Bearkats seeking defensive imporovement in 2017

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(STATS) - Sam Houston State's defense needs to be better this year, but it's more small adjustments rather than a major overhaul.

The Bearkats have the second-most wins (68) in the FCS over the last six seasons, but while they have reached the playoffs each time, the endings haven't been pretty - including the 65-7 loss to eventual national champion James Madison in last year's quarterfinals.

New defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin hopes to keep pushing the right buttons as the Bearkats get set to conclude spring practice with their annual Orange-White game Friday night at Bowers Stadium.

Just two weeks ago, Carlin replaced Brad Sherrod, who accepted an assistant's position at Wake Forest. He's been a defensive coordinator previously at Bucknell, Cornell and Coastal Carolina.

Their defense returns only five starters from a 12-1 Southland Conference championship season, but there are few better than senior defensive end P.J. Hall. The runner-up for the 2016 STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award basically has been unblockable during spring practice, head coach K.C. Keeler said.

Linebacker Justin Johnson, the team's leading tackler last season, is the other top returnee on the defense.

Even marginal improvement from a defense that ranked sixth in the Southland in yards allowed per game will go a long way because the offense could be the nation's best behind quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, the 2016 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award winner, and all the key skills position players.

The offense also is working under a new coordinator, Tim Cramsey. He's been a coordinator at three other schools - New Hampshire, Montana State and Nevada.