Two safeties, instead of the three, will man the middle of the Cougars' secondary. Responsibilities will change in the new 3-4 system, and coaches hope the changes are for the better.
The Cougars broke spring camp with David Tafuna (6-1, 198, Jr.) starting at free safety with Cole Miyahira (6-0, 195, Sr.) seeing almost exclusive reps with the first-teamers at the strong safety position. Both improved throughout the spring, but will have to work hard to maintain their starting spots.
Tafuna saw plenty of playing time as last season came to a close. He is a traditional safety type who moves well in providing over-the-top coverage. Miyahira played cornerback last year, but he was asked to become a physical presence just behind the linebackers. How Miyahira continues to prove his worth as an hard-hitting enforcer in the middle will go a long way in determining whether he stays with the first teamers.
The primary option at safety other than Tafuna and Miyahira will be Quinn Gooch (6-0, 194, Jr.) who provided the most consistent play of any of the safeties last season. Along with Gooch will be Corby Hodgkiss (5-11, 196, Jr.) as the other safety who had game experience for the Cougars last year. Hodgkiss sat out all of spring practices with an injury, but should be raring to go come this Saturday as he again competes for playing time in the safety rotation. Kellen Fowler (6-0, 190, Jr.) was on an LDS mission last season, but he did get playing in two seasons prior to his mission. He earned the starting spot in spring practice just before entering the MTC, so he should be a contender for the starting job if he can get back in pre-mission shape.
A full slate of players without game experience but impressive resumes will join those listed above at safety. Chris Warner (6-1, 187, Fr.) and Scott Johnson (5-11, 180, Fr.) are a pair of impressive walk-ons who returned from missions since last season. They will try to make strides after battling to regain their pre-mission form during spring ball. Both finished the spring ball sessions making great strides. While Warner is a definitely a safety there has been talk of Johnson moving to cornerback.
Other players competing at the safety position will include true freshman Michael Moore (6-2, 205) along with true freshman Mike Hague (5-10, 210) who has been very impressive in summer workouts. Carter Mees (6-1, 190, Fr.), Aaron Attig (6-3, 190, Fr.), and Aaron Gordon (6-0, 190, Sr.), who has been a solid practice player throughout his career at BYU, are also in the mix at safety.
Robinson showed great play early, but was severely hampered by back and ankle injuries after the TCU game last year. He struggled to make the plays that came naturally to him pre-injury. Buchanan has been working through nagging injuries this off-season, which may force delay his return until later in fall camp.
After a full year adjusting to the cornerback position, Howard made great strides in the spring. Under the tutelage of new secondary coach Jaime Hill, Howard was able to be in the right place at the right time and then use his positioning to make plays. He ended spring practices strong, getting many reps with the ones. Howard is poised to make the two-deep this fall.
Criddle provided very consistent coverage throughout the spring. He saw most of his reps with the ones and twos on defense as spring practices came to a close. Both Howard and Criddle will be in the mix competing for playing time in the fall.
A trio of newcomers have been the topic of more message board discussion than the rest of the new players combined. Junior college transfer Andre Saulsberry (5-11, 175 Jr.), Louisville transfer Brandon Bradley (6-1, 180, Fr.), and Robbie Buckner (5-10, 165, Fr.) are all eagerly anticipated by BYU fans.
While Saulsberry has yet to complete a practice or even a workout in Provo he is getting the same preseason hype that most junior college transfer cornerbacks receive at BYU. TBS will watch his performance closely to gauge if the hype is merited.
Bradley spent most of the summer at BYU, where there has been a buzz about his athleticism and potential, although he is only three months removed from a mission to Brazil and he still has missionary legs. Buckner also arrived in Provo earlier this summer to get a head start on the competition. The Arkansas state decathlon champion has the athleticism to be a great corner, he just needs time under Coach Hill to master the fundamentals.
Tico Pringle (6-0, 185, Jr.) is another cornerback candidate who will be watched closely. After struggling through the first couple of weeks of spring ball, Pringle ended the spring session strong, culminating into an impressive performance in the Blue and White game. There has also been mention of Pringle moving to safety.
Nate Hutchinson (6-3, 190, Fr.) is an appealing option because of his physical presence. Zac Erekson (5-10, 185, So.) will also be competing for playing time.
For better or for worse, the cornerback and safety positions will hold more intrigue this coming fall practice session than any other position. While the players are generally inexperienced, there are more options this year as opposed to recent seasons.
It is very reasonable to expect improvement relative to last season. The new 3-4 system will help those competing for spots because they will not be asked to be the primary play-makers in the system. The system is a better fit for the talent BYU has in the secondary, which should translate into better execution and, ultimately, more wins.
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