According to Minot State University free safety Levi Freidt, the key to not giving up big plays is simple: Know what's going on.
The MSU secondary was burned for 14 passing touchdowns of 20 or more yards last season, but the Beavers are hoping simpler coverage schemes and the return of several contributors helps eliminate some of those back-breakers.
"I don't doubt our physicalness at all," said Freidt, a 6-foot-2, 207 pound junior. "You play faster when you know what you're doing.
"(MSU head coach Paul) Rudolph says, 'You can have a 4.5 (40-yard dash) guy running, but if he's dumb, he can't play.' That's the main thing, especially for a secondary. It's the last line of defense. If you screw up once, it's a touchdown."
Freidt, who is responsible for relaying pre-snap adjustments to his teammates, was fifth on the team with 57 tackles last season - the highest total of any defensive back. Cooper Helm (40 tackles, two interceptions in 2012) and Kewon Tapp (29 tackles) played in all 11 games and are the favorites to land the starting cornerback jobs. But they won't win the spots easily.
Unlike last season - when the Beavers grew so depleted they once called on wideout Glyn Borel to play both ways - MSU has plenty of capable athletes in the secondary.
"We didn't have enough DBs a year ago and I think there's 16 of them competing for spots now," Rudolph said. "I know they're running 3-4 deep over there right now and I think it's been really good. You can't afford to have a real bad day."
Said Tapp: "We have a lot of good players that can compete and play. Right now, nobody has a spot so we're all competing, flying around, just trying to make plays."
Sophomore Marcel Brinson, who made 22 tackles during his freshman season, will battle with classmate Isaiah Steinwand at the strong safety position. Junior-college transfers Brady Kortes and Robert Gausi could push for playing time at cornerback.
Rudolph said the Beavers have a faster defensive backfield this season, but still don't possess the shutdown cornerback who can singlehandedly blanket an opposing receiver.
"We're gonna have to be a team that can disguise coverages or changes coverages," he said. "I don't know that we're ever gonna just flat-out lock down a receiver. ... We wanna be able to confuse the quarterback, confuse the O-line with some pressures."
The entire secondary is adjusting to new defensive backs coach Marty Rodgers and defensive coordinator Zac Rudolph. Both worked as graduate assistants for Southern Illinois last season. Certain terminology and coverage techniques are slightly different, but Freidt said the Beavers are showing more cohesion in fall camp.
"Last year, pass-wise, we felt like we weren't totally in sync with the linebackers," Freidt said. "This year, already in the preseason, we feel like we're on the same page as a coverage unit."
Daniel Allar reports on Minot State University athletics and assists with high school coverage. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.
Editor's note: This is part two of an eight-part series breaking down each unit of the Minot State University football team. Quarterbacks will be featured in Thursday's paper.