Each day, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian sports blog will break down each position on the UMass football roster from now until the regular season. Check in tomorrow for a look at the offensive line. UMass linebackers were highlighted yesterday.
Key Returners: Randall Jette (RS SO), Trey Dudley-Giles (SO), Devin Brown (SR), Khary Bailey-Smith (SO), D’Metrius Williams (SO), Joe Colton (SO), Antoine Tharpe (SR)
Key Losses: Christian Birt (RS JR), Darren Thellen (RS SR)
Promising Newcomers: Jackson Porter (FR), Lucas Amato (FR), Jordan Keli’inui (FR), Arthur Williams (FR), Jesse Monteiro (FR)
Notes: The old saying goes, “there is no better experience than game experience,” and the young secondary for the Massachusetts football team had plenty of opportunities to gain experience last season.
The Minutemen started primarily freshmen with a few upperclassmen sprinkled in throughout the season last year, leading to some struggles in the team’s first FBS campaign.
UMass will have to fill the void left by Darren Thellen, who led the defensive backs last year, collecting three interceptions and starting every game for the Minutemen while on his way to receiving All-MAC Second Team honors. UMass also lost Christian Birt midway through last season after he was dismissed from the team.
With camp in the books, it’s looking like sophomores Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles will be the Week 1 starters at cornerback, while Khary Bailey-Smith and Devin Brown will man the safety positions. But also expect to see some significant time from sophomores D’Metrius Williams and Joe Colton.
Bailey-Smith lead this strong group of young defensive backs as a true freshman in 2012, when he recorded 45 tackles and two interceptions, while playing in every game.
Not far behind Bailey-Smith was Jette. The redshirt sophomore saw his first game action last year and did not disappoint. After redshirting his freshman year, Jette finished fourth on the team with 53 tackles in 2012 to go along with one interception.
Dudley-Giles enters the year coming off a strong 2012 season, when he recorded 43 tackles as a true freshman. To go along with his speed and physicality, Dudley-Giles also possesses the ability to anticipate where passes are going, recording four pass deflections last year. Along with being UMass’ starting corner, he is also expected to be the team’s punt returner.
Adding a touch of veteran experience to an otherwise young secondary will be Brown and Tharpe. Despite only collecting 19 total tackles in 2012 between themselves, their roles on this year’s team will be gauged on more than just statistics. Brown in particular will have his first big role as both a leader and a starter in the secondary.
Defensive backs coach Greg Burns will certainly have his hands full once again this season, but there should certainly be signs of improvement from last year. With the veteran experience that the Minutemen have in the secondary coupled with numerous, talented, polished underclassmen, this should be a more disciplined secondary than last year.
Expect the sophomore core of Jette, Bailey-Smith, Dudley-Giles and even Williams to provide leadership this season and make it more difficult for opponents to get in the end zone.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.