Utah State football: Secondary returners trying to seize opportunities, fall roles
USU football • Ags’ defensive backfield looking for leadership, playmaking.
Published: March 20, 2014 05:28PM
Updated: March 21, 2014 10:20AM
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Juan Diego's Frankie Sutera, left, congratulates kicker Jaron Bentrude after his 46-yard field goal Friday in the Class 3A state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune

Logan • Frankie Sutera appreciates those out there who would call him a “solid” player.

He does. Really.

But this spring, the senior safety is trying not to be confined to the terms that are typically reserved for guys who are hanging down the depth chart. “Solid” is not what he’s looking for.

“I want to prove that I can make plays, not just the solid guy who kind of just knows what he’s doing,” Sutera said. “I want to make some special plays, get some turnovers and be that guy.”

There’s no time like the present for the Utah State secondary, which is looking for leadership and playmaking anywhere it can get it. With the graduation of three very experienced corners and safety Maurice Alexander — and with months to go before new signees join the fold — the urgency for the Aggie returners in the defensive backfield is at the forefront of spring practice.

Depth is thin, particularly at corner, but coach Matt Wells has seen plenty of desire from those players who have yet to get many fall snaps. If anything paves the road to more time for them, it will be consistent showings in practice combined with logging hours in their playbooks and film study.

“I think the biggest thing that they both need to do is just show day-in and day-out signs of consistency and being in the right place at the right time,” Wells said. “That includes understanding all the calls and the adjustments to calls, when motions happen, all the things that are thrown at them.”

The lone returning starter in the secondary is senior Brian Suite, who was an all-Mountain West candidate last season despite struggling with a shoulder injury through much of the second half. He led the Aggies with five interceptions last year while also putting in 77 total tackles. Rashard Stewart and Daniel Gray appear to be on track to lock down the corner spots, but that still leaves a number of roles open.

The Aggies signed a number of defensive backs this winter, and some are in mind to compete for spots this fall. Those in camp this spring hope to get a leg up before new recruits set foot on campus.

“It’s probably the most important thing, because we’ve got a head start to get ready for the season,” sophomore safety Devin Centers said. “We get out here, we get in our playbooks, we get on the field and make plays. In summer we train, and by the time the season is here, we’re all ready to go.”

That’s how it works in theory, but to truly stand out, the secondary will need to make special plays.

The defense as a whole took a step forward Thursday at practice, as Wells said he thought the unit earned a “complete win” over the offense in team drills. But where the secondary needs to improve is generating turnovers, a strength of the unit in the back end of the season last year.

The Aggie defense had seven more interceptions than opponents in 2013. The glaring fact is that eight of those picks were by players who are now departed. Replacing that production is high on the list of goals for Friday’s first spring scrimmage.

But whatever the play is, the returning secondary group knows this: They need to be the ones making it.

“That’s our number one goal all spring, to be a physical group,” Sutera said. “I think also we want to make plays. Even if it’s not a pick, just shedding a block, making a [tackle for loss] — those plays need to show up more.”

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon