Secondary, the last line of Bison defense
Football

No Passing Zone

With a wealth of talent in the secondary, the last line of Bison defense has re-tooled for 2018. It’s rare to have so many players commanding playing time.

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Photos by Hillary Ehlen, Tim Sanger and special to Bison Illustrated

Featured photo: #14 Josh Hayes, #23 Jaylaan Wimbush, #5 Robbie Grimsley, #21 Jalen Allison and #9 Marquise Bridges

With a wealth of talent in the secondary, the last line of Bison defense has re-tooled for 2018.

It’s rare in football to have so many players commanding playing time that you have to move a player to a new position just to get everyone rotated in. It is a problem (or lack thereof) in the Bison secondary. With the emergence of Josh Hayes and Marquise Bridges in the FCS playoffs last season, defensive coordinator Matt Entz knew they needed playing time this season. So, Entz moved senior Jaylaan Wimbush, a fine cornerback in his own right, to free safety alongside Robbie Grimsley.

It does not end there though, as there are four legitimate cornerbacks who could play the position consistently. Senior Jalen Allison returns from injury and is ready to anchor the cornerbacks. On the other side, there is Bridges, Hayes and junior Dom Davis. Needless to say, opposing offenses may be fighting for yardage through the air this season.

Wimbush, who had 37 tackles in 2017 at cornerback is excited to return to the safety spot. “It’s kind of like a return back home for me,” he said. “It’s where I started freshman year, so having that depth at corner allowed me to move back to my original position,” he said. The move is much easier thanks to his familiarity with fellow senior Grimsley, and Allison as well. The three have played their entire NDSU careers with one another. “Having that connection and that on-the-field presence, it makes things easier and it makes the move back to safety a lot easier too,” Wimbush said.

“Seniors need to be challenged. And how do you challenge them?” said defensive coordinator Matt Entz. “You give them something new to learn. Jaylaan is willing to do whatever. For us, we have four corners that could play and very few schools can say that.”

Allison, who missed the national championship last season due to injury, has returned after a 46 tackle season in 14 games. His 2016 season was even more impressive as he racked up 66 tackles along with 4 interceptions. He is expected to occupy a starting corner position throughout 2018.

Bridges and Hayes are both capable players and are deserving of a starting position. Many will remember Bridges and Hayes playing well in the FCS playoffs last season. Bridges started in place of Allison against James Madison in the FCS National Championship and made three tackles and had a valuable interception. Hayes was also vital to the championship victory. He had three tackles and a forced fumble. Those two performances alone are enough to warrant playing time. Currently, Bridges is listed ahead of Hayes on the depth chart, leaving Hayes to likely defend the slot position. Dom Davis is currently Allison’s back-up, playing in mostly four wide receiver formations and in the normal rotation.

Then there is Grimsley, who has garnered preseason All-Missouri Valley and All-American honors. He is the only NDSU defensive player to be named to the preseason First Team All-America. While it is nice to receive the recognition, Grimsley says he has a more important focus. “I think the biggest thing is how I can help this team win games this season because that is all that matters,” he said. “My only goal right now is to win games.”

Grimsley finished 2017 with 69 total tackles and four interceptions. His performance all season garnered him First Team All-Missouri Valley and Second Team All-American distinction. He also shared Wimbush’s sentiment when it comes to the familiarity between him and his secondary teammates. “Being able to play with those two guys for four years is big,” he said.

Over the summer, Grimsley was an intern for the West Fargo Police Department. As a criminal justice major, it gave him the foundations for a career after football ends. However, he was also able to draw some comparisons between his future career and the 2018 season. “I was with the investigative unit. When you’re investigating stuff you have to look at all the details,” he said. “The same goes for the defense because you need to know the details of the opposing offense.”

With three senior leaders providing the last line of defense for the Bison, it is easy to assume that this secondary unit will be dominant. While that may be true, the Bison defensive backs are not concerned with outside chatter. “We just take it one game at a time. We don’t focus on the media, we can read it, but we don’t talk about it,” Wimbush said. “Our expectation is to dominate every snap, every play and every game. That’s all there is to it.”

Wimbush puts forth a simple enough precedent, but it seems likely that teams may be reticent to air the ball out in 2018.

Code Green’s Passing Defense

Passing Yards Per Game: 147.9 (3rd in FCS)
Passes Intercepted: 22 (3rd in FCS)
Passing Yards Per Completion: 14.8 (13th in FCS)

#5 Robbie Grimsley

Robbie Grimsley

Games: 44
Tackles: 221
Pass Deflections: 26
Forced Fumbles: 3
Interceptions: 11
Defensive Touchdowns: 1

#21 Jaylen Allison

Games: 43
Tackles: 135
Pass Deflections: 26
Forced Fumbles: 3
Interceptions: 6
Defensive Touchdowns: 1

#23 Jaylaan Wimbush

Jaylaan Wimbush

Games: 42
Tackles: 94
Pass Deflections: 10
Forced Fumbles: 0
Interceptions: 0
Defensive Touchdowns: 0

No Passing Zone
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