talk about pass coverage that isn’t just the secondary, that’s everybody on the defense,” English said. “We need a better pass rush up front without having to blitz all the time, and intermediate-wise our linebackers need to re-route guys and be physical. If we can offset their timing by making the quarterback and receivers uncomfortable and tighten down our coverage on the back end, we’re going to be a better defense.”
But to do that the Rams will need better production not only from their seven returning starters, but also the 19 players returning with significant game experience and a handful of newcomers who they expect to make an immediate impact. Interestingly enough, most of those players will be at the defensive back position, where Jim McElwain and his staff added seven new players in the last recruiting cycle. That kind of depth, according to co-defensive coordinator Al Simmons, will force returning players to either step up their game to a new level or risk being replaced.
“We kind of struggled with numbers this spring, especially as much nickel as we’re playing so we’ll need some of these young guys to play,” Simmons said. “The message we’ve sent to these older guys is that we need a better version of the player they were last season. Either they elevate themselves, or someone else will take that spot.”
That kind of competition will only push the veterans to be better, senior safety Trent Matthews believes.
“It just pushes us harder,” Matthews said. “Especially guys like me, Bernard (Blake), KP (Pierre-Louis), and Dre’ (DeAndre Elliot). “Everyone’s going to get better doing it that way.”
As fall camp continues over the next two weeks, expect a bit of extra fire in the back of the Rams defense. Let the games begin.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.