Juniors Gerald Dixon and Hirchel Bolden emerged first-string at the two cornerback positions, but behind them game experience is scarce. "Obviously, you'd like to have six guys that have played in the game a long time," Thurmond said. "So our challenge in practice is to try and create as many game-type situations as we can--try to put the guys under the gun as much as possible. Create that game experience for them. There's no substitute for experience, but as long as they keep working that will create depth for us."
Just behind Dixon and Bolden, redshirt freshman Carlos Andrews wound up spring listed as ‘1A' on the depth chart. "Carlos just before he hurt his knee really had a great week of practice," Thurmond related. "He graded out really high in that next-to-last scrimmage, and he performed consistently. So we moved him up on the depth chart. It was unfortunate that he missed some time at the end of spring (with a slight cartilage tear), but he'll be fine."
And though he is currently behind those top three, Thurman ‘Prototype' Ward (6-1, 174) is viewed by many as a starter-in-waiting. "Body-type-wise, Thurman is exactly what you're looking for," Thurmond acknowledged. "With that frame, he's the type guy they're looking for in the NFL. Thurman does lack experience, though. He played really well the first part of spring. He's just got to continue to put good practices and good scrimmages together in the fall. He showed a knack for making plays and got two interceptions in an early scrimmage, so hopefully he can keep everything together and perform as well in games.
"Learning to be a good defender is a never-ending process. So yes, Thurman is still learning. But he's progressing fast. And hopefully his learning curve will continue to go up."
When Dennis Franchione initially met with the squad last winter, one of the first promises he made was a ‘clean slate' for everyone. In other words, every player would be judged on his performance on the field--and not on previous accolades.
And cashing in on that pledge, several walk-on athletes are making an impact at cornerback. "Corey Ferguson, one of our walk-ons, was really a good surprise," Thurmond related. "He's got good speed, and he's shown some things. Thurman Ward has also done a good job, but I'd say the biggest surprise (of spring) was Corey."
"And we had some other walk-ons that had a good spring," Thurmond continued. "Hamid Haqq had a good spring. Richard Randolph played well. We played a lot of guys in a lot of situations in the spring. We really didn't concern ourselves that much with who was out there. We just worried that whoever was out there needed to be doing things right."
Including also Ray Hudson, Roberto McBride, Brett Moore and Eric Moore, eleven different athletes worked at corner during spring. "The players worked hard," Thurmond stated. "They got better--learned how to practice--how to go faster. Every practice they focused a little better, and we tried to turn up the heat on them a little more each time. We continually asked them to do a little bit more. And they responded. They played hard."
Two moves will change the group when the squad reports for two-a-days. In an effort to utilize his speed and receiving ability, Ray Hudson will begin fall practice at tailback. And McBride, who wants a chance to return kicks before his college playing days are over, is expected to transfer.
But the arrival of true freshmen Anthony Madison (5-9, 180) and Roman Harper (6-1, 180)--both likely to begin their college careers at corner--will give Thurmond fresh bodies to work with. "Because of our nickel situation, what we like to do is play three cornerbacks for sure in every game," Thurmond explained. "And we'd like to get to the point where we could play four in every game. Hopefully, we will have that kind of depth, but with our system you always will play three."