By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois senior cornerback Keith Suggs has some advice for team's looking to challenge the Saluki secondary this season. Be careful.
With head coach Dale Lennon taking over as defensive coordinator, and former Western Kentucky head coach David Elson in charge of the secondary, SIU has a wealth of expertise on the defensive side of the ball. Part of the plan this year is to use more press coverage and more bump-and-run against wide receivers.
"We're going to be way more physical on the outside," Suggs explained. "Guys aren't going to get free releases (off the line of scrimmage)."
Pass defense was not one of Southern's strengths last year, as it finished ninth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference by allowing 239 yards per game through the air. With five veterans back who have played in 116 games and made 52 starts combined, SIU's secondary should be much improved and more cohesive.
"Anything that goes up in the air, you can't have it, it's ours," Suggs said. "We're not four players back there -- we're one player. If one of us fails, we all fail."
After playing on all four special teams units last season at SIU, the 5-foot-10, 183-pound Toledo transfer has moved into a starting role opposite Courtney Richmond. Suggs credited Elson for implementing a defense that plays to his strengths.
"A new coach came in with a new technique and it's to be more physical and play man straight up," he said. "That's what I'm good at. I can play man, get out of my breaks really well, and I have eye discipline."
Suggs has one more thing that all good corners have -- a healthy dose of self-confidence.
Playing cornerback can be a lonely position when you're isolated one-on-one against a wideout.
"I take it personally when I get beat deep or I mess up," Suggs said. "I make a point to correct it and not make the same mistake twice."
Consistency has been the buzzword in the Saluki secondary this year, he explained.
"I try to encourage guys to come out and bring the same intensity every day," said the Indianapolis, Ind. native. "We talked this morning about how success doesn't care what you did yesterday. It's all about what have you done for me lately?"
Coming out of Ben Davis High School, Suggs chose Toledo over a host of offers from Mid-American Conference schools. He started three games as a true freshman for the Rockets, but after the coaching staff left for the University of Illinois, his role on the team changed and he decided to transfer. Former Toledo teammate Ethan Wirth encouraged him to come to Southern.
He credits football and his parents for molding him into the person he is today.
"I believe that there's a right and a wrong in most every decision you have to make," Suggs said. "By playing college football, I've been held at a higher standard for a long time. You have to carry yourself in society the right way. You can't be a football player here and go out and be somebody else in another place."
"My mom manages customer service for an insurance company and my dad is a truck driver for Old Dominion. I can call them, no matter what time of day, and they have my back."
The sports administration major hopes to either coach football after graduation or continue his education, get his master's and become an athletic director.
1. The Salukis held a spirited, full-contact live session for the final 20 minutes of today's practice. They started with the offense backed up to its own three. RB Malcolm Agnew ripped off a 15-yard gain with the first-team offense, and RB Mika'il McCall grinded out eight yards in three carries for the second team. He was stopped for a short gain on third down by OLB Blake Mattson.
2. The next game-simulation started with the offense at its own 25. The ground attack was solid, as Agnew followed the left side of the line for carries of 11 and six yards, and WR/RB Jimmy Jones motored up the middle for six more yards. The passing game was less productive. QB Mark Iannotti had a ball batted down at the line of scrimmage. QB Ryan West threw an incompletion intended for TE Shaq Findlater and then completed a dump off to RB Cameron Walter. Iannotti returned and had a pass picked off by OLB Tyler Williamson.
3. Southern Miss transfer G Garrett Clark received some work with the first team offensive line. He has the versatility to play both guard and tackle. He started four games for Southern Miss last season.