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Added pieces translate to high hopes for SOU 'D'

ASHLAND — If the Southern Oregon University football team's offense gets the inordinate amount of possessions it wants — and has succeeded in creating the last two years — that'll mean more possessions faced, and more work, for the defense.

The Raiders are going to allow points. That much is a given. But with several starters back in key positions and some transfers who have already earned the trust of defensive coordinator Berk Brown, they believe those often-misleading numbers will take a dive.

SOU's average points allowed (31.7) and total yardage allowed (439.8) improved slightly in 2013 from the previous season, but not to the point that Brown had envisioned. Now in his second year in charge of the defense, and with focus in the offseason on strengthening that unit, the Raiders will begin to find out what's changed starting Saturday at Menlo.

"We're way more athletic," Brown said. "A little bit greener, maybe not quite as experienced as a group, but we're way more athletic. I would say we got the right transfers; they're open to the way we do things, they're ready to contribute and they're a pleasure to coach."

Compared to the offense it faces every day at practice, this defense is decidedly not yet as seasoned or finely-tuned. But it is more suited to match up with it than it was at this time last year.

"It's a pain going against them, but hopefully it makes us better," Brown said. "It keeps me up at night because you try to put your guys in position to make plays against a style that's much different than what we have to prepare for, but I'm excited about how we responded and very excited about what it's going to look like Saturday."

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Daniel Breaux has long been relied on to make plays at defensive end for the Raiders, but now they really need his help in getting several new faces beside him acclimated. A fourth-year starter, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Breaux has appeared in every game since his freshman season and gotten in on 164 tackles with 13.5 sacks, becoming a second-team All-Frontier Conference performer in 2013.

"He's the leader," Brown said. "He's not only helped lead guys, he's really committed himself to getting ready for a big senior year and his play has improved dramatically."

Next to him, they'll have the services of three transfers from California junior colleges: David Weider and Joseph Leafoli and end Trevor Jones. Noseguard Jacob Proul's highly-praised work ethic has led to big strides going into his sophomore season, while Grant Torgerson, Armando Gauger and Kalan Hoedl will provide depth.

"It's our most improved group by far," Brown said. "We have some guys who got here as freshmen, and others who have fit in extremely well."

LINEBACKERS: The lines of communication in the Raider defense run through the linebacker corps, so it is in their favor that most of them have been around. Heston Altenbach, Mylz Blake and Laurence Calcagno are all back after starting a year ago and ending the season as SOU's top tacklers. Calcagno led the way with 93, recording over 10 in each of the last five games. Altenbach is a fourth-year starter, having notched 63 tackles in 2013, and Blake made 73 tackles as a freshman.

"I trust those guys to get us in the right calls in every situation," Brown said. "They know the defense as well as I do."

Also figuring to get time at the position are returning players Steven Josephson, Daniel Abernethy and Kevin Blueford.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: The influx of athleticism could change the way the secondary plays more than anywhere else on the field.

"We're just so much more dynamic," Brown said. "We believe that we can cover a lot of people and be a lot more simplistic about it. Because of our athletic ability, we don't have to try to confuse offenses — we can just let our guys play."

Dustin Fretwell, a third-year starter, is considered another one of the primary leaders on this side of the ball. He'll be joined by Jaylenn Hart — who appeared in eight games in 2012, transferred, returned, and now might be the team's best open-field tackler — and a pair of Portland State transfers, Karrington Jones and Tyler Rogers. Returners Le'Dontrae Gooden and Kyle Alexander give the Raiders more depth on the corners.

Julius Rucker will serve as the free safety after receiving regular playing time while new to the position as a freshman, and Nathan Torres-Walker will see his role expand as a sophomore nickel back.