ATLANTA — Georgia State’s defense may not feature a wealth of experience, but defensive coordinator Jesse Minter is excited to work with this young but eager and talented group.
“We’re young, we’ve added some new faces and we don’t have a lot of seniors, but I feel like we’ve taken a big step at a lot of positions on our defense,” Minter said. “It’s a very hungry group and a very enthusiastic group, and these guys want to win some games.”
The Panthers held their first practice of the preseason Sunday morning, continuing to work toward their Aug. 27 season opener. Georgia State will host the nation’s first FBS game of the 2014 season as Abilene Christian visits the Georgia Dome for a 7 p.m. game on ESPNU.
Nowhere are the new more faces on defense more prominent than in the secondary. The safety position features the Panthers’ second-leading tackler from 2013 in junior Tarris Batiste, but even he is a newcomer in the secondary because he moved to safety from outside linebacker in the spring.
“The role that I’m in now fits me because it lets me fly around the field,” said Batiste, who had 77 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss and an interception last season. “I love playing the pass, and I think I can get my hands on some balls.”
Batiste, who played for Miles at Indiana State before transferring to GSU in 2013, is the lone returnee currently starting in the defensive backfield and definitely the veteran of the group.
“It’s a little complicated right now, but they’re learning,” Batiste said of playing with so many newcomers.
Playing alongside Batiste at safety is junior college transfer Nate Simon from Golden West (Calif.) College. At the corners, junior college transfer Marcus Caffey (Iowa Western C.C.) and UCF transfer Bruce Dukes look to earn starting berths, but a number of true freshmen could be in the mix as well.
“B.J. Clay is a guy with the skill set that you’re looking for,” Minter said. “Chandon Sullivan, Antreal Allen and Jerome Smith are just some of the freshmen who we’re excited to work with.”
For specific areas of improvement for the defense, Minter mentioned stopping the run and creating turnovers.
“We want to take the ball away more than we did last year. Certainly, big plays hurt us at times in the past,” he said. “But the number one thing for me is being able to stop the run and make the quarterback uncomfortable.
“We want to be a long, tall, big defense,” Minter continued. “I believe big is better. You certainly can’t sacrifice athleticism for certain positions, but at the end of the day, we want size. We want to be able to beat people up. That’s the style of defense we want.”
NOTING THE PANTHERS …
- Continuing the youth theme, the Georgia State defense will likely feature an all-sophomore front line, with sophomore nose guard Jalen Lawrence flanked by sophomore defensive ends Shawayne Lawrence and Tevin Jones. That trio all played as true freshmen last fall, as did Carnell Hopson, the top backup at defensive end. Redshirt freshman Will Cunningham should be another key backup at defensive end. Junior David Huey is the backup at nose guard.
- The Panthers practiced in shoulder pads for the first time today. “First time in shoulder pads, and this was the hottest day so far,” head coach Trent Miles said. “There were some good things out there, but some things we need to get better at. It’s all the little things.” Shotgun snaps, for example, are an area that likely will be getting some extra attention. “We’re trying to get everyone reps, so we are rotating four different centers, but you can’t have the ball on the ground,” Miles said.
- The majority of Georgia State’s 2014 recruiting class enrolled either in January or June, but two new scholarship freshmen have joined the team for preseason camp in wide receiver Todd Boyd of Moultrie, Ga., and Colquitt County High School and outside linebacker James Traylor of Columbus (Ga.) High School. Boyd is one of two incoming freshmen from Colquitt County High School, along with offensive lineman Gabe Mobley. Traylor was a high school receiver, but at 6-3 and 220 pounds, he will work at linebacker.