Desperate times called for desperate measures.

Last season, following spring camp, the UCF secondary had the looks of a unit that could struggle mightily in 2013. But, that wasn't the case.

After moving Brandon Alexander, who at the time was a starting corner, to safety, and using Jacoby Glenn, who was out for the spring season, and Jordan Ozerities, a player who while experienced, had previously struggled, the Knights defense had the look of a patch-worked quilt.

For those who saw spring practice in 2013, they saw a unit that was routinely gouged by Blake Bortles and his deep receiving corps.

Instead, the secondary stood up to the nation's most prolific scoring offense on its biggest stage.

That same unit that was once a weakness, looks to be one of the Knights' biggest strengths heading into their first game of the season Aug. 30 against Penn State.

"We still have improvements to do," senior safety Clayton Geathers said. "Everyday we come out here and try to make strides forward."

And nationally, people are starting to take notice.

Geathers was voted onto last season's All-American Athletic Conference Second Team, and was placed on the College Football Performance Awards Defensive Back Trophy watch list for the coming season. His defensive back cohort, cornerback Jacoby Glenn was on the FWAA Freshman All-American team last season.

But how does a unit so maligned become so solid?

To Glenn, it's simple.

"We take steps forward at practice because we have leaders," Glenn said.

Last season, as a redshirt freshman, the UCF coaching staff surrounded the ultra-talented Glenn with experienced players in the secondary. Keeping the safety play steady also was crucial in the development of Glenn.

Geathers, a three-year starter, is as stable a player as there is in college football. He's posted back to back 100-tackle seasons, and doubled his pass deflections last season up to 10. The addition of Alexander to the safety unit, who was once an undersized high school defensive end, also was crucial.

It was Alexander that turned the tide in the Fiesta Bowl with an interception of Bryce Petty in the end zone. Earlier in the season, he deflected a crucial pass into the end zone by Houston to seal a victory.

"I feel like I've gotten accustomed to the game [at safety] now," Alexander said. "It took three, possibly four games [to get comfortable]. I think Penn State really helped me out as far as communication and everything."

Head coach George O'Leary has noticed Alexander's comfort at the position.

"I think with experience, because you've seen a lot of things, you react quicker," O'Leary said. "I think [Alexander] had a really good camp. The safeties overall have had a really good camp."

Not every secondary player is experienced, however. UCF's 2014 recruiting class featured a bevy of talented secondary players, some of whom have made impressions on their veteran teammates.

"I feel like Kyle Gibson is a very physical guy. Tre Neal is a very smart person, he's very intelligent. Chris Williams is really athletic and him coming in as a corner reminds me of Jacoby a lot," Alexander said. "They're surprising me because they don't look like freshmen out there. Of course they make freshmen mistakes, but as far as covering they aren't like freshmen."

While they likely won't see extensive action early in the season, due to the grind that is a college football season, they could find their way onto the field at some point.

"Nobodies spot is safe," Alexander said. "You're always an ankle away from playing. It happens every year and it's unfortunate, but at the same time you're only as good as your two-deep."

That experience could prove useful with sophomore standout Christian Hackenburg leading his Nittany Lions overseas to Ireland.

And the Knights hope he sees his receivers blanketed.