The Tennessee State football team is looking forward to unveiling some new looks for the 2020 season. The defensive unit hopes to bring together a veteran crew, along with some newcomers and a new coordinator to bounce back after ranking towards the bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference in total defense and points allowed.
Here are some items to look for this season.
Justin Roberts is back for his third stint at TSU. The newly appointed defensive coordinator returns after a stop at Sam Houston State and Southern Mississippi. Roberts served as a defensive line coach before being elevated to Assistant Head Coach at SHSU, who were a perennial FCS playoff team. At Southern Miss, Roberts was the defensive line coach for the Golden Eagles who finished 9-4 in 2015. In his last stay at TSU, Roberts served as defensive line coach from 2006 through 2009 and as co-defensive coordinator from 2011 to 2014. The Tigers ranked among the top 15 nationally in FCS total defense in both 2013 and 2014 and led the Ohio Valley three years in a row.
The squad returns seven starters and 11 of the top 17 in tackles from a season ago. Linebacker Terry Straughter finished second on the team in 2018 with 67 tackles, two behind departed senior Ronnie Killings. Then freshman Josh Green, who started in the final seven games, registered 66 stops at safety. Leading the way in the backfield is Nick Harper Jr., who finished fifth on the team with 58 tackles and led the OVC in passes defended with 14 breakups and two interceptions. The Big Blue looks forward to the return of middle linebacker Jahsun Bryant who had his season cut short due to injuries. Bryant played in seven games and tallied 41 stops, which was good for eighth on the unit.
All three honored defenders from 2019 return in the forms of Harper, Green and Terray Jones. Harper was an All-OVC selection and was tabbed as a conference preseason selection. Harper started all 12 contests a year ago and established himself as one of the top defenders in the OVC. Green saw most of his action on special teams to open the season and was moved into the lineup at safety in the middle of the week five contest at Eastern Kentucky. Green went on to produce three 11 tackle games which helped him earn Freshman All-American Honors. Jones saw limited time in weeks one and four, while sitting out games two and three. The true freshman entered the starting lineup in the trenches at EKU and never relinquished the spot. Jones totaled 16 tackles, 4.5 for loss, one sack, two quarterback hurries and forced a fumble to be recognized as a Freshman All-American.
The defense will look to infuse the squad with newcomers such as Davoan Hawkins and Josh Newman. Hawkins played in nine games for the University of Kentucky as a redshirt freshman and will add strength to an already deep line, while Newman, a safety transfer from Texas State, will join a strong backfield. The Tigers also look to add to a veteran defense with the experience of a pair of junior college transfers in linebacker Tadarrius Patterson, who began his career at Toledo, and defensive back Curtavious McDonald. Linebacker Micaiah Joseph and cornerback Jeshon Ingraham highlight a talented group of true freshman to the 2020 squad.
Roberts will look to unify the scheme in a timely manner with the defense. The DC was only able to have two practices with his unit during the spring, before all athletic activities were shutdown in March due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The Tigers will have to overcome the challenges of no spring season and the elimination of a preseason camp, as practices will begin when classes start. Roberts is ready to except the challenge of what the 2020 season brings as he will have a chance to see what the newcomers can bring to a talented group and looks to install a system that allows the defense to play fast and showcase the abilities of the team.