LOGAN — Utah State's tallest task of fall camp will be determining how to man an experience-depleted defensive secondary.
Gone are four starters — safety Maurice Alexander and cornerbacks Nevin Lawson, Tay Glover-Wright and Quinton Byrd — who were multi-year contributors and combined for all but two possible starts in Utah State's secondary during the 2013 season.
Three of the four are now on NFL rosters: Alexander is with the St. Louis Rams, Lawson with the Detroit Lions and Glover-Wright with the Atlanta Falcons.
Clayton Christensen and Cameron Sanders, two experienced reserves who combined to play in 63 games, also moved on due to graduation.
This will make it tough for the Aggies to match their 2013 numbers: Utah State was 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense (115.3) and 52nd in the country in passing defense, giving up 224.1 passing yards per game last season.
The Aggies’ lone returning starter in the secondary is senior free safety Brian Suite (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), an all-Mountain West honorable mention honoree last year. He was the only player in the secondary to start all 14 games in 2013 — he's started all but one game the past two years — and his five interceptions led the team. Suite was named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list, given to the nation's top defensive back, and he will be expected to lead this inexperienced group.
Utah State also has a pair of upperclassmen who will finally have their opportunity to crack the starting lineup — both are listed as starters on the preseason two-deep. Senior strong safety Frankie Sutera (6-1, 201) is a three-year letterwinner who's played in all 27 games the past two years; he started in the Aggies' bowl game last season and had seven tackles. Senior cornerback Rashard Stewart (5-11, 185) has spent four years in the system and had 14 tackles and one start for Utah State last season.
Sophomore cornerback Marquan Ellison (5-11, 175) and sophomore safety Devin Centers (5-9, 190) also return.
Three players who redshirted last year in their first season at Utah State could play significant roles in 2014. Among them is sophomore cornerback Daniel Gray (5-11, 180), who transferred from Tennessee after playing in eight games there as a true freshman; he is atop the preseason two-deep at one cornerback position.
Junior safety Marwin Evans (6-1, 195) is a junior college transfer who sat out last season and is penciled in as the backup at strong safety to Sutera. Redshirt freshman safety Myron Turner (5-11, 170) is a two-star recruit who registered 82 tackles and 14 pass breakups his senior year of high school.
Three JC transfers also join the cornerback mix. Junior Tyler Floyd (5-9, 185) comes from Fullerton College in California, where he had 11 pass breakups, two interceptions and four blocked kicks last season. Juniors Bryant Hayes (5-9, 175) and Deshane Hines (5-10, 180) were teammates at San Mateo College in California and are both listed as backups on the two-deep.
Hines, like his other JC couterparts, will join Utah State in fall camp. His college experience could prove valuable in helping him stand out from the crowd. At San Mateo College, he tallied 81 tackles and four interceptions during his two years and was twice named to the California Community College Athletic Association All-North Division first team.
The Aggies will be hard-pressed to match the production they had out of their secondary last season, with so much turnover. With only one starting position truly locked down, there will be plenty of competition during fall camp among this position group, and depth will be a concern. How quickly these players adapt and grow in the Utah State system will likely affect just how good the Aggie defense will be in 2014.
Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @brandonljudd