2003 BYU COUGARS: Defensive Secondary Preview

<b><i>2nd in a series</i></b> <p> BYU's defensive secondary, loaded this year with veteran leadership and experience, has young players in the mix that may be good enough to contribute.

The quiet veteran leaders are Jernaro Gilford and Aaron Francisco. The more vocal leaders include Chad Barneyand Brandon Heaney. To a man, all the DBs love Mendenhall's system of attacking, deceiving, disrupting and applying pressure. Their new mindset is to take over games and put offenses back on their heels. Their "alpha male" attitude is tangible and clearly apparent to any knowledgeable observer.

Since the new defensive scheme features quick "effort" athletes who make plays, the secondary is going to be alive with a "seek and destroy" mentality this season. This is not your Grandpa's defense, although your Granny may be called on to blitz from section 43 on key downs.

No one can predict how the offense or defense will turn out, but it is clear the WRs and QBs are direct beneficiaries in the off-season from the athleticism, quickness and intensity of the secondary in voluntary 7-on-7 drills. Serious work gets done in those drills on both sides of the ball. You can also tell from the banter that goes on they are having fun.

As might be expected, rivalries occur in these WR-DB match-ups. The DBs know the speed and moves of the WRs and go "full bore" to shut them down. The WRs, for their part, know which DBs are on them and what does or does not work against them.

Indeed, it's good for the QBs and receivers to match-up against these veterans in the secondary who already know their tendencies. When they connect and click, they know they earned it. This see-saw routine forces them to work harder on subsequent plays. The WRs face pressure from one of the most experienced secondaries in the MWC conference. That can only help.

Watching the DBs work ethic and summer workouts on the practice field, here is my thumbnail of three defensive positions. Some of the "effort" guys have won the respect of peers, coaches and observers:

CORNERBACK

- Jernaro Gilford LC, SR (6'2", 185)

He's BAAACK with a vengeance. A man of great heart and competitive fire, he impresses coaches and team members with every practice. Every workout. After sitting most of last season out nursing an injury and "gutting it out" with nagging injuries, Gilford is not taking any days off. You want leaders from your seniors? You got it. He leads the charge in every workout. He is fully recovered and looks great. Adjectives that describe him include fluid, effortless in motion, flawless in technique, football intelligence and effectively uses angles and sidelines for added leverage. His effortless motion can be deceiving, and has reduced his 40 time to 4.41. Gilford should be the best cornerback in the MWC this season.

- Brandon Heaney RC, SR (5'11", 185)

After sitting out spring practice, Heaney is fully recovered from shoulder surgery. He worked out almost each day at full speed. Like Gilford, his 40 speed is deceptive, recently clocking a 4.34 40. He is talented, gutsy, with a nose for the ball and great anticipation.

- Chad Barney RC, SR (6'2", 195)

Though he does not have the speed of Gilford or Heaney, he's more physical. He's a cross between a strong safety and a corner and has shown fine leadership and effort for the younger players. Barney knows how to use his size to his advantage on underneath routes. He should be a valuable 3rd option at CB. Expect bone-jarring hits from Barney.

- Nathan Soelberg LC, SO (6'1", 170)

He's the pleasant surprise of the CBs. He can burn with the best of them and has good size. Learns fast and is still working on his technique. Will add valuable depth this year and will challenge for a starter position in future seasons.

- Micah Alba RC, JR (5'8", 165)

Alba could be one of the better CBs in the MWC if he had more size. He is tough with solid technique and above average speed. What he lacks in size he makes up for in effort.

CATBACKS

- James Allen RCT, JR (5'10", 170)

After a long recovery from surgery, he goes full throttle at workouts and doesn't miss many. He is extremely fast, enthusiastic and confident. Coach Brian Mitchell has been high on him from the outset. The '03 season is when we see the investment pay off. One Allen in hand is better than two Walt Williams' in the bush.

- Kip Neilson LCT SR (6'0", 195)

He had a great year last season as a walk-on. Good size with great speed. Posted the best 40 time of any player at recent workouts with 4.31. Shows signs that he will be very effective on blitzes.

- Jon Burbidge RCT JR (6'1", 205)

Burbidge is known for his hitting ability. He is hard-nosed with adequate coverage skills.

- Josh Brandon LCT SR (6'0", 190)

His is an outstanding tackler. Doesn't just lay the big hit, but knows how to wrap up as well as anyone on the team. Posted a 40 time of 4.55.

- Jared Meibos RCT JR (5'11", 208)

Effective blitzer from the Kat position. One of the top "effort" players in the off-season. Likely to be part of the rotation.

COUGARBACK

- Aaron Francisco CGR, JR (6'2", 210)

Francisco is the key to this defense. WRs acknowledge a big difference when he is in the lineup. He is a devastating hitter with great size, good speed, terrific instincts; the field general with a nose for the ball. Recovery from recent foot surgery is reported to be ahead of schedule. He is expected to be ready to go in the season opener. He is a strong candidate for All-Conference and All-American honors at his position.

- Corby Hodgekiss CGR FR (5'11", 200)

Backs up Francisco. He is a strong athlete with good quickness and instincts. Misses few workouts.

- Quinn Gooch CGR FR (6'1", 190)

Came out of spring on fire, but tore his ACL and will miss this season. In high school, he had 12 INTs and 14 blocked punts, an astounding record if you put three good DBs together who play Division 1 football.

- Chris Warner ? FR (6'1", 190)

Outstanding RB from Nevada often also played DB in high school. He is currently working out with the team often and shows good effort and desire.

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