Defensive secondary looks to improve

Bailey Townsend

For many weeks now, the WKU football team has been practicing in an attempt to gain some experience and to try to fill big shoes from last year’s season.

When it comes to WKU’s current secondary squad, it displays an interesting mix between returning starters and positions that need to be filled.

More specifically, this team has strong returning safeties but is currently dealing with finding new starting cornerbacks.

WKU’s secondary helped contribute to a defensive effort last season that saw the Toppers allow 50 fewer yards in the air and 104 fewer yards per game overall compared to the 2014 season.

One safety in particular who will continue to benefit the secondary squad is redshirt senior and safety Branden Leston.

Beginning as a walk-on and transfer, Leston has the most tackles by a Topper secondary player since Brian Lowder in 2002, both with 96 tackles.

Leston started 13 games last season and appeared in all 14. His participation record brings much-needed leadership and experience to the secondary this season.

Leston also had a season-best and career-best game against Old Dominion in 2015 when he got 13 tackles, six of which were solo. This stat is the second-most tackles in a single game under Head Coach Jeff Brohm.

Another safety who will bring experience to the secondary is senior Marcus Ward. Ward started all 14 games for the Toppers last season and recorded 57 tackles. He also got significant playing time during his sophomore season.

Ward earned a Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honor last season following the Louisiana Tech game, when he had a career-high 11 tackles — six solo — a forced fumble, two TFLs and two pass breakups.

Finding new cornerbacks for this year’s season is going to be a struggle, but it’s a struggle the secondary players are ready to take on.

Another challenge: finding players to fill the shoes of previous cornerbacks Prince Charles Iworah and Wonderful Terry.

One player who might be a fit for the position of starting cornerback is junior Joe Brown. After beginning as a running back, Brown eventually converted to defensive back and became the primary nickelback and reserve cornerback last season.

Brown saw playing time in 13 of the 14 games last season and recorded a total of 37 tackles, 24 of them solo tackles. He also featured a career-high nine tackles against Indiana.

While those are great stats and display a promising number of tackles, no tackle was bigger than Brown’s at the end of the Vanderbilt game.

During this game, he tackled Vandy’s tight end Nathan Marcus at the 1-yard line on a two-point conversion, therefore securing the win for the Toppers.

This tackle showed the ability to remain calm under pressure, an admirable quality in a starting player. The moment at Vandy and Brown’s previous stats give him a great shot at the starting cornerback position.

In the end, WKU’s secondary team shows promise. Even though it has large shoes to fill, the defense has both depth and eager players who are ready to play.