FOOTBALL: BSU’s talented, if unproven, secondary looks to prove itself this season
BEMIDJI -- If Rich Jahner were to place a want ad sign in his office window at Gillet Fitness and Recreation Center, it might read as such: "Defensive back needed. No experience necessary. Inquire within."...
BEMIDJI - If Rich Jahner were to place a want ad sign in his office window at Gillet Fitness and Recreation Center, it might read as such: “Defensive back needed. No experience necessary. Inquire within.”
Janher’s Bemidji State defensive backfield finds itself in a unique position this season - the Beavers have barely any experience at safety or cornerback, but a lot of depth.
While it might seem like an oxymoron, Jahner, BSU’s associate head coach and defensive backs coach, thinks his unit has a lot of talent - however unpolished it may be.
“Without a doubt, we have enough talent to be as good in the secondary as we’ve ever been,” Jahner said.
“But you can’t put a price on experience, having been out there and been in that situation. When everything is comfortable and you’ve seen it before, the game slows down and you can play fast. We will not have that luxury early this season.”
With three starting all-conference defensive backs graduating last season (Dylan Valentine, Scott Christensen and Troy Beckett), that left the Beavers with few players who had played meaningful college minutes in the defensive backfield.
Senior safety Damon Benham, who didn’t crack the starting lineup until four games into the 2014 schedule, is the lone returning starter. He played in all 11 games, had 51 tackles, broke up six passes and had two interceptions.
Meanwhile, junior safety Kameel Al-Khouri saw limited action as a freshman in 2013 and a bit more in 2014 (18 tackles, one interception and one pass breakup).
Those two players, however, are the only two returners with much collegiate experience at the position they plan on playing this fall.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve never been in a situation quite like this,” Jahner said. “It’s all new for almost all the guys.”
Everyone else has arrived at their defensive backfield position by necessity.
A few players - junior safety Tanner Dufault and sophomore cornerback Evan Tompkins and safety Rufus Saylee - at least have experience in the defensive backfield for BSU, although all three played the opposite position last season.
Ter’ra Potter was an all-conference cornerback at Itasca Community College and will play that position again this season for BSU.
But many of the players in the defensive backfield this season arrived there after spending time on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
Sophomore cornerback Jonathan Albercrombie had two touchdowns last season - as one of the team’s primary options at running back. He ran for 269 yards, which was second on the team in rushing.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Austin Contreras was the Beavers’ scout team player of the year a season ago - however, he was the team’s offensive scout team player of the year as a wideout.
John Vogeler, another redshirt freshman safety, was a star quarterback at Alexandria High School and came to BSU intending to play quarterback.
“It’s crazy to think we have a running back (Albercrombie) that scored two touchdowns for us last year at corner,” Jahner said. “We have a quarterback at safety. Contrares was offensive scout player of the year at receiver, we moved him to corner.”
With all of these new players in new positions, there is going to be a learning curve, but BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said the coaching staff is excited to see what the secondary can do.
“There’s some real good talent, some real good ability there,” Tesch said. “There’s not a lot of game experience but we’re excited about the athleticism back there.”
Jahner agreed, and also noted the numbers in the secondary (six safeties and five corners) give him lots more depth.
“The physical skills are all there,” Jahner said. “We have speed, we have some kids with incredible ball skills and we have that covered.
“The other thing that we have, we will have more depth in that position group than I can ever remember. Right now we have 11 kids, and I could put every grouping of four from that 11 and I wouldn’t be nervous.”
The Beavers, who finished 3-8 in the previous two seasons, kick off their 2015 season Sept. 5 with a home game against Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foe Augustana.
The Vikings, behind gunslinging junior quarterback Trey Heid, will be a challenge for Jahner’s relatively inexperienced secondary unit early in the season. Heid started 10 of Augie’s 11 games, completing 185 passes for 2,564 yards and 25 touchdowns.
That could be a daunting task for a young secondary, but Al-Khouri said simply getting in a few real live plays could make all the difference.
“Experience is the biggest part,” he said. “We just need to get in the game and play. We have to have our noses in our playbooks. I think we have the talent, we have the speed, we have the depth. We just have to execute our plays.”
Jahner said moving players around - including some from offense to defense - was a way to get more depth back there without having to force too many true freshmen into playing right away when they may not be ready.
One exception, however, is freshman Kaleb “Gunner” Olszewski, a six-foot cornerback from Alvin, Texas, who should get a bit of playing time right away for the Beavers.
Jahner said he’s not expecting the unit to play perfectly right away, but he’s excited to give every player an opportunity to show what he can do.
“It may be secondary by committee for the first few games of the season, until somebody steps up and starts to solidify things, but so be it,” he said.
The Beavers will hold their first full-pads intrasquad scrimmage this afternoon at Chet Anderson Stadium.
With the first game of the season just more than a week away, Tesch said this scrimmage would be a good way for the coaching staff to gauge of where the Beavers are with so little time left in the preseason.
Tesch also said he doesn’t expect to name a starting quarterback until later next week. Junior Ryan Shields and sophomore Jordan Hein have been competing for the spot again after splitting time under center a year ago.
“We’re going to wait until next week and then figure it out,” he said. “I think we’ll have a talk after the scrimmage and see what we’re going to do.”