2017 South Dakota State Preview: Defense
There's little doubt the South Dakota State football team will score a ton of points on offense in 2017, with nine returning starters on that side of the ball.
On defense, there are a few question marks for the Jackrabbits.
Up front, starting nose tackle Kellen Soulek and defensive end Ryan Earith both return.
Soulek, a senior, was an All-Missouri Valley Conference selection last season, with seven-and-a-half of SDSU's 30 overall sacks. Earith, a sophomore, started the final seven games last season.
Graduation has left two holes to fill on the defensive line. Junior Chase Kern is the odds on favorite to take over one of those spots, with nothing but sophomores and freshmen behind him on the depth chart. Kern is trying to come back after missing all of last season with an injury. Blake Whitsell was expected to start, but was lost for the season during fall camp.
The linebackers are led by sophomore Christian Rozeboom, who burst on the scene with a team-leading 132 tackles last season, earning him MVFC Freshman of the Year honors.
The other two linebacking spots will feature new starters.
Junior Eric Kleinschmit played in all 13 games last seeson. Redshirt freshman Logan Backhaus is in line for the other starting spot.
In the secondary, the Jackrabbits have considerable depth, with three starters back - cornerbacks Jordan Brown and Anthony Washington, and safety Chris Balster. That trio combined for 172 tackles and three interceptions last season.
Strong safety is the open spot on the roster, but there's experience there too. Senior Nick Farina did have four starts in 2016, but missed two games with injuries.He did start every game for SDSU in 2015.
The Jackrabbit defense was very opportunistic last year, forcing 24 turnovers (+7). But they are looking to improve against the run after giving up an average of 175 yards per game rushing.
South Dakota State opens the season, Thursday, August 31, at home with Duquesne.
I talked with Christian Rozeboom about what we should expect from him and the Jackrabbit defense this season: