Both Ben Criddle and Kayle Buchanan were former walk-ons that manned the cornerback positions very effectively last season. Both players worked very hard throughout their careers, earning themselves scholarships through that hard work and their surprising talent. Replacing both players will certainly not be an easy task.
Almost all of the experience among those players that will be competing at the position comes from sophomore Brandon Howard. Howard saw some time stepping in for Buchanan during stretches last season at the field corner position.
Howard answered the bell effectively, completing his assignments and not allowing much of anything to be thrown against him. Most fans probably didn't even notice when Howard was in the game, which is never a bad thing considering the position he plays. When you can't note what a CB is doing on a play, that usually indicates that he's completing his coverage assignment effectively.
Howard came to BYU with basically no experience at the position. Through hard work, he has started to emerge. Considering his experience, coaches have more than likely already developed a level of confidence in him that may not exist with the other players competing for the two CB positions.
Scott Johnson is another player that has seen some time playing CB, although that time is much more limited that Howard's time. Johnson is a candidate to switch over to safety, but should he stay at CB, he'll most certainly be in the mix to break the two-deep or even start.
Johnson carries on the walk-on tradition at defensive back. While his overall athleticism won't blow you away, he's proven to be a very smart player who knows where to be on the field. Johnson will be in the mix no matter where he ends up playing.
Along with Howard and Johnson are two of the more exciting prospects I've ever seen at the CB position since I started covering practices almost seven years ago. Both Brandon Bradley and G Pittman represent what could easily be argued as the best incoming talent BYU has ever had at the position out of the high school ranks.
Brandon Bradley came in with a load of hype a year ago, but when he lost the ability to compete due to a torn ACL, a lot that hype was lost as well. Slowly but surely Bradley has been able to regain his form, leading to a lot of well-earned hype surrounding him as spring practices begin.
Bradley made great strides playing with the scout team last season. Toward the end of the year he had regained most of his speed and movement, and it showed. Bradley was matched up with Austin Collie on almost every occasion during practices and did relatively well against him.
Bradley is a very physical big-bodied CB with above-average speed and mobility for his size. Think Brian Gray with more speed when thinking about what type of player Bradley is. With his athleticism, Bradley will be one of the favorites to man the boundary CB position come fall.
G Pittman meanwhile is simply the best incoming freshman I've ever seen at the CB position, and it's not really close. What Pittman showed during practices last year before he got hurt was a high IQ in regards to how to play the position. In addition, he showed great athletic makeup, great feet, and most importantly, he was a player who knew how to work hard.
While most true freshmen were catching their breath after practices, Pittman would be running wind-sprints in an attempt to gain an edge over his competition. Pittman represents about as exciting of a prospect as you'll ever see from a redshirt freshman at the CB position.
Beyond my own observations of Bradley and Pittman are the observations of their teammates. Both players have received a lot of praise and admiration from their older teammates. Bradley and Pittman will undoubtedly be warranting a lot of attention from Talo and myself this spring.
Along with Bradley and Pittman is Brannon Brooks, who quietly went about his business last season and improved upon his game.
Brooks only started playing CB his senior year in high school, but made some good strides and is a sort of dark horse candidate to break the two-deep lineup.
More help will come this fall, as Rhen Brown will be entering the program following his mission. Overall, the collective experience at the position isn't what you'd want it to be most years, but the talent level is exactly what you would want most years. The collective upside at the position is tremendous, which should lead to a very entertaining competition this spring.