Fall practice preview: defensive backs

There is a lot of anticipation surrounding this year's group of defensive backs. While they'll be missing three of last year's starters, there looks to be a lot of talented depth that will vie for spots during fall camp.

Gone are Andrew Rich, Brian Logan, and Brandon Bradley. Returning is a load of very promising performers at each position.

Across the board, it appears as if each defensive back position has as many as three viable options, which should lead to some very good competition.

"We have a lot of good guys for sure," said senior defensive back Corby Eason. "We're doing our best to coach them up, and they're doing good, they did real good this last spring."

Eason himself had to sit out the spring practice session due to injury, but looks to be fully recovered in time for fall practice. He's among the most experienced of all the returning players and will no doubt play a huge part in the secondary this coming season.

Overall, there looks like there is more to be sorted out in the defensive backfield than at any position.

Field corner

Replacing Logan won't be easy, but it's definitely doable with three prime options to choose from.

Eason (5-8, 172) could easily man the position, and if that's where it's determined he's best placed, then he'll do just that. Even though he logged most of his time at boundary, he's very comfortable playing either spot.

"Corby knows the defense as well as anyone, so we can do a lot of things with him," said defensive back coach Nick Howell. "He'll play a part in what we do, a big part. It's just figuring out where."

Eason said he's fine playing anywhere that will best help the team.

"I love blitzing, I really love blitzing, so that's what I'd miss most if I had to switch over from boundary to field," he said. "I can play field though, that's no trouble at all. I think I could even play safety if that's where they'd want me."

The other two options are junior Robbie Buckner (5-10, 176) ...

... and freshman Jordan Johnson (5-10, 175).

Buckner is the more seasoned of the two, and was competing strongly for the starting spot last season before going down with an untimely injury. Johnson has performed extremely well since joining the team last fall as a true freshman.

"They're pushing each other real well," said Eason. "They're both real good players, and now that they're learning the system and how we do things, especially Jordan, they're going to do real well. They just have to stay focused."

Boundary corner

It may have been assumed that Eason would just slip into the boundary corner spot as a starter, but the performance of Preston Hadley (6-0, 200) this past spring changed things.

Hadley is a junior college transfer who saw every rep with the first-team defense this past spring and performed extremely well.

"Preston is someone that we have a lot of trust in already as a player," said Howell. "He lacks game experience, obviously, but he did a very good job this spring, and he gives us some more options for sure if he can keep up that play."

Junior college transfer DeQuan Everett (6-3, 200) was a bit overshadowed this past spring, but saw some good improvement himself. Overall, there looks to be plenty of options at cornerback this August.

Other potential contributors include freshman Cameron Comer (6-0, 189), sophomore Skye PoVey (6-0, 180), and junior college transfer Joe Sampson (6-0, 205). Sampson in particular holds a lot of intrigue, as he may be used at either safety or corner this coming season.

Howell raved this past media day about Sampson's football sense and how he understands concepts. Look for Sampson to make some noise at any of the four defensive back positions this coming practice session, but most likely at either boundary corner or strong safety.

Strong safety

Beyond Sampson, there are two very good options coming out of spring practice in sophomore Daniel Sorensen (6-2, 200) ...

... and sophomore Jray Galea'i (6-0, 179).

"Daniel will be our starter this fall, but that could change," said Howell. "Both him and Jray will continue to push one another, which is what you want at any position."

Replacing a player such as Andrew Rich certainly won't be easy, but Sorensen and Galea'i look to have the goods to do just that.

"Both of those guys played real well for us," said Eason. "I think either one of them has potential to be like Rich was. Rich was a great player, and it will be hard, but man, I really like how both of them play."

Free safety

Senior Travis Uale (6-2, 197) is the assumed starter at the free safety spot. Coaches put a premium on the player manning the free safety spot to be another coach on the field, and Uale appears to be just that.

"I could leave the defense up to Travis, and the defense wouldn't miss a beat," said Howell. "He's very good at putting guys in the right spot, and that is very important for this defense."

The fortunate thing out of spring was that he was being pushed, and will continue to be pushed by junior Mike Hague (5-10, 190). Hague was one of the best stories out of spring as he made a successful transition from running back to safety.

"It will continue to be a great competition there," said Howell. "Again, you want guys to push each other and that is just what we have with Mike Hague and Travis Uale."

Other potential contributors at both safety positions include Sampson, junior Carter Mees (6-0, 195), who showed very well before getting injured last season ...

... and sophomore Chase Pendley (6-2, 210).

"It's a good group, and you don't want to forget about a guy like Carter Mees, who could really help us this year," said Howell. "I like how they competed this spring, and want to see that continue this fall. They all have a lot to prove, but if they continue to try hard with every day, they'll be a good group. I'm confident of that."

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