Viks coordinator says tough early games not just preparation

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - A defensive upgrade is a big part of Portland States plans for a big 2014 season. Among the units leaders are cornerback Aaron Sibley (left) and linebacker Brandon Brody-Heim, celebrating a defensive touchdown last year. Over the past several years, Portland State has become known as a team that can put up points but cannot stop opponents often enough to win more than a handful of games per season.

During a 6-6 campaign in 2013, the Vikings gave up 430.2 yards and 27.5 points per game (down from 36.0 the previous season). Perhaps most importantly, though, the Viks weren’t able to finish or pull out five games down the stretch that they wound up losing by one to 10 points (versus Eastern Washington, Sacramento State, Southern Utah, Cal Poly and Cal).

Second-year defensive coordinator Jaime Hill says he is less concerned about what the Vikings defense has become known for than with what they can do to rise up this season and give the offense the support needed to win more football games.

“You can’t worry about others on the outside,” Hill says. “We’ve got to concern ourselves about what we’re doing on the inside. We’re preparing our guys to be the best they can possibly be, do their personal best, don’t concern yourself about what everyone else is doing.

“If we can manage the points the way I expect us to, we can put ourselves in a position to be successful. Our ultimate goal is to win the football game. It doesn’t matter if we win 11-10, or if we win 41-40. Winning the football game is the first thing.”

Hill has set out a three-pronged goal system for the defense; hold opponents to under 24 points per game; be at least plus-one in turnovers each game; hold opponents to less than 100 yards rushing each contest.

Portland State coach Nigel Burton often talks about each player on the defense doing his 1/11th on every play. Hill has a similar philosophy.

“Everybody has a role they have to do,” Hill says. “We talk about being at your best when your best is needed. That’s the mantra that goes through our defense. Be at your best when your best is needed and make your own plays. Don’t concern yourself about what somebody else is doing. Just do your part.”

PSU’s defense will have only four full-time returning starters this season. However, eight other players have made starts, and 15 of the 21 players the Vikings brought in during the offseason are defensive players.

The strength of the Vikings’ defense will be on the D-line, where senior tackle Joe Lopez and junior tackle Junior Alexis both were honorable mention all-Big Sky picks last year.

“We have a bunch of guys who had some playing time a year ago, especially up front,” Hill says. “We have a pretty deep defensive line.”

The Vikings’ linebacker corps will return two starting outside ‘backers in senior Corey Crowder and junior Brandon Brody-Heim.

“The linebackers are another year more experienced,” Hill says. “We’ve added a piece or two here to help solidify the position. They’re pretty athletic. They’re pretty fast. We do have a couple of young guys who are still trying to figure it out. But it’s a much improved unit from a year ago.”

The cornerbacks will be experienced, too, with junior Aaron Sibley and sophomore Xavier Coleman returning.

“The two corners are both guys who played a lot a year ago, so we have experience in that position,” Hill says. “We feel confident in those guys.”

The safeties, however, are much less experienced. The two players likely to get the most action at the start — PSU opens at 1 p.m. Saturday at Oregon State — are junior Walter Santiago and junior Demetrius Jackson.

“Our safeties are a work in progress,” Hill says. “They’re still very young. However, they’ve performed very well in training camp.”

The Vikings’ defense will have its work cut out for it in the first month of the season. After this weekend’s visit to Corvallis, Portland State will play its only home game in September, taking on Western Oregon at 7:15 p.m. Sept. 6, at Hillsboro Stadium. Then the Vikings must travel to Pullman to face Washington State at 5 p.m. Sept. 13, and go to Cal Poly for a 6 p.m. Sept. 20 nonconference game.

Hill says he will not look at the two games against Pac-12 North teams as opportunities to prepare for the Big Sky season. Instead, he wants the Portland State defense to compete against whatever opponents they are lining up against.

“We don’t look at it in terms of preparing ourselves for other games,” he says. “We look at it in terms of the opponent we’re playing. Our job is to manage the points, and if we do our part we’ll be successful.”

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