From Pass Catchers to Pass Defenders

After BYU's already thin secondary became a little more skeletal last Saturday, BYU coaches made some drastic adjustments in order to shore things up in the defensive backfield. For starters, two wide receivers have made the switch from offensive prey to defensive predator.

With 5'11", 200-pound Round Rock, Texas receiver Breyon Jones and 6'1", 200 pound Itawamba JC transfer Michael Morris making the switch to defense, BYU's secondary got a little bigger and a little deeper. Following the TCU game the need for depth at the cornerback position became very apparent.

"Yeah a couple of guys have been experimenting with the defense; Michael Morris and Bryon Jones are trying it out," said BYU's deep threat Todd Watkins. "I don't know if it's official yet but they were over at their meetings and stuff and talking to Coach Mitchell and Coach Mendenhall. If they can do a job better than the guys doing it now I'm all for it. I hope they can help this team win."

On paper it is no secret BYU's secondary was lean. BYU's secondary coach, Coach Mitchell felt Independence JC transfer Justin Robinson would come in and help strengthen the cornerback position opposite of Nathan Soelberg, and that is exactly what happened. But with the recent injuries to Robinson, Soelberg, and Hale, coaches had to look at their resources to shore up a thin secondary.

"To be pretty blatant about it, it was a team decision," said newly converted cornerback Bryon Jones. "Coach asked me and said we have a lot of guys going down at corner right now and there is a definite need at that position. Not that our guys weren't taking care of things, but we were having a lot of injuries so he felt that by me going to defense it would help me get out on the field quicker because I'm a senior. So I embraced the offer because I am a team player and to help this team right now is my number one priority. So when I came in I told Mendenhall that I would do everything and anything for him."

Although he has never played cornerback in college, Jones did play cornerback against the speedier receivers in high school. As a former track athlete at Round Rock High School, Jones had to rely on his speed and athleticism to cover opposing receivers rather then rely solely on technique.

"I've never played cornerback before," Jones said. "Well, to be honest I remember in high school we would have a couple of fast receivers and my coach would tell me to go in and cover them, but it was never any technique involved it was always just get in and go." Now the senior is being taught to change his mindset from attacker to defender. Coach Mitchell is walking Jones through the technique required to play the cornerback position.

"It's going to develop day by day," said Jones. "I'm just reading the playbook as much as I can and we have a great defensive coaching staff. They've been on me every step of the way and Coach Mitchell is right there with me hand in hand showing me exactly what I need to do and giving me baby steps. You gotta crawl before you can walk. Its fun and I feel I'm picking it up."

The change from receiver to cornerback requires a different set of skills and techniques that must be drilled in until they are instinctive in order for the coverage to become effective. For Jones, this among other technique requirements has been the toughest to master.

"The timing isn't quite there yet and I'm almost seeing things after it happens but knowing what I should have done," said Jones. "I'm going to have to have more reps because I can see I need the hands on experience to learn it, get through it so when it happens the timing will be right there. Timing is key.

"I would also say I need to keep training myself to go in the opposite direction. I think that's been the hardest thing. Yesterday I came out and trying to get out of my back peddle and plant and I felt like a two year old trying to walk. It was funny but that was probably the hardest adjustment for me, but like I said I just need more repetition and get it down and I don't think it's something that can't be mastered without a little practice."

Newly converted receiver Michael Morris agrees with Jones' assessment concerning the challenges of learning the cornerback position.

"Well, it's a big difference," said Morris. "When you're out there you can't dictate which way the person goes. You're just a follower and you have to make sure you don't get beat, know your timing and make plays. Just where you're supposed to be at is hard, so the coverages man, and just getting the timing to make the plays, but I think it will come when I finally learn where I'm supposed to be at."

For Morris, the opportunity to contribute and help the team as a defensive back led him to approach the defensive coaches about possibly making the switch. When he got the call from Coach Mitchell, Morris was a bit surprised they took him seriously.

"As a receiver I had to wait in order to get my turn and a couple of guys on defense got hurt, so I was like coach you might need me out here to help this team," said Morris. "The next thing I know next morning Coach Mitchell says, ‘Mike, come with me' and I was like, ‘What?' It was a surprise but I'm up for the challenge, and the thing is I've been a receiver all my life so I know all the ins and outs, so those receivers will have to watch out with what they're going because I know all about it."

During Tuesday's scrimmage, Morris was able to jump on a ball to make an interception on a shorter route, which for Morris is the toughest part area for him to cover at this time in his development.

"The deep ball coverage—I think I've got that one down so if anyone goes deep I think I can handle that, but the short routes and covering guys all over the field is just a hassle man," said Morris. "Being a corner now and seeing what these guys go through, it's hard. It's a hard position."

If all goes as planned Morris could be returning next year as a more experienced defender if the NCAA gives him one more year from an ankle injury he suffered during pre-season last year.

"This is my senior year but hopefully I can get one more year back after last year," said Morris. "We just don't know yet."

For Jones and Morris the change has been bittersweet. The two converted cornerbacks will now work with Coach Mitchell and those who used to cover them. For Jones, it is kind of a surreal and yet a bit funny.

"It's kind of an unwritten rule between offense and defense that we're not supposed to like each other," Jones with a wink. "It's kind of unwritten though that we don't like each other but we're all teammates and we love each other, but when you quick cross over into the blue it's definitely a new feeling and I love it and I embrace it. So knowing all those other guys on the other side now, I still got the love for them and from them, but it's that unwritten rule that, ‘Hey look, we were friends but on this field I don't know you anymore' you know what I mean."

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