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2023 Ball State Cardinals Positional Previews: Defensive backs

Though key members of Cardinals secondary moved onto greener pastures this offseason, a pair of accomplished returners will look continue the unit’s success.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Ball State at NC State Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In terms of seeing players elevate to the NFL ranks, the 2023 offseason was the most notable of any since Mike Neu’s took charge of the program in 2016. A total of three former Cardinals realized their dreams of playing professional football, and they all were plucked from Ball State’s successful secondary.

Cornerback Nic Jones was selected by the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, with the 250th pick in the NFL Draft — making him the second player to be drafted in the Neu era. Then, after the fanfare of the Draft days passed, cornerback AJ Uzodinma and safety Jaquan Amos each inked UDFA deals with the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively.

Although the fate of their NFL careers is yet to be determined, one thing is certain in Muncie: the departure of these star defensive backs leaves a gaping hole in a secondary which surrendered the third-fewest passing yards per game (216.1) among MAC teams last season, according to Sports Reference.

A pair of returners — Tyler “Red” Potts and Jordan Riley — are near locks for starting roles, and will be at the forefront of softening the blow of Ball State’s losses.

Sticking with the program since 2018 — a rarity in today’s college sports climate — Potts returns to the program as one of the squad’s most experienced players. The sixth-year redshirt senior’s wisdom is a valuable asset, as he will be the most senior defensive back for the Cardinals.

Potts has primarily been a rotational player throughout his career, with him taking on backup cornerback duties behind Jones in 2022. Though the Columbus, Ohio product has never started more than three games in a given campaign, he has performed admirably when bestowed the opportunity to run with the starters.

In one of his three starts three starts last season, the veteran corner was a key to the Cardinals’ triumphant victory over rival Northern Illinois on October 1. Potts logged a career-best eight tackles, deflected a pass, and recorded a sack which yielded a fumble.

Playing alongside Potts in the starting secondary will be Riley, a junior safety who has impressed in his first two seasons in Muncie.

As a true freshman in 2021, the six-foot-one, 195 lb. defensive back appeared in each of the Cardinals’ 13 games, exhibiting his value on special teams and, occasionally, in the secondary.

When given the chance to step into a starting safety role in just his second year at Ball State, Riley performed at a level that was rivaled by few of his peers in the conference. The Maryland native notched 94 total tackles, recorded a sack, and defended 12 passes (tied for the team lead). Riley’s breakout season was rewarded by a selection to the all-MAC third team.

The experienced duo of Potts and Riley will comprise the backbone of the Cardinals’ secondary, but two starting spots — one at safety, and one at corner — are still open following the unit’s recent delivery to the NFL.

In search of suitable replacements for the open positions, Coach Neu’s staff dove into the transfer portal, and snatched a trio of Division I transfers who could immediately impact the squad.

DD Snyder, by way of Illinois, was arguably the most notable signee of the Cardinals’ secondary transfer class. Though Snyder saw little action in his two seasons in Champaign, his unique athleticism — exemplified by his track and field stardom in high school — his experience at the Power 5 level, and his rating as a three-star recruit by 247Sports project him as a top contender for the open starting safety position.

Snyder’s relative inexperience at the collegiate level is contrasted by Damion Charity, a graduate transfer signee from Old Dominion. Due to a coaching change in the middle of his career, Charity’s filled various roles for the Monarchs across his four seasons. Despite seeing just one start at his former school, the long, 6-2 Hampton, Va. native will be a strong candidate for considerable playing time, or even a starting role at cornerback.

One of a few FCS transfers on the Cardinals’ roster, former VMI standout Aljareek Malry will also be in the mix for either the starting corner position or safety spot. Malry was a mainstay in the Keydets’ defense in each of his four seasons for the program, making appearances at linebacker, corner, and safety. Across his career in the competitive Southern Conference, the versatile defensive back logged 233 total tackles, 17 passes defended, and a pair of interceptions.

Though they will likely have less pronounced roles than the aforementioned signees, three other athletes round out the cardinal and white’s transfer additions in the defensive back department: Jahmad Harmon (Kent State), Marion Ponds (JUCO), AJ Taylor (JUCO).

The Cardinals coaching staff clearly prioritized the signing of transfer defensive backs this offseason, but a couple prominent returners are also capable of competing for the starting spots and key reserve duties.

Loren Strickland, a redshirt senior, saw action in each of the team’s 12 outings last season, recording 19 tackles. Though Strickland’s first season at Ball State did not feature a start, he was formerly a star at D-II University of Indianapolis for four years, where he was a first-team all-conference safety.

Jordan Coleman took a redshirt season in his first campaign in Muncie last year, but he could be poised for a playing time in 2023. A graduate of St. Louis, Missouri’s DeSmet Jesuit High School, Coleman helped lead his team to a state championship, and was labeled as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.

Beyond the returners and transfer additions, a pair of highly-touted true freshman possess the talent necessary for special teams action or rotational work in the secondary: Derek Fields (a three-star recruit per 247Sports) and Elijah Davis (a two-star recruit per 247Sports).

This is the last in a series of Ball State football previews. If you missed any of the previous parts, please check out our 2023 MAC Football Preseason Preview storystream here!

BSU’s season kicks off Friday, Sept. 1 at 12 p.m. Eastern time in Lexington, Kentucky, where they are set to play the Kentucky Wildcats.