Not only will the names be new, but so will the coaches who will be leading the players. Gone are secondary coach Sidney Powell and defensive coordinator Mark Smith, but in there place are a solid, young coach in Daryl Dixon and top of the line defensive coordinator and defensive secondary specialist Doug Graber. Dixon, a former All-SEC player at Florida who has coached at Illinois will join the long time NFL and college head & assistant coach Graber to help bring a new level of play to an already stellar position.
With the graduation loss, it is hard to put a finger on exactly who will break through and start next season for the Cardinals, but there is talent there including new DBs Torieal Gibson (former WR) and Josh Howard (former S) as well as incoming freshmen Jason Pinkston and Armand Dehaney.
Gibson, who played some in the slot last season as well as returning kickoffs, is a 5-9 165 So. He is certainly athletic enough to handle the transition and was a standout at DB for Cleveland Glenville in high school. Gibson has always had good hips and is ultra quick, and now he also has added a season of WR work to help on his ball skills in hopefully getting his hands on some INTs for Ball State this season.
Howard, who is also a gifted athlete and former high school DB, comes over from a crowded S position. Howard is the bigger of the two at 6-1 192, but he still has the skills to man the position and the speed and athleticism it takes to play DB.
Pinkston, one of the highly sought after pickups from Cleveland Glenville, might be one that will have a chance to start right away for the Cardinals. Pinkston was a lock down corner as a prep and brings a 6-2 180 frame into the mix as a big and physical corner. Pinkston is also a great athlete and a good cover man as he has good recovery speed and is physical in press coverage.
Also new to the mix is Armand Dehaney. Despite being a little on the short side, Dehaney (5-8 177) is a tough and physical corner, who is not afraid to attack the run and might be well suited to man the nickel back position because of his tenacity. I doubt Dehaney plays much right away, but expect good things from this freshman in the future.
The Cardinals also return some players who had limited playing experience this past season, either in mop up duty or on special teams.
One such player that has good size and skill is Brandon Carnegie. Carnegie has been a solid contributor to the Cardinals special teams coverage units and has a 5-11 180 frame.
Also back are a pair of athletic, but smaller DBs in Jakeem Gregory and Koreen Burch. Gregory is in his 4th season with the Cardinals and has limited on field action, but he has been a solid contributor in practice and has made some solid plays when called upon last season. Burch, who has moonlighted in the past at RB when injuries forced him there, is a great athlete that has the speed and skill set to be in the mix as a starter come fall.
The final player back is Redshirt Fr. Andre Dawson. Dawson (6-0 183) also has good size and skills. Although he did not see the field last season, his name will certainly be in the mix as he brings solid coverage skills and athleticism.
New DC Doug Graber and secondary coach Daryl Dixon will certainly have their hands full in picking a new starting tandem at a key position for the Cardinals. There are a lot of names and some real talent in the secondary, but who ends up on the field will depend heavily on who shows up ready to contribute every day in practice, both this spring and in the fall when the real battle begins and the freshmen are here.