MARQUETTE - When the defensive line makes a mistake, the linebackers are there to back them up.
When the linebackers make a mistake, it's up to the secondary to serve as the safety net for the front seven.
When the defensive backs make a mistake, however, there's no one there to save their tails.
Northern Michigan University junior free safety Brandon Parson, shown during a Monday-evening practice inside the Superior Dome, had 41 tackles in 10 games in 2012, picked off two passes against Tiffin and recovered a fumble against Wayne State. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
It's just an easy six points for the opposition.
"We have to develop a trust, a bond with those kids back there that we feel comfortable with," said Brian Newberry, Northern Michigan University's first-year defensive coordinator.
"We're pretty multiple in our coverages. We put a lot on those guys. There's a lot of moving parts. If one of those moving parts isn't correct and is not linked with the others, then you have problems."
The Wildcats' safety net from 2011, which featured four senior starters and ranked second-to-last in the GLIAC, has changed drastically in 2012.
While battles for starting time continue to wage on through camp, the 'Cats are projected to start a sophomore and three juniors - two of which are junior college transfers - come Aug. 30 when the team opens the regular season at Findlay.
On top of familiarizing themselves with each other, the Wildcats' new-look secondary must get up to speed with Newberry's new defensive scheme and a new position coach in Joe Ballard.
"It's a completely different system," said Ballard, who coached the linebackers last year and has been at NMU since 2006. "It's completely different terminologies. Technique, alignment, assignments are all completely different. Plus, they've had to adapt to me as a coach."
The most experienced 'Cat in the back in 2012 from the group that picked off 13 passes is junior free safety Brandon Parson of Petersburg, Va., who transferred in last season from Alabama A&M. He finished with 41 tackles in 10 games, picked off two passes against Tiffin and recovered a fumble against Wayne State.
Ballard said Parson will not only be the go-to-guy in the secondary, but the voice thanks to his intelligence persistence at picking up Newberry's new scheme.
Parson said he's a fan of Newberry's system because it emphasizes playing fast and getting after the ball. It puts him in a better system to make plays.
"This defense is more key reading, so we really read our keys and rely on what we see. We just react, play fast and get to the ball," Parson said.
"I've improved on my tackling and my knack for the ball. I feel like I'm zoned in and ready, that I can do good things this year."
Challenging Parson for playing time is true freshman Thomas McNamara out of Mason, while sophomore strong safety Derek Beltrame out of Ishpeming High School has impressed the coaching staff enough to secure a spot in the starting lineup after appearing in two games last season.
"Derek Beltrame is doing a great job," Ballard said. "He's really picked it up. He's flying around, making plays and doing the things we're asking him to do."
At corner, Northern has brought in a pair of junior college transfers from Santa Rosa Junior College in California in Chris Collins of Baltimore, Md., and Armoni Broussard of Richmond, Calif.
Behind them, juniors Cameron Hurst out of Elsie, who played in five games, and Phillipe Micheau of Fairfax, Calif., are battling for playing time as well.
"Experience is a bit of an issue right now, but we're getting better every day," Newberry said. "I feel good about the group as a whole. We have a lot of capable bodies back there."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500.