MURRAY -- Last year, there were a few guys on Murray State's defense at the top of the food chain. Linebacker Quincy Williams. Defensive back Marquez Sanford. Edge rusher Kenney Wooten. Defensive back Q'mond Woods.
Together, those four seniors accounted for more than 200 tackles, 10 sacks, 10 pass deflections and 10 quarterback hurries - and possessed a wealth of knowledge and experience within the Racer defense.
The 2019 edition of this team, under the guidance of fifth-year head coach Mitch Stewart and his returning staff, does - however - have a wealth of depth at each of those levels on the field.
He also has four of his top eight tacklers returning to the fold in senior linebacker Kendrick Catis (10 starts in '18, 74 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss), senior defensive back Nigel Walton (11 starts in '19, 45 tackles four deflections), redshirt junior linebacker Anthony Koclanakis (10 starts, 66 tackles, two INTs) and junior safety Don Parker (11 starts, 43 tackles, two deflections) - all of which should have an ample opportunity to stake claim as the team's top defender.
At the top of that pecking order is a guy like Catis, who arrived at MSU on the midnight hour prior to the 2018 season as a transfer from Washington State and Highland CC (Highland, Kansas) and turned out the second-most tackles on the team.
"From last year, I feel like I'll be more of a leader," Catis said. "And I feel like I'll push the defensive line, and have them going even harder this year. I've moved over to WILL. Probably playing more coverage."
If MSU coaches get their druthers, he won't be the only leader. Following in the footsteps of the team's most recent corners in Sanford and current Kansas City Chief defensive back D'Montre Wade, Walton is poised to be the Racers' No. 1 corner - despite his 5-10, 175-pound frame.
"Coming off of last year, I had a pretty good season for me," Walton said. "Locked up. Didn't really give up anything at all. Coming into this year, I'm going to hold myself to a higher level. More interceptions. Couple more plays. A little more flying around. Not so lax."
Parker -- a Hopkinsville native with an edge for multiple sports, particularly basketball - is now a junior in this system, and has already shown a durability and a touch for football. He's played in all 22 games over the past two years, and he's got 16 starts for the Racers.
"I'm adding knowledge," he said. "I play multiple sports, so I know most things and I keep that in my head. I feel like I can learn stuff fast and teach the young bucks."
And Koclanakis should be in the mix with a host of defenders the Racers need to supplant last season's production.
Some guys right off the top of the head?
"Going into the season, I'd say Quinaz 'Pig' Turner will be making an impact," Walton said. "We've got him coming off the nickel here in practice, and he's been doing really good. Dior Johnson and TJ Warren. They're stepping up, and they're going to be in the mix even more this year."
Added Catis: "(Safety) Dior Johnson and (linebacker) TJ Warren. They're stepping up, and they're going to be in the mix even more this year."
In 11 games last year (with no starts), Turner finished with nine tackles total and two for a loss, but did add two interceptions. Johnson had 28 tackles and a team-high five deflections. Warren pushed through some nagging health issues to appear in 10 games, make two starts and also collect 28 tackles.
Long is a wait-and-see after limited action with the Tigers, but his name continues to be brought up among most Racers as the kind of player that can immediately change a defense.
Whoever it is that ends up leading this defense, Catis says the list of talent is "much longer" than it was in 2018.
Stewart, meanwhile, just wants the leadership of guys like Walton, Catis and Parker to permeate through the team. Quickly.
"We need them to," Stewart said. "We need them to. We need people on every side of the ball and at every position to do that, and want to do that. And I think that's probably what's been lacking before. We haven't had a lot of guys that want to do it, and now we've got a lot of guys who are wanting to do it. That's always a good sign."
With classes set to begin today, Monday was the final run of fall camp before rolling into the school schedule.
It was also the final time in which Stewart and his staff ran out on the turf of Roy Stewart Stadium without an opening-season ink-to-paper depth chart.
He and his crew will be hunkered down most of this afternoon reviewing film sessions and discussing the first derivative of team depth leading into next Thursday's home opener against Pikeville.
And personnel decisions take considerable time. No one is safe. "Nothing's ever 'for sure,'" Stewart added. "Nothing's ever 'for sure.' Success breeds success, but it also breeds satisfaction. Right? And if you're satisfied, it's time to die. If you get comfortable, you're not going to be very good. We're going to keep (the guys) uncomfortable. Nobody here is entitled to a position or is going to be given a position. It doesn't matter how many years they've played or how many snaps they've got under their belt.
"There's some guys who maybe their spot is theirs to lose and not theirs to earn, but...the reason we watch film every day and every night and constantly moving things (is, because). It's like I told (the team), 'when the depth chart is set (Tuesday), if you don't like it, change it. Do something about it.' That's how we're going to continue to do this thing. Every day that you come in, if you don't like where you stand on that depth chart, do something about it. Put something on tape that makes us move you in front of the next guy.
"Are there some assumptions and things where I could probably go in there myself and put that roster down? Sure. However, that's why I have eight other staff members and four other guys that help them. It's to get all the input and collect the body-of-work wise in this camp. Not any previous this's and that's. Where are we at? And then make those depth chart decisions from there."