Ball State's defense combines experience, new talent in 2017
Last season, Ball State’s cornerbacks were one of the most inexperienced units on defense.
But after the Cardinals graduated Sean Wiggins, Aaron Taylor, Zach Ryan, Corey Hall, Martez Hester and Joshua Posley, that's no longer the case.
Redshirt junior Josh Miller and redshirt senior David Moore combine for 15 starts in a Ball State uniform, while junior Marc Walton, one of only four players to start every game on defense last season, leads the cornerbacks with 13 - making them the most experienced unit on Ball State's defense.
“Last year’s team was more senior led, senior dominated,” Walton said. “This year we have lot of younger guys, a lot of guys who maybe haven’t played a lot of ball, but are ready to play.”
Other returning experience to Ball State’s defense includes 2016 All-Mid-American Conference third team selection Anthony Winbush along with 2017 senior team captain Kevin Willis, each of whom have started more than 20 career games.
Balancing the rush and pass defense is going to be crucial for Ball State’s defense this year, according to first year defensive coordinator David Elson. Last season, the Cardinals finished 126th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in passing yards allowed per game.
“People think it’s all about the defensive backs, but we’re all about team defense and the best pass defense is a pass rush,” Elson said. “If we can affect the quarterback, that’s going to make our pass defense a lot better and vice versa.”
While the defensive line returns key players from last season, rushing the quarterback will also lie on the responsibility on a group of young linebackers. The unit is led by redshirt sophomore Jacob White who was selected as one of the four team captains this season despite only seeing action in 11 games as a reserve linebacker in 2016.
White along with redshirt juniors Damon Singleton and Jeremiah Jackson will replace three of last season’s top five tacklers in Sean Wiggins, Aaron Taylor and Zack Ryan.
Elson isn’t worried about the lack of experience, saying that White has “done a great job” as a leader of the defense this summer.
“One of the good things that coach Curtis did last year is that all of them played, Damon Singleton played some and Jacob White played some,” Elson said. “At least those two guys, you feel like have some experience playing and you can see it in those two, especially Jacob. ... He’s one of those guys who are really getting a good feel for the defense and how everything fits together.”
While only four defensive players have started in more than 10 games at Ball State, Elson is excited to work the younger guys into the system, saying that “the future is bright.”
Working with younger players is something that Walton says he has been working on throughout the offseason, both on and off the field, as he plays more of a leadership role in this years secondary.
For him, the defense’s goal is simple this season.
“We want to be the most dominating defense in the MAC and that’s how we practice every day,” Walton said. “That’s our goal every day, just to come out here and work towards that, so at the end of the season, we have ourselves in the position to be in the MAC Championship.”
While the Cardinals first conference test isn’t until Sept. 30, Ball State opens up the season against the University of Illinois on Sept. 2.