Fall Practice Preview: Cornerbacks

Up next we break down the cornerbacks who will be competing this fall for positions for the 2008 season. The overall depth and talent at the CB position has never been better since I started covering the team seven years ago. But, with that wealth of talent comes a wealth of inexperience that this group will have to overcome.

Unexpected Starters

Higher touted names have appeared at the forefront of most fans' minds, but coming out of spring the starters at cornerback were Brandon Howard and Scott Johnson. Both players held firm against their extremely talented competition to secure starting spots as fall practices are set to commence.

Brandon Howard will be the guy to beat out at field cornerback. What Howard brings to the table is hard work and a bright mind, but what may ultimately prove to be his best asset are his quick feet, which go along nicely with his superior straight-ahead speed. In fact, Howard recently ran the top forty time of anyone on BYU's current roster.

Howard spent the spring going against Austin Collie primarily, with Michael Reed being thrown at him on occasion. Howard held his own and was equal to the task of keeping up with the great talent that both Collie and Reed present on the outside.

Scott Johnson meanwhile could well be argued as being the player who had the best spring of anyone on the roster. Many were waiting and maybe even anticipating the day when Brandon Bradley would overtake him as the starter, but it never happened.

The reason why that didn't happen is because Johnson was assignment-sound on just about every occasion, which is the most important thing to be in Jaime Hill's zone-heavy defensive system. Johnson has adequate athleticism, but what separates him from those competing against him at the boundary corner spot is knowledge and a feel for the coverage system BYU runs.

Nipping at their Heels

It's seldom seen at BYU to have two athletes such as G Pittman and Brandon Bradley at the cornerback position without the need to thrust them in as starters immediately. Both players are the best athletes I've ever seen in a Cougar defensive backfield, and when their feel and knowledge of the overall system catch up with their athleticism, the sky is the limit for the assumed backups at both the field and boundary corner positions.

I made it well known last August that G Pittman was far and away the best incoming talent I've seen at the CB position in my seven years of covering the program, and I certainly hold to that today. Pittman has it all, from sub 4.5 speed, quick feet and great natural instincts to a nasty and somewhat cocky demeanor on the field, which has served him well.

Pittman has and should continue to make a strong push to overtake Howard at the starting field cornerback position. Regardless of whether he does or does not, if Howard were to go down, Pittman could go in without the defense missing much of a bea,t if any at all. This is a luxury not found at BYU most years.

If Jaime Hill ran a man-heavy coverage system, then I feel it would be safe to say that Brandon Bradley would be starting. Bradley is finally healthy and dominated most one-on-one coverage drills during practice sessions in the spring. Bradley has everything Pittman has, along with great size, which serves him well as he is able to be physical with his coverage assignment.

Once Bradley learns Hill's coverage system and is comfortable in it, then it's difficult to imagine Johnson or anyone else for that matter holding him off, given Bradley's superior athletic attributes.

One other Option

Scott Johnson saw some time practicing at free safety last spring. Should Kellen Fowler go down with an injury, then Johnson very well may prove to be the best option to back him up given his knowledge of the coverage system.

With Johnson moving over, Bradley should prove to be more than adequate in manning the starting boundary corner slot. Johnson being moved over permanently to safety is doubtful, as he's much too valuable at boundary CB right now, but things could certainly change and it's an option that may be explored more as fall practices go on.

Other Talent

Behind the assumed starters and backups are players such as Brannon Brooks and Gary Nagy. Both players have progressed well since arriving on campus and there has been talk of moving Nagy to safety, although an official move has yet to be made.

Returning from his mission will be Rhen Brown, who was a BYU summer camp phenom with 4.41 forty time and great overall athleticism. Brown may compete at wide receiver, although it's assumed that he'll be trying to make a spot for himself at CB during his first year.

True freshman Garrett Nicholson will be joining the team along with Cameron Comer. Nicholson is a pure cornerback prospect who had a great final year in high school and stood out at BYU's camp. Comer is a player with great athletic upside and may be moved to safety in the future, although he intends on making his mark at cornerback.

All Eyes On

I've been intent on watching Brandon Bradley closely since he got back from his injury and will continue to do so this fall practice session. Bradley is the real wildcard in the cornerback mix, in that his athleticism is something no player can come close to matching. Should Bradley learn to operate well in Hill's system, then it's going to be hard to keep him off of the field of play.

We'll also be watching very closely for any movement in the defensive backfield, as there appears to be a few players who may be switching from cornerback to other positions. Cougar coaches have rarely had the options they now have at both cornerback positions, which makes for some exciting prospects for this position group this coming season and beyond.

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