Andre Saulsberry set the tone early when he shed a wide receiver block and gave fullback Manase Tonga a hard pop as soon as he caught the ball on a swing pass out of the backfield. Saulsberry celebrated the play with a little swagger to the whoops of his teammates.
"Andre is playing boundary corner and is playing physical," said Buchanan. "He is learning the defense and wants to contribute this year, and he wants to play and make plays. One of Andre's strengths is he is a competitor."
On the last play of today's scrimmage, Saulsberry got into a shoving match with a wide receiver that went on until running back Ray Hudson came over and settled things down a bit.
Not long after Saulsberry introduced himself to Tonga, safety Quinn Gooch laid a nasty hit on tight end Andrew George right after the ball was deflected. George, with his eyes squarely focused on catching the ball, never saw Gooch coming. George laid on the field for a bit while he regained his senses under the supervision of concerned trainers by his side.
"Quinn Gooch is back and was our defensive back of the year last year," Buchanan said. "He spends a ton of time watching film and he knows how to help the corners and where to fit within the schemes. He's nasty out there and just gets down and plays. He's a head hunter out there."
Later, George would come back and make a nice catch over the middle, but Gooch let him know with a more moderate pop gesturing just what would have happened if he did not hold back the second time.
So what exactly is going on out here?
"I think much of this really was there last year," Buchanan said. "I think it might have taken people a little while to notice it because they were used to blaming the secondary for things. So it took awhile for people to actually say these guys are doing really well."
Buchanan has an interesting point. Those who play within the secondary are usually out on an island where their mistakes are visible to everyone.
"Well, it's part of the game," chuckled Buchanan. "I guess it's an occupation risk. I think I saw that in the fine print when I signed up to play. It's definitely a position of high risk but it also has high reward."
The early success of the secondary is encouraging after the graduation of Justin Robinson.
"I don't know if I can say that we're ahead of schedule because there really isn't a schedule for when we need to be good," said Buchanan. "As far as where we are in comparison to day three of last year I think we're ahead at this point. I also think we're working together a bit better and we understand the defensive scheme better."
Not only will opponents face a unit that is more comfortable playing with each other and within the 3-4-4 defense, but they will also find out that the secondary has evolved within the scheme as well.
"We're playing with the scheme more," Buchanan said. "Sometimes I might make a mistake because we're trying something new, but overall that's the only time I feel uncomfortable with the scheme is when we're throwing in a new wrinkle to it."
Among returning players, the secondary is showing promise among the newer faces in the backfield.
"At field corner, Scott Johnson is doing a great job," said Buchanan. "He brings a great desire and is extremely competitive, and he is also someone who is a technician. He is someone that works on the little things. He wants to know where his help is in every defensive scheme, and he is someone that always goes after the ball."
Scott Johnson is a 5-foot-11, 195-pound walk-on cornerback from Timpview High School who has made notable plays covering wide receivers both in the flats and on deeper routes.
"Johnson is a walk-on like me," said Buchanan with a smile. "He's kind of in the same boat as I was, and Scott and I are assigned to one another on the team so we have a close relationship. I have a lot of respect for him.
Another walk-on that has impressed Buchanan is 6-foot-0, 180-pound cornerback Matt Winn.
"We also have Matt Winn who is another walk-on who is athletic," Buchanan said. "Matt's been out there and he's been doing a good job. He's kind of a cookie cutter walk-on type that doesn't have a lot of flash but just plays well and makes plays. He also asks a lot of questions to learn how to get better."
With the foundation of the passing defense having been laid out by last year's unit, this group of defensive backs mixes both the experienced and the new to continue that success.
"I can't give enough credit to those guys that played last year," Buchanan said. "You're going to see much the same and even better this year. You're going to see a group of guys used to playing together and being successful doing it. Our confidence level is way up."
Click on the following link to hear Ben Criddle evaluate the secondary and update his recovery process.