On Monday, San Diego State Aztecs defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Kurt Mattix and senior cornerback Tayler Hawkins met with the media. Fresh off another spring practice, they gave insight into a number of topics related to the defense.
The competition for the three open secondary spots heats up.
While Coach Mattix noted that a decision has not yet been made on who will fill the three starter positions in the secondary vacated by departing seniors Tariq Thompson, Darren Hall, and Dwayne Johnson, Jr., several players have stood out in camp so far.
He specifically named Dallas Branch as someone that has done a nice job competing for a starter spot and also Patrick McMorris, who made a few nice plays and was physical during this past Friday’s scrimmage.
Taylor Hawkins also named Patrick McMorris as someone who had definitely caught his eye in spring camp, along with Alan Mwata, Adonis Brown, Dallas Branch, and Cedarious Barfield. He believes they are “definitely going to help us contribute next year.”
Based on the sounds of it, the competition is fierce and will likely continue into the late summer.
Taylor Hawkins taking on a strong leadership role in the secondary.
Given the departure of three key seniors from the secondary, Hawkins feels that he definitely needs to step up as one of the main leaders of the secondary. The main reason being that, unlike past years, they have more young guys that they have to bring along this year.
“I feel like I am one of the more vocal guys, so I definitely need to bring some of the young guys along and show them how we do things around here, and show them how Aztec Football as a DB is actually played.”
Despite being a vocal guy, he tries not to do too much talking and instead prefers to lead by example and show his younger teammates how to go hard and be held accountable.
Despite the Aztecs defense being highly ranked last year, he feels they have a lot to prove this coming year. While Hawkins was technically on the Aztecs last conference championship team in 2016, that was during his redshirt year, so he is very hungry to win a championship this year. “I felt like I haven’t got a ring myself, so I actually want to earn a ring.”
SDSU DB Tayler Hawkins on how recovering from a knee injury shaped him and why returning for a second senior season was important for him. pic.twitter.com/jdMixWuPb6
— East Village Times (@EVT_News) April 20, 2021
While Hawkins enjoys competing and takes his role as a leader seriously, he also likes to have fun with his teammates and to make sure he has “the most fun I can in my last year.”
Friday’s scrimmage showed the defense is progressing but not a finished product yet.
Coach Mattix mentioned that the scrimmage allowed the team to get a lot of snaps and provided a lot of chances to evaluate all the players. While noting that the defense did generate four turnovers in the scrimmage (3 interceptions and 1 fumble), there were two or three turnover opportunities that they were not able to capitalize on that they will need to improve on moving forward.
Coach Mattix also noted that the offense successfully converted several 2-point conversion plays against his defense, including a “Philly Special,” and they need to be better in that regard.
Several players who impressed during the scrimmage, Cameron Thomas, Caden McDonald, and Jonah Tavai, should be familiar to Aztec fans. But Coach Mattix also mentioned that Sophomore Linebacker Vai Kaho “did a real nice job, was playing real physical, trying to do the things that we are asking him to do.“
According to Coach Mattix, the defense has improved over time in the spring, and while “it might not be as big of a step as we want, we definitely felt like we took a step forward.”
A very strong returning front six is going to help the less experienced secondary.
While the departure of three starters from last year’s secondary has been well documented, the Aztecs return all six starters from their front 6 (3 defensive lineman and 3 linebackers), including a dominant defensive line.
Coach Mattix noted that their great defensive line allows them to only rush the passer successfully with three or four guys and “allows you to play the best possible coverage you want to have.” It also allows a defense to not have to commit too many players to stop the run, which could make them more susceptible to passing plays down the field.
Another benefit from returning the entire front six is the continuity that has developed between the players and how they know where everyone is going to be. This makes it easier as a coordinator, according to Coach Mattix, “to try to expand that and do a couple of things here and there” by using line stunts or new blitz packages.
After practice this evening EVT writer Andre Haghverdian @ahaghver23 asked coach Mattix about what the Aztecs are working on to be even more disruptive up front than they were last year. pic.twitter.com/VJ814l9W0G
— East Village Times (@EVT_News) April 20, 2021
This and That
- Trenton Thompson has continued right where he left off last season during spring camp and has solidified his starter role.
- Replacing Tariq Thompson (“a special football player for us for several years”) and the multi-dimensional role he played on the Aztecs defense is not going to be easy. Still, Coach Mattix says it will likely be by committee and situational based on the offense the Aztecs will be playing.
- Two true Freshmen (Zyrus Fiaseu and New Zealand Williams) had a chance to compete in camp. Both transitioned into the program very well and did a great job adapting to the culture; Coach Mattix noted that both showed up on some really big plays at Friday’s scrimmage.
- With the new NCAA redshirt rules allowing 4 game appearances, true freshmen may have a chance to get on the field some early this year, according to Coach Mattix, especially to help out on Special Teams.
- Keshawn Banks is a little banged up currently but doing a great job with some of the younger defensive lineman in a leadership role during spring camp.
- Taylor Hawkins stated that the biggest difference between playing cornerback and safety is that, as a cornerback, you are “more on an island, one-on-one” and need to rely more on your technique and lock in on your fundamentals.
- According to Hawkins, having a full spring camp this year is very beneficial and gives the defense the opportunity to fine-tune their techniques and “bring back our identity and bring back our culture.”
- Hawkins was skeptical about getting the COVID-19 vaccine at first but ended up getting vaccinated; he believes some of his teammates are still skeptical and do not plan on getting vaccinated.
- Hawkins is really looking forward to having the Aztec fans back in the stadium for the upcoming season, having that “football energy” back that was missing last year.
- Hawkins battled an injury early in his Aztec career, which he says made him mentally stronger and tougher and believe in himself more.
- The only offensive player Hawkins mentioned when asked which teammate had impressed him the most so far in camp was Jaylon Armstead, Redshirt Freshman Running Back; given similar comments by Coach Hoke and Coach Hecklinski in prior press conferences, it is clear Armstead is having a great spring camp.