This is a tough defense to go against if you are an offensive minded team. Kazee shuts down your best receiver while Barrett clogs up the running lanes, leaving the safeties and linebackers to run wild. The Aztecs defense finished fifth in the nation overall in defense last season. They were seventh against the run and seventh in scoring allowed. You will not have an easy day facing this defense.
Eight starters are returning on defense and that leads you to believe that this unit can actually get better. If they can stay healthy, they have a great shot to be a top-10 defense in all of the nation.
The 10-game winning streak the team ended the season with was much to do with the defense and the pressure they put on the opposing teams offense. In eight out of the 14 games the Aztecs played, the defense forced at least two turnovers. They attack and they are always around the ball. Let’s take a quick look at some of the key contributors on the Aztecs defense as they look to repeat as MWC Champions.
Damonte Kazee- (DB)
The reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year is poised for another great season. Kazee is a shut down type of corner and he will surely be playing on Sunday’s next year around this time. But lets not get ahead of ourselves. He has unfinished business and is focused on taking this Aztecs team into history. He does not have great size at 5-foot-9, but opposing offensive coordinators stay away from his side of the field. He recorded eight interceptions last season and 5.5 tackles for loss. He leads the defensive secondary and is exciting to watch. Enjoy him Aztecs fans because he will be gone soon and be on to bigger and better things.
Malik Smith- (S)
Smith recorded 77 tackles last season and five interceptions while helping lead the much improved Aztecs secondary. He recorded 11 tackles in one game alone against South Alabama. He is not afraid to get his nose dirty and he provides excellent leadership while on the field. He has been a three-year starter for the defense and he is well aware of the positioning and schemes the Aztecs try to utilize.
Alex Barrett- (DL)
This young man recorded five and a half sacks last season and also intercepted two passes. The senior is always in the right place at the right time and is a very physical presence on the defensive line. He is 6-3 and 255 lbs and is extremely quick and agile for his size. He played defensive end last season last season a little bit for the Aztecs when they had an injury at the position. He will be a tackle to start the season and is very stout against the run.
Calvin Munson- (LB)
Led the Aztecs in tackles last season with 98 and also led the team in sacks with 9.5. He also returned two interceptions for touchdowns. He is an early candidate for defensive player of the year and has a nose for the ball. Munson is a senior and is a sure handed tackler. The big man is very athletic as he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 31st round of the 2013 draft. He even pitched for the Aztecs baseball team in 2015. He will be all over the field on game-day, you will notice him.
Kameron Kelly- (S)
An ultra athletic talent, Kelly has found his way on the team at the safety position. He recorded 58 tackles (37 solo) last season for the Aztecs in 13 games started. He totals three tackles for loss and defended three passes. He also contributed to the team by picking off two passes for the Aztecs secondary. The team has talented played all over the secondary and a very stout line. They will be a tough team to score points against. Kelly is a junior and could be poised for a breakout year. Keep an eye out for him.
Billy Vaughn- (DB)
A special teams monster, he had led the Aztecs in tackles (21) the past two seasons while on coverage during punts and kickoff. He battled a knee injury early in camp but is well positioned to resume duties with the first team. He looks to share the cornerback position opposite Kazee with Derek Babiash. Vaughn lost some valuable playing time last season because he violated team rules. He was suspended by the team and missed the first six of the 2015 season. The ability is there for this young man. He could be a candidate for a breakout season as he has clearly matured. Or at least the Aztecs hope he has as they position themselves for a great 2016 season.