Pittsburg State's pass defense experienced its difficulties last year, as the Gorillas finished seventh in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) and allowed 229.1 passing yards per game, including 363 against Missouri Western and 356 against Central Missouri.

Pittsburg State's pass defense experienced its difficulties last year, as the Gorillas finished seventh in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) and allowed 229.1 passing yards per game, including 363 against Missouri Western and 356 against Central Missouri.

Granted, four teams in the pass-centric conference averaged over 250 passing yards per game (Central Missouri, Fort Hays State, Washburn and Northwest Missouri) and Central Missouri quarterback Eric Czerniewski, Fort Hays quarterback Mike Garrison, Washburn quarterback Dane Simoneau and Northwest Missouri quarterback Blake Bolles threw for over 3,000 yards. Harlon Hill winner Czerniewski passed for over 5,000 yards; however, three of those four quarterbacks graduated, with only Simoneau back in 2011.

Pitt State coaches have talked about the improvements made in the defensive backfield.

"I don't think there's any doubt that," Pitt State defensive coordinator David Wiemers said. "It's funny to just watch our base coverage and watch how improved it is from last year. That means you're making strides. We're not immensely talented back there, but, collectively, we have a good group."

The Gorillas return safeties Paul Robinson, Chas Smith and cornerback Elijah Olabode, and graduated safeties Alex Kuhlman and David Vaughn.

Kuhlman, an All-MIAA honorable mention selection, made 90 tackles (36 solo, 54 assist) and intercepted two passes. Vaughn also intercepted two passes and made 44 tackles (15 solo, 29 assist).
Smith (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) finished his sophomore year second on the Gorillas in tackles (99) and one shy of the 100-tackle mark. He made 61 solo tackles, broke up four passes and forced two fumbles during an All-MIAA honorable mention season. Lindy's Sports named Smith to its preseason second team defense.

Robinson (5-11, 182), a converted cornerback, recorded 40 tackles (19 solo, 21 assist) and intercepted one pass.

Three-year letterman Olabode (5-10, 188) made 41 tackles (23 solo, 18 assist) and intercepted one pass.

"Chas is a very solid, very smart football player," Pitt State head football coach Tim Beck said, in a media release. "Paul has handled the move well from corner to safety and I think Elijah will have a break-out year at corner. He's had a tremendous offseason and we're expecting good things out of him. Overall, I think our secondary will be a much improved unit this year."

Junior safety Bryant Sanchez (5-10, 174) tied for the team lead in interceptions last year with two and expectations are high for junior college transfer Naeem Forrester (6-1, 203), who played two seasons at Diablo Valley (Calif.) College.

Forrester, clocked at 4.47 in the 40-yard dash, played his prep football at Venice (Calif.) High School. Forrester had two older brothers play Division I ball — Mesphin Forrester at Washington (2005-2008) and Wale Forrester at the University of California (2002-2005).

Other first-year players in the Gorillas program include freshman Dino Teague (6-0, 170), freshman Deron Washington (6-0, 185), freshman Dominick Wilson (6-2, 185), junior transfer Trent Kinen (6-2, 176), freshman Joe Lindsey (6-1, 180), freshman Herman Ming (6-1, 190), freshman transfer Jason Peete (6-3, 190) and freshman Scott Roderique (5-11, 180).