Spring Practice Preview: Defensive Backfield

Some starters will have to be replaced, while a bunch of promising young players will get their shot to shine this spring at both the cornerback and safety positions. G-man gives his final position preview of the spring, running down both the safety and cornerback positions and the story lines involved in the Cougar defensive backfield.

The primary task for defensive coordinator Jaime Hill will be replacing his two starting safeties from last year. Both Kellen Fowler and David Tafuna are moving on, and the search for their replacements will begin in earnest this spring.

Making the Switch

Starting cornerback Scott Johnson is expected to practice at safety this spring, most likely at the free safety position. Moving Johnson over to safety made too much sense not to happen, as his abilities coupled with the rising abilities of those behind him at cornerback made the switch very likely at the close of last season.

Johnson simply knows the defense and the coverages better than anyone currently in the program. Coach Hill mentioned at times last season that he'd like to use Johnson as a safety all the time, and with the graduation of BYU's two starting safeties from last year, Johnson is set as the lead candidate to man the free safety position.

What's Left

The main genesis behind Johnson moving to safety was due to the rising play of cornerback Brandon Bradley throughout last season. Bradley could easily be considered to be the cornerback in the program with the most potential currently. He brings a size and speed quotient rarely seen in a BYU cornerback.

Bradley is almost all but assured the starting boundary cornerback this coming season, and we'll anxiously be watching to see how he develops. With Bradley reaching his potential, that could bring some very good returns in the overall play of the secondary this coming season.

Backing Bradley

The main backups to Bradley at the boundary at least initially looks to be Garrett Nicholson, Steven Thomas and a slew of young walk-ons. Spring provides a great chance for players such as Ryan Love, Bryon Putnam and others to really make a place for themselves. We'll be watching any development within the ranks for the backup boundary cornerbacks.

No Howard

Brandon Howard is expected to miss the duration of spring practice, which should allow those behind him vying for a spot to get plenty of good reps at the field corner spot. Howard obviously started throughout last season and showed very good strides as the season came to a close, and should he return, he's very likely to assume his role as BYU's starting field corner.

With Howard gone there are very few if any field corners currently on the roster other than those already mentioned as options at boundary corner that can fill in for Howard during spring practices. Given the lack of depth, look for Hill to cross-train most of his defensive backs while they wait for the return of Howard and the arrival of two promising junior college transfers that will join the team come fall.

Sorting Out the Safeties

With Johnson likely to lock down the starting free safety spot, most would assume that Andrew Rich will assume the starting strong safety slot. Rich played very well at times last season and brings the type of physical presence across the middle of the field that should serve the secondary and the entire defense well.

Shiloah Te'o also could make some noise this spring. Te'o showed a lot of promise as a true freshman and could really make a secure spot for himself this spring. He is due to have a lot of reps and may be cross-trained at both free safety and strong safety, as he looks to be the primary backup at one of the positions at the very least this coming season.

Others who will be looking to make their mark include such players as Travis Uale, Landon Fowler and Carter Mees, among others. We'll be sure to watch for any and all changes this spring. Given the lack of depth at field corner this spring, there could be a lot of switches and cross-training going on within the secondary ranks this spring.

Overall the secondary position is an intriguing one given the young and promising talent currently on the roster. While field corner won't be necessarily strong this spring, it won't likely remain that way, as Howard is expected to return this fall and will be joined by the very promising prospects of junior college transfers Lee Aguirre and Brian Logan.


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