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Tiger defense looks to be solid in 2014

9/3/2014

By NICK McQUEEN

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

Heading into his fourth season as the head coach for the Fort Hays State University football team, Chris Brown often has talked about wanting to establish more depth with his team. More so, to work on developing players through the program.

If the Tigers have accomplished that goal to any extent, it shows up in the defense, which by all accounts, could be a special group as the 2014 season gets started.

"We have kids that have been in the system for quite a while now," Brown said. "They understand what we're doing defensively. Communication has tremendously improved on that side of the ball.

"It shows in the way they play the game," he added. "They're confident in what each other's doing, and where somebody's going to be. They're just on he same page."

The Tiger defense returns nine starters for third-year coordinator Cooper Harris, seven of them seniors including safety Micheal Jordan and tackle Jesse Trent, who were named to the USA College Football 2014 Division II All-America watch list.

"Senior-laden across the board," Trent said during preseason at MIAA Media Day. "We've finally been able to establish some depth. That's one of the stepping stones you've got to have to move forward in the conference."

The Tigers were eighth in scoring defense in the MIAA last season, giving up 33 points per game, but did manage to end up plus-3 in turnover margin, a big stat the unit hopes to continue this season. The Tigers were second in the MIAA with 18 interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. They also recovered nine fumbles.

"We have some speed, as well as some strength and size,"  Brown said of this year's defense. "As long as they communicate, they talk, pursue the ball and play very physical, they could have a successful day."

The Tiger 'D' also returns senior end Thomasi Molesi, senior tackle Brandon Walther, senior end Joita Te'i, junior bandit backer Daniel Lindsey, senior linebacker Michael Terry, sophomore linebacker Justin McPhail, senior bandit Nathan Lindsey and junior corner Raheeme Dumas. At the other corner, Kansas State University transfer Ed Brown, from Bradenton, Fla., looks to make an impact.

"I'm real confident about the group of guys we're going into this game with,"  said McPhail, a Liberal native in his third season with the Tigers. "One of the main differences I've seen is just experience and depth. Last year we had some good players, but not necessarily as much depth."

The Tigers were solid the latter part of the season last year, but did get burned on several big plays early in the year that helped lead to the 0-4 start where FHSU allowed 49.5 points per game against four top-25 opponents. That number was reduced to 23.6 during the final seven games.

"That goes back to discipline, and doing the little things right," Trent said of not giving up big plays. "Having all those guys here this summer and putting in the time, and being more disciplined puts us in a position to do a ton better."

Even junior quarterback Treveon Albert, who was flat in two scrimmages against the Tiger 'D' in camp, praised the other side of the ball.

"From first coming here, I feel this is the most athletic defense we have had," Albert said. "The game will only tell how athletic and how disciplined we are. We're not going to throw out any assumptions. We'll just see how it goes."

The Tigers' starting front line averages 285 pounds, and the linebackers started every game last season.

"The main thing will be just being disciplined," said McPhail, who led the Tigers in tackles as a sophomore with 90 (four for loss) with two sacks. "The coaches stress that every year, especially early on last year.

"We had a few busts that led to big plays," he added. "This year, just as a defensive unit, we'll be more disciplined. One mental bust on defense is six points. Since we've worked on that, that should be huge."