LAST YEAR’S LOSSES: The Falcons only lost two starters to graduation, but the two hits were doozies. One was senior DT Chris Jones, the MAC defensive player of the year whose 42 tackles included 19 for loss and 12.5 sacks. The other was senior LB Dwayne Woods, a three-time All-MAC pick who last year finished with 68 tackles, 8.5 for loss, as well as an interception and a fumble recovery.
RETURNING STARTERS: Let’s start in the backfield, where the returning SAFETIES are senior Booboo Gates, who had 47 tackles and a pair of interceptions to earn All-MAC first team honors, and junior Ryland Ward, who made 57 tackles and broke up four passes. … At one CORNERBACK will be senior Cameron Truss, a third-team All-MAC choice who had 63 tackles and five passes broken up a year ago. The other cornerback starter is Aaron Foster, who has started at safety during his career and had 16 tackles a year ago. ... Starting at LINEBACKER will be junior rover Gabe Martin, who led the Falcons with 70 tackles last season and also had one interception, five other passes broken up, and two forced fumbles. He was voted All-MAC first team a year ago. … Senior middle linebacker Paul Swan was third on the team in tackles with 65, including 6.5 for loss. … Junior linebacker D.J. Lynch saw extensive action because Woods was injured much of last season, and Lynch had 63 tackles. … Moving to the DEFENSIVE LINE, both starters at end return in redshirt juniors Bryan Thomas and Charlie Walker. Thomas finished with 33 tackles, including 8.0 for loss, while Walker had 34 stops, including six behind the line. … At defensive tackle, senior Ted Ouellet was named All-MAC third team a year ago after making 35 tackles, including six for loss.
NAMES TO WATCH: At DEFENSIVE TACKLE, senior Jairus Campbell played in just three games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Campbell was actually starting in front of Ouellet at the time of his injury. … Among the other players who will see time at defensive tackle are junior Zach Colvin, who had 15 tackles last season; sophomore Mike Minns, who had two tackles in three games, and sophomore Taylor Royster, who made three tackles in nine games. … At DEFENSIVE TACKLE, senior Ronnie Goble fought through injuries last season to finish with 12 tackles. Junior Kendall Montgomery switched from tight end in the spring and is a physical, talented athlete. … At LINEBACKER, sophomore Coy Brown saw action in his first fall on campus last year and posted four tackles in seven games. … At CORNERBACK, sophomore Will Watson also saw action as a true freshman and finished with three tackles in 10 games. Junior Brian Sutton, who finished with 23 tackles last year, moved from rover to provide depth. … The Falcons are especially deep at SAFETY, as senior Josh Pettus made 31 tackles while backing up Gates at the “stud” safety while junior Jude Adjei-Barimah posted 30 tackles while backing up Ward at the “whip” safety.
NEWCOMERS OF NOTE: Redshirt freshman Jhalil-Nashid Croley may see action at defensive end after playing well in the spring. … Junior college transfer Paul Senn adds to the Falcons’ depth at linebacker.
COACH'S COMMENT: “I think the guys are hungry,” defensive coordinator Mike Elko said. “I believe they understand that we missed out on some of our goals last year, and we didn’t get where we wanted to be. So there’s still a lot to accomplish. I don’t think your replace Chris Jones, because he was a special player for us who had an unbelievable year last year. I think you ask the group to step up as a unit and be as good as we were last year. I don’t know if anyone else will play at his level. But we hope the defensive line, as a group plays at the same level they did last year. And it’s the same at linebacker, where Dwayne Woods was a three-time all-conference player and made a ton of plays for us. I don’t know if we’ll have someone play as well as he did, but we want to have the group play as well as they did last year. That’s the challenge.”
FALCON FODDER FEARLESS FORECAST: With so many returnees, it’s easy to say the defense will be as good as last season. But is that fair? Last year the Falcons weren’t good on defense -- they were great. They were so great, in fact, that BG’s game play became letting the defense set the tone, and making sure the offense and special teams didn’t put the defense in a bad position. To have a championship squad, the offense and special teams have to do more than that, obviously. But the defense does NOT have to be great to win a title. However, the defense DOES have to be very, very good -- and this unit is capable of very, very good. Also, two big-play makers are gone, and as a unit the Falcons will need to force turnovers and get quick stops as they did last season.
Click here to read Monday's look at the Falcon offense.
Wednesday, Aug. 28: The special teams.