Secondary Depth A Plus For Cougar Defense

Last year BYU's secondary consisted of a thin but talented group. The paper-thin depth of BYU's cornerback position was such that many BYU fans nervously watched safety Cole Miyahira replace walk-on cornerback Ben Criddle during BYU's 38-8 pounding of the Oregon Ducks last bowl season. How quickly times have changed.

With experienced boundary cornerback Ben Criddle's and cover corner Kayle Buchanan's health back on top, the two seniors and former walk-ons will be the front-runners for the starting cornerback positions. Challenging to take their spots is a mix of older and younger talent looking to be something more than just depth.

"We're all competing and trying to play," said Andre Saulsberry. "We all want to play and as a group we're trying to reach our potential to be a bigger factor on this defense. The depth we have this year is definitely going to help us. If one player goes down we now have somebody who plays the cornerback position and knows the defense well enough to come in and make a difference.

"We have confidence in the guys working behind us, and the coaches have the confidence in knowing that there are guys working hard to be top notch on down through the depth chart. Right now we are all viewed as being equal, which is good because everybody feels they are competing for a chance to play."

"We have more depth this year and all of the incoming freshmen are talented and they came to work hard," said Kayle Buchanan. "It's really a credit to our coaching staff's focus and what they're looking for in players. So that's the first thing, that our players coming in are talented, and we now have guys who've been on the team for a while that are now healthy, which is huge."

With improved health and better depth throughout the cornerback roster, the development of talent throughout the first, second, third and fourth strings rises to a higher level. Those that once felt their spots were solidified through their past performances no longer believe in such things.

"It's keeping people working hard, like Ben Criddle," Saulsberry said. "He's working hard to not lose his position as a senior. We're all hungry and pushing those guys higher on the depth chart. I know I'm hungry because this is my senior year."

After having a standout performance during last spring camp, Saulsberry is trying to build upon the success he enjoyed. This is Saulsberry's last year as a Cougar and he's laying out all on the line.

"I believe I have improved in learning all of our defensive plays," said Saulsberry. "I feel comfortable out there and know what I'm doing. Right now I don't have to think and I'm just out there playing. Things come more natural to me now. Last year, and during last spring, I was still learning the plays, but now I'm just out there playing like it's second nature to me."

"Each individual is better prepared," said Buchanan. "We also better understand what each of our fellow teammates are doing within the defensive secondary. We also have a better understanding of what each of our individual strengths are in coverage and run packages, which helps us to better play within our defense and better exploit our scheme.

"We also play better as a unit because we all trust one another more and have been through a lot together. This leads to a tighter unit within the secondary. If you know what your teammate is doing, then you can kind of cheat the secondary scheme a little because you can cover each other's angles and take away routes better than you would be able to do if you didn't understand the abilities of your teammates. Last year we were all pretty good in being able to work with one another's strengths because we had been playing together for a few years, so last year's unit was pretty good. We just didn't have as much depth."

With another year in the 3-4 scheme comes high expectations.

"I think we'll be better this year," Buchanan said. "For one thing, we have more experience with this defense with pretty much everyone coming back. Even though I've been in the program forever, I'm pretty much the new guy in the secondary."

True freshman cornerback G Pittman has made a statement early on in fall camp, and is just one of the incoming prospects that is having an early effect on an experienced defense looking to raise its No. 14 national ranking. The aggressive on-field play of the native Californian has caught the attention of his teammates.

"G Pittman is looking really good out there as a freshman," said Saulsberry. "I'm impressed with him and what he brings to our secondary. He's quick and physical and he's going to be a good one. All he has to do is get used to this elevation out here and he'll be alright."

The offense was forced to take notice of the defensive unit during Tuesday's practice.

"Our defense came out and represented well," said sophomore tight end Vic So'oto. "Our secondary came out and made some noise and played hard. You have to hand it to them for that."

"We've got some studs coming in," said Bryan Kehl. "I'm very impressed with how some of these new guys have come in and competed the way they have in our defensive secondary."

Pittman isn't the only defensive back catching the attention of other players.

"I was impressed with Gary Nagy," said Markell Staffieri. "He was here over the summer and he impressed me because he was making a lot of plays during our seven-on-seven drills.

"I'm also really impressed with Jordan Pendleton, and he's a big kid. He's in great shape and is really big and strong for a safety. I wouldn't be surprised if he's moved over to outside linebacker pretty soon. Along with Pendleton, we have David Tafuna stepping up, along with Aaron Attig, who has come along rather well.

"So we have some guys that have been here for a few years stepping up with some young guys who are making some noise early. I think our secondary is going to be very solid, and we have a stud coach [Jaime Hill] back there that is going to make sure they pay attention to details."

Another cornerback that is also showing well is Brannon Brooks, who broke up a few passes and nearly picked one off near the end zone during Tuesday's thud scrimmage, to the delight of a shouting and jumping-for-joy Coach Hill.

"We have a lot of talent in the secondary," Buchanan said. "There now is just a need for experience with some of these guys, but they'll get that quickly against our offense. There is a lot of positive pressure to perform well because of the caliber of talent we have. It will basically come down to who is the best player that earned the spot at the cornerback position. I hope it's me, but if it's not, then I'm confident that the person who earned the chance to play is the best person for the job.

"I want the best guy on the field, and last year I had such a great experience in learning how to be a team player that I don't mind that there is someone better than me out there. I didn't feel cheated last season. I've learned that I can play a key role on this team whether I'm starting out on the field or not, and I would gladly do that again if I had to in order for us to win.

"If all of us guys in the secondary can learn to play a role and be supportive of whoever is in front of them while pushing them, then we as a group will vastly improve. It's really about the future and how this program is being run, and I think this is the type of mentality that will make our defensive secondary a great unit for greater success and for future BYU teams."

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