With Johnson gone for the rest of the regular season, the cupboard is a bit bare with Brandon Bradley standing in as Johnson's replacement. The problem is that Bradley has injury problems of his own that prevented him from practicing on Monday. Bradley has s shin injury and is expected to practice and play in next week's game.
Nothing is certain, however, and at the very least Bradley needs a backup should coaches choose to give him the starting reigns. Enter Rich, who last week found himself starting in place of the injured David Tafuna at strong safety.
A week ago Monday, Rich was seen playing field corner with the second-team unit due to some injuries, but laughed off the thought of him playing cornerback following that practice. This week Rich is again playing cornerback, but at the boundary side, and this time it's no joke.
"Yeah, it's not the same this week, that's for sure," said Rich about his position change. "Last week it was just to fill in for that practice, but this week coaches are telling me that I'm likely to play at boundary, so it's intense and I'm trying to learn the position as best I can."
Switching from the safety position to fill in at cornerback isn't an easy task. While Rich is familiar with the coverage, playing boundary corner is a completely different set of circumstances.
"It's harder I think," said Rich about the boundary corner position. "You're more isolated, and I have a lot to learn. Guys are helping me a lot on the new movements. I have confidence in the two safeties behind me to pick up my weaknesses."
Rich noted that the biggest difference between playing corner and safety is how much faster everything happens and how fast he subsequently has to react.
"You have to react quicker and make your reads quicker at cornerback," explains Rich. "Things just happen faster over there and you have to be ready for it."
While a healthy Bradley is likely start at boundary, Rich is ready for anything and everything coaches may ask of him this coming Saturday and the rest of the season. While he was already the primary backup at both free safety and strong safety, Rich looks to be the first guy in at three of the four secondary positions, which is a lot to ask of anyone.
"I'm not saying I'm the best cornerback or the best option, but I'll do whatever the team needs," said Rich. "I want to play, but more than anything I want to help out the team as best I can. That's what this week and the rest of the season is all about."
After an outing against TCU that Brandon Howard wants to forget about, the first-year starting field corner has improved with every game by not letting things get to him and moving on, among other things.
"We all make mistakes and when I make a mistake everyone knows about it, but you can't have it affect you," said Howard. "You make a mistake, you learn from it and move on. That's all you can do."
This season Howard is starting at cornerback for the first time, not only in college, but at anytime during his football career. While he's taken his lumps, Howard is progressing more and more every game.
"I'm not letting guys get deep, which is the most important thing for me to do," said Howard. "I didn't have the best game against TCU, but I'm just trying to put it behind me and improve every game. You just can't let things affect you. I feel I'm progressing and I'm getting to the right spots, I just need to make some more plays. I'm getting there."
While Howard will likely end the year as the starting field corner, the recent loss of G Pittman as Howard's primary backup has necessitated more shakeups in the secondary.
"I miss G, I miss him a lot," said Howard. "He's a great guy and a great athlete and I wish him the best, but we just have to move on. I was real good friends with G, so I'll miss him mostly for that."
Rich isn't the only safety switching to cornerback. Due to the increased lack of depth at both cornerback positions, safety Steven Thomas has been asked to move to field cornerback, where he's progressing after garnering some playing time in recent weeks.
"Steven Thomas is going to do great at cornerback," noted Howard. "I like his attitude and he works real hard. He's athletic and he's getting better every day. He's going to help us out a lot there. Guys are going down, but other guys are stepping up. That's what this team and this defense is all about. We've given up some points and yard the last few games, but we're not getting down. We're working even harder and we're going to be fine. People are stepping up and it's great to see. I just have to do my part and keep up."