Starting defensive backs return in 2008

Matt Gubbels

The ISU football team returns all four starters in the secondary from last season, but there is one problem.

“For us to go with a dime package right now, one of you guys would have to dress out,” coach Gene Chizik said at a Monday press conference. “It will be a freshman, so we’ve been limited with some of the things we can do. We don’t have enough people, but I’m pleased with where we’re going.”

Those returning – corners Allen Bell and Chris Singleton, and safeties James Smith and Chris Brown – give the Cyclones a solid foundation in the defensive backfield but are looking to improve several things, including tackling.

“We’re coming together and trying to fix some mistakes,” Smith said. “We’re trying to come together and basically get that right and help the defense out.”

Secondary coach Shawn Raney said that even with the lack of depth, he is happy to have players back from last season.

“They all were in the games last year, so that’s a huge benefit for us,” Raney said. “We’re thin in different areas at the corner position, so we have to have some guys come in and help us with that.”

The defense did struggle at times last season to stop teams from passing, allowing over 250 yards per game and 24 touchdowns. That average includes 300 or more yards allowed in games against Kansas and Texas Tech as well.

Raney said the defense is trying to improve by gaining a better understanding of how offenses are trying to attack it.

“The main thing we have been trying to focus on is how people are trying to attack the coverage that we had in last year,” Raney said. “We want to have a more thorough understanding of how some of our coverage packages fit together and how people attack it with personnel.”

Singleton, who is one of three seniors that will figure into the equation of the secondary, led the team with four interceptions, taking one back for a touchdown against Kansas State. Fellow corner Devin McDowell scored the Cyclones’ other defensive touchdown, with an interception return against Missouri.

Chizik said the coaches are looking for Singleton to fill a similar role this season.

“We’re hoping that Chris can have another good year with being able to get his hands on some footballs and get interceptions,” Chizik said.

Smith intercepted two passes and tied for third on the team in tackles last season with Jesse Smith.

Chizik said the defensive backs have made strides so far this spring and he has been generally pleased with how they have played in the first 11 practices.

“They’re really in tune to what we’re trying to get them to be better at,” Chizik said. “I can go down the list – all the guys that have returned and that played significant football for us last year have come in.”

Raney said the coaches are trying to get the players to make some fundamental improvements for the fall.

“I think the kids have a decent understanding of the concepts right now,” Raney said. “We felt like, as we went back and watched our games from last year, it was just fundamentals. We just have to hammer in the different techniques.”