Editor's note: This is the second in a nine-part series previewing Utah State's football team by position. Next: Linebackers.
If Brian Suite's final two games of the 2013 campaign is any indication, he's primed for a stellar senior season.
"In terms of what he's done football-wise, he's turned it on, he's becoming a playmaker back there and that's just all confidence," Utah State defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. "... At some point he looked at himself and said, 'You know what? I'm long enough, I'm fast enough, I can do the things I need to with (my abilities), now it's time to turn it on.’
"I think that's what you saw at the end of last year and it has continued. I'm extremely excited to see him on the field."
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior safety led the Aggies with a game-high 11 tackles, to go along with an interception and fumble recovery in their 21-14 victory over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 26.
In the inaugural Mountain West Conference championship game against Fresno State, a 24-17 victory for the host Bulldogs on Dec. 7, Suite recorded nine tackles and two interceptions.
"It was surreal and I think that's a credit to the coaches and the guys around me," Suite said of the way he ended last season. "We really came together as a whole team, not just myself. I made a few plays, but that's just a small part of what we've put together as a team.
"We lost special guys (due to injury), we lost certain guys we really needed, but at the end of the day, we still had the guys to win games, we still had the guys to be successful. We're going to just continue that onto this year."
For his efforts last season, Suite earned honorable mention all-MW honors. He led the Aggies with five interceptions, to go along with 77 tackles and six pass breakups.
"The cool thing about Brian is outside of the actual playing, his care factor is probably as high as anybody," Orlando said. "Him and Zach (Vigil), and those type of guys, they care so much and they're always working at it. He doesn't have a selfish bone in his body, so if he has information, he's willing to give it to the younger guys, he's willing to show other guys how to work at it.
"That, to me, is the most impressive part about him."
Despite the fact Suite returns for USU, one of the Aggies' biggest concerns heading into the 2014 campaign is the defensive backfield.
That's because USU graduated four starters here in safety Maurice Alexander, as well as cornerbacks Quinton Byrd, Nevin Lawson and Tay Glover-Wright.
Two other Aggies who were lost to graduation include Clayton Christensen and Cameron Sanders.
"For my group, everyone's saying, 'You lost all these starters, you lost all these guys,' but if you really understand Utah State football and you have really watched our games, then you know Rashard Stewart has been playing for years, Frankie Sutera has been playing for years and started in the bowl game," Suite explained. "He knows how to play in big games, he knows how to make plays. These guys are all mentally there, they're physically there, so it's not replacing those guys, we have other guys moving up to the starting roles."
One such player looking to break into the starting lineup is the 5-9, 190-pound Devin Centers. The sophomore safety has taken his game to the next level since the end of last season, shining during spring camp and carrying that on into fall camp.
"Frankie is a veteran and he was playing when I got here, so to be battling with him for a starting spot means I'm doing something right," Centers said. "I'm actually applying myself in the right ways. It also means I'm setting a good example for the younger guys that are just getting here, which is a big thing."
During the first week of fall camp, Centers recorded four interceptions within a three-day span.
"He's very confident right now, he enjoys being out there, he knows what he's doing and he's a very good athlete," Orlando said. "He's out there making plays and doing some really good things, and I think that will continue. He worked his tail off in the summer time and we see him up here a lot of time doing film work on his own and trying to get better on the field. Hopefully, he continues to improve as we get closer to Tennessee."
Besides Suite, Centers and Sutera, the Aggies return two other letterwinners in cornerbacks Marquan Ellison and Stewart.
Stewart, a senior, has played in 36 games during his first three seasons, finishing 2013 with 14 tackles and two pass breakups.
"He's turned the corner for us," Orlando said. "In the last couple of years, he had a limited backup role. He's kind of the elder statesman in that group. We brought a whole bunch of younger corners in and he's been working with those guys and kind of showing them the way.
"He's really matured from that standpoint and really turned professionally in terms of trying to have a great senior season. We'll see."
How does Stewart feel about being the senior leader of the cornerbacks?
"I feel like I'm getting better," he said. "Everybody makes mistakes, so if I'm not having the day I should, I'll look at the other seniors, other guys like Chuckie (Keeton) or (Kevin) Whimpey, even (junior wide receiver) Brandon Swindall. I look at those guys and they uplift me. I'm just trying to do the best in my role."
Newcomers looking to compete for a spot in the defensive backfield include junior safety Marwin Evans, sophomore cornerback Daniel Gray and freshman safety Marwin Evans. Those three all redshirted last season.
Gray transferred to USU from Tennessee, where he played as a freshman in 2012.
"He's had a great summer," Orlando said of Gray. "He's got to continue to develop his body and just continue to learn, but he's got a whole bunch of athletic ability.
"... He's at a point right now where he just needs to continue to improve and I'm really anxious to see how he goes out there because when you first get here you're trying to figure it all out. Then you kind of have a break and the guys take you under their wing and you learn it, and then the next thing you know, you're on the field."
Junior college transfers vying for playing time include cornerbacks Tyler Floyd, Deshane Hines and Bryant Hayes.
"My expectations are everybody else's expectations," Stewart said. "I'm not trying to be funny, but we're trying to be better than the last group. That's coach Todd's motto: Make it better. We are trying to make it better and we have to take steps to make it better."
Ags focus on special teams
The majority of USU’s focus during Wednesday’s 60-minute practice at Romney Stadium was on special teams.
“We really concentrated on special teams today, along with some situational stuff with the offense and defense,” second-year head coach Matt Wells said. “I really liked how they came back from last night’s scrimmage. We moved around well today with the intent of getting ready for tomorrow’s two practices.”
The Aggies will hold their second two-a-day of fall camp today, practicing from 9:15 to 11:15 a.m. and again from 4:55 to 6:25 p.m., both on the practice fields.