Coach Willie Taggart didn't quite recognize him.
Before Taggart left for an assistant coaching job at Stanford, as a WKU assistant coach, he liked the fire and ball-hawking ability of then-Bowling Green safety Ryan Beard. But this wasn't that same player. So after the spring season, the two sat down for a talk.
"I told him, 'When you come back in the fall, I wanna see you be Ryan,'" Taggart said. "Be the Ryan, the one that I knew before I left.' He said, "I got you, Coach.' And I'll tell ya, he's been on top of it. He's having a heck of a camp right now."
Beard has been one of the early stories of WKU's fall camp, thanks to his rejuvenation and play that has him mirroring the redshirt freshman who became one of the defensive leaders two years ago. Beard has come up with a turnover each day in some capacity, whether it be by forced fumble, interception or fumble recovery.
It's a turnaround in the right direction after somewhat of a down year last season for Bear, who played in only two games due to injuries
"Once you get hurt, you kinda feel like, you never know when it could be your last play," Beard said. "You go out there and really give it your all and make things happen when you can. You're only a play away from being on the sideline again and I really don't want that."
Beard's play is just one of the feel-good stories from a defense trying to regain its swagger with a new defensive scheme and new coordinator in Clint Bowen.
Sophomore Quanterus Smith has been talked about since arriving at WKU in 2008. At 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds, Smith has been raw, but is finally piecing things together.
"Q. Smith's a very talented individual," Bowen said. "He really is a special athlete, there's no denying that. As he continues to play the position, he obviously could be a guy who could make plays for us on defense. He needs to embrace that role and do that. His physical skills really are pretty special."
Smith is part of a defensive line that's trying to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The biggest move has come from the ends, where Smith has wreaked havoc at times in practice.
"Q is doing a really good job, then Jared Clendenin and Bo Adebayo, those three guys at defensive end are very solid D-ends," Bowen said. "They can play and do good things for us. On the inside, we're a little bit by committee right now. We're not the biggest on the inside, so we've gotta make sure we stay fresh and play hard with those guys in there. I'm looking for four or five of them to emerge and take a step out of the pack and then we'll go with those guys."
There's are plenty of new faces as well vying for playing time. Junior linebacker Tenerio Davis, a junior college transfer had an interception on a good read today and could be a candidate to start.
Today, Beard was in the middle of nearly every play that got past the defensive line. He had another forced fumble and a recovery before the play was blown dead. If Beard continues his stellar play, it could make things a lot simpler for a secondary that's young and trying to recover from getting burned through the air and giving up a number of big plays last season.
"I feel like we're gonna have a strong secondary this year," Beard said. "We have some young guys coming on that are really looking strong and I feel like the safeties look good early. We've made some smart plays. I feel like we're a lot smarter defense this year and a lot harder-nosed."
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