Despite a forgettable 2020 campaign for Colorado State’s discombobulated secondary, in no way, shape, or form did Rashad Ajayi envision the ensuing offseason’s efflux of departing defensive backs.
Witnessing two, maybe three DBs exit through the transfer portal seemed realistic, considering the temptation to test outside waters with a pandemic-induced extra year of eligibility on the table.
But seven back-end defenders out the door in five months?
“People make choices that are best for them. You just have to live by the next-man-up mentality,” the three-year starting cornerback said. “But honestly, I didn’t see it coming at all.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Following the Rams’ final 2020 contest, seven members of their secondary packed their bags and hit the road by mid-April.
The group of former Rams includes cornerback Keevan Bailey, who abruptly became a nonfactor in 2020 after a promising freshman stint. Additionally, two of CSU’s go-to reserves in senior Dajon Owens and junior Quinn Brinnon have left the mix.
Nonetheless, Ajayi’s positivity seems to exemplify the consensus of the Rams’ entire secondary. The junior –– who expanded his game by learning the nickel position during spring ball –– believes CSU’s secondary has enjoyed a night-and-day transformation since surrendering the third-most passing yards per contest (250) in the Mountain West.
“I’ve got a whole new understanding of the defense,” Ajayi said. “Like why we call certain things, why people are supposed to be in certain positions. And I feel like overall, all the older guys know the checks and new terminology now. So as far as being comfortable with everything, we’ll be way better next year.”
As Ajayi hopes to rekindle the flame from an individually superb freshman season, starting safety Logan Stewart and starting cornerback Marshaun Cameron are set to lead the defensive backfield charge as both have contributed vitally since arriving as transfers in 2019.
Over the past two seasons, Stewart’s 102 tackles and Cameron’s 66 takedowns rank within the top three of all current roster members. The two have also combined to total five takeaways and 13 pass breakups.
“Even if we don’t bring in any new people, we’ll be OK, especially with having Logan and Marshaun back,” Ajayi said. “They’ll do us justice. Both of them are experienced playmakers who know how to create turnovers.”
Additionally, the Rams acquired Temple graduate Linwood Crump through the transfer portal in early January –– enhancing the room’s talent and overall condition.
As a reliable veteran, Crump accrued 50 total tackles, 15 pass breakups, a trio of interceptions and two forced fumbles in 48 games across five seasons at TU.
“He can definitely help us in the long run,” Ajayi described of the New Jersey native. “He’s an experienced guy. He knows what’s gonna come at him. So we don’t have to worry about him in that aspect. It’s just getting comfortable with the defense and terminology, like we all did when we first got here. But he’s a playmaker and we’ll definitely need him going forward.”
The secondary’s focus from a progressive spring will remain the same once fall camp arrives. Eliminate substantial gains through the air and find a way to produce takeaways after corralling merely one interception in 2020.
Given CSU’s established prowess elsewhere, the Rams’ secondary could very well represent the determining factor toward all-around defensive prosperity.
The pressure is on. But with a better comprehension of how to operate within coordinator Chuck Heater’s scheme, all indicators suggest refinements.
CSU never saw seven departures coming, nor would it wish such a fate upon itself. Nevertheless, the Rams do anticipate one thing regarding their 2021 secondary –– revitalized functionality in all facets.
“We made the most progress in the back-end,” Steve Addazio described. “You knew we had a good defensive front, but the back-end wasn’t where it needed to be last year. Now I feel really good about it. Tywan (Francis) and Henry (Blackburn) stepped up and had great springs. I just really like all those guys. Our secondary came a long way.”
Position: Defensive backs
Seniors (2020 statistics): Linwood Crump, 6-foot, 175-pounds (graduate transfer; 5 games played, 10 tackles, 4 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble); Logan Stewart, 6-1, 215 (4 starts, 26 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble); Marshaun Cameron, 5-9, 190 (4 starts, 29 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble).
Juniors: Rashad Ajayi, 5-11, 190 (4 starts, 7 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU); Tywan Francis, 6-0, 200 (1 start, 3 games played, 18 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU).
Sophomores: Mikell Harvey, 5-8, 170 (didn’t play in 2020).
Redshirt & second-year freshmen (COVID ruling): Henry Blackburn, 6-0, 200 (2 starts, 4 games played, 23 tackles, 1 PBU); Brandon Guzman, 6-0, 190 (didn’t play in 2020); Titus Jones, 6-1, 190 (transfer; didn’t play in 2020); Griffin Vanderwaerdt, 6-0, 180 (didn’t play in 2020).
True freshmen: Jack Howell, 5-11, 190; Branden Coleman, 6-1, 180; Langston Williams, 5-10, 155.
Players lost: Dajon Owens, 6-0, 195 (3 games played, 2 tackles); Quinn Brinnon, 6-0, 190 (2 starts, 3 games played, 15 tackles, 1 TFL); Christian Cumber, 6-0, 185 (4 games played, 3 tackles); Xavier Goldsmith, 5-8, 175 (didn’t play in 2020); Keevan Bailey, 5-11, 180 (2 games played); Adonis Rufran, 5-8, 170 (didn’t play in 2020); Caleb Blake, 5-10, 174 (didn’t play in 2020).
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