UMass football fall camp day two: Defensive secondary hopes experience, added depth brings greater consistency

By Anthony Chiusano

Collegian File Photo
Collegian File Photo

When looking at the Massachusetts football team’s 2015 roster, it’s hard to find another position that boasts as much experience as its defensive secondary. And while the group allowed its fair share of big plays last season, it now hopes a combination of experience and added depth leads to consistent success this upcoming year.

The Minutemen return nine defensive backs from last season, led by a starting senior corps of Randall Jette, Joe Colton and Trey Dudley-Giles. According to Dudley-Giles, this wealth of experience will loom large in the overall success of the defensive unit.

“We have to be the core of the defense,” Dudley-Giles said Tuesday after day two of fall camp. “In order for us to win games, we have to play good in the secondary and we take a lot of pride in that.

“We’ve been through a lot of bumps and bruises throughout the years so I feel like it’s time to really put our experience to work.”

Dudley-Giles is expected to start at safety alongside Colton while Jette and redshirt sophomore Jackson Porter are projected to man the starting cornerback positions to begin the season. Although Porter experienced growing pains last year in his eight starts and 11 appearances, defensive coordinator Tom Masella said he’s confident Porter can be consistently productive in his second season.

“Jackson was put in a bad spot last year. He was a young guy who wasn’t ready to play a lot of snaps as a corner,” Masella said. “Obviously he caught the brunt of a lot of things but he’s going to be a good player for us.”

The news of Porter’s starting role allows Dudley-Giles to return to his more comfortable place at safety, a position that he started at to begin the 2014 season before being moved to corner. Dudley-Giles said the move makes it easier for him to be more of a vocal leader on defense.

“I’m going to play wherever they need me,” Dudley-Giles said. “I feel comfortable at both (positions) but I feel more of a leader at safety than at corner. I can tell guys where to be and what to do in certain situations so I can express more of my feelings and help the whole group out.”

In addition to the abundance of returnees, UMass’ secondary also welcomes new faces in the form of freshmen and transfers.

Following the temporary disband of UAB’s football program, ex-Blazers defensive back Kelton Brackett found a new home with the Minutemen for his senior season, although the decision played out in an unorthodox way.

“When (UAB) shut down, I was turning down offers from other schools, I didn’t want to play anymore,” Brackett said. “But it was crazy because coach (Mark) Whipple texted me and I didn’t have my phone, my girlfriend responded to him and said I was interested. So I came and took a visit in January and liked the place.

“I saw what coach Whipple had going, so I just wanted to jump aboard.”

UMass also added former Vanderbilt linebacker Larry Franklin on Sunday, the day before the opening of fall camp, and expect to use him in the secondary.

“They’re getting reps, it’s just a matter of how quickly they pick up our language,” Masella said. “As soon as they’re comfortable with our terminology, athletically they’re going to help us. There’s no question about that.”

Brackett admitted that it took a while to adjust to UMass’ playbook and feel comfortable within the system. He added that he also had to get back in football shape following a foot injury that hampered him at the beginning of last season.

“I had a foot injury so you get used to running a little bit and making cuts and stuff like that,” Brackett said. “I’m back in shape now.”

Despite the early adjustment period, Brackett said he’s excited to join the Minutemen’s already established core of defensive backs and added he was immediately welcomed aboard by Jette and Dudley-Giles following his decision to transfer.

“It’s a pretty cool group,” Brackett said.

Masella said he’s been impressed by a trio of freshman defensive backs as well over the first two days of camp in Lee Moses, James Oliphant and Brandon Mangram. He added that the expected addition of freshman Daiquan Kelly, who was dismissed from Penn State on Aug. 11 for violation of team rules, is another positive move for the secondary’s future.

Masella said the ideal situation, however, would be to redshirt the majority of freshmen this year.

“I’m really excited about those guys but hopefully they don’t have to play this year and we can redshirt them,” Masella said. “That’s a pretty good four to get and that bodes well for the future. They’re all athletic, they all can run and some of them have size.”

With all the pieces in place, both old and new, Dudley-Giles said the main focus for the secondary heading into this season is limiting big plays through the air from opponents. UMass finished ninth out of 13 teams in the Mid-American Conference last year in passing defense.

“We can’t give up big plays,” Dudley-Giles said. “We have to make sure tackles, we have to tackle the receivers as receivers instead of ball carriers. We have to minimalize the big plays a lot this year, we gave up too many last year.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.