It was not a banner year for the Chippewas secondary in 2021, to say the least.
Between offseason departures and a struggle to gel early with unproven commodities, the Chippewas secondary was abused by several teams in the early part of the season via the passing game, with the unit finishing as one of the nation’s worst, giving up an average of 263.3 yards per game (112th of 129 eligible programs.)
All told, however, the secondary finally steadied itself when it got to the depths of conference play, tightening up over the last month or so of play, making the Chips one of the harder defenses to play down the stretch.
This is perhaps the weakest part of the Chippewas defense even despite the development, so growth at this position will still be tantamount to the team’s success in 2022.
We preview who could be potential contributors below:
The cornerback cubbard is mighty bare once again this season due to a combination of transfers and graduations. Dishon McNary, who was the leader of the corner room in 2021, departed for the NFL this offseason, signing a UDFA deal with the Chicago Bears.
Former Iowa State product Richard Bowens III transferred to D-II Saginaw Valley State after playing at all three DB positions in his tenure at CMU, while Darius Bracy, who started his career at cornerback with CMU, transferred out to Middle Tennessee State to play running back after being asked to convert back to the defense this spring.
Freshman DaeDae Hill, who proved himself to be a heavy hitter from the corner spot and was expected to start alongside Kent this year, transferred to Florida Atlantic to be closer to home as well, leaving CMU in a precarious position.
Luckily for CMU, their projected starters along the outside are also the most experienced backs in the room, with sophomore Donte Kent and senior Rollian Sturkey, who really gelled together in the latter part of 2021.
Kent is the leading returning tackler (54) of the returning Chippewa defenders, generally not something you want to see from a corner, but part of the numbers are also due to his run coverage ability. Kent is a ballhawking corner, with 14 pass break-ups and one interception on the season (with a handful of other attempts which ended up out of bounds) and another year could see Kent grow into a great man-to-man corner.
Sturkey has been a solid find at the corner since switching over from safety and special teams work, taking over the starting role four weeks into the season in 2021 and finishing with 36 total tackles and four pass breakups. His experience relative to the rest of the roster will be key in what is an otherwise young room.
Behind those two, however, CMU has a lot of unknown quantities. Redshirt freshmen Elijah Rikard saw game action last season but didn’t contribute much. Other candidates to see time could include running back conversion De’Javion Stephney (who played safety in high school) and DeAnthony Beckton.
If the corner room was hit hard by transfer, the safety room suffered just as much, with all-MAC performer Devonni Reed transferring to South Carolina during the offseason. Gage Kreski and Alonzo McCoy also graduated during the offseason, leaving the Chippewas uncertain as to the next step forward.
The leading candidate at the free safety spot is Trey Jones, who started the bowl game against Washington State after having a rotational role in the 12 regular season games. He finished 2021 with 32 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Strong safety and backup spots are more or less anyone’s guess, with former wide receiver Nahree Biggins in line for the strong safety role, a role he occupied in high school. Fellow freshman Caleb Spann saw some game time last season, but only has two tackles to his credit. Freshmen Jonathan Tillman (six-foot-three, 200 lbs.) and Danny MacLean (six-foot, 200 lbs.) are also potential candidates at both safety roles.
This is a very interesting conundrum for CMU, as they like to play in a lot of three-safety sets by taking out a linebacker. It could be the case that until the positions are settled, they stick to three linebackers— or that they have so much faith in their system, they bring out the safety anyway.
Safety will have a lot of catching up to do, even more so than the corners, and fall camps will have a lot to say about who plays where and how often, and whether or not the CMU defensive backfield will have success.