UCF Spring Football Review: Secondary

It has already been noted that UCF is expected to have a stellar defense, but the one group that truly stands out is the Knights' secondary, which is loaded with experience. Four seniors make up the starting secondary and the unit should be amongst the best in the nation.

Cornerback Joe Burnett spearheads the group and dazzled during the spring, hinting that he is poised for a monstrous senior season. In practice, Burnett was constantly making plays and rarely let any passes come his way, much less be caught. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Burnett's game this spring was that he improved as the weeks went on, and at times he shut down his entire side of the field.

Early in the spring, Burnett talked about his new role as a leader for the entire team, as well as his fellow defensive backs. He talked about camaraderie and how crucial it was to UCF's success. "Right now, sure its spring practice but I'm trying to get the young guys at the same level as the veterans. We have a lot of inexperienced guys who don't know much right now but will eventually be playing. We need to get them on them on the same ship as us veterans; we need to show them how to compete."

One player Burnett is particularly close with is fellow cornerback Johnell Neal, who is also a three-year letterman. Neal tied Burnett with six interceptions last season and looks poised to get achieve that impressive total again. Neal has been as imperative to UCF's success the past several seasons and is also starting to embrace his new role as leader, like Burnett. "Now we're out there leading exercises, and it all happened real fast. It goes by fast when you're having fun."

Both Burnett and Neal were indeed able to have a lot of fun and be extra aggressive last year because of the excellent safeties they had behind them. Seniors Jason Venson and Sha'reff Rashad both are potential NFL players and need to build on an impressive 2007 campaign to reach that goal. This spring was a good stepping stone because both players picked up where they left off last year. Both had an excellent spring and made life difficult on UCF's offense while it tried to find a new quarterback. Venson and Rashad did a great job covering intermediate routs, and were burnt on only a few occasions.

While 2008 will be a stellar year for the Knights' defensive backfield, new secondary coach Gary Blackney must find a way to bring along talented yet inexperienced players such as Emery Allen and Darin Baldwin so they are prepared for 2009. Allen is a little small, but he displayed excellent quickness this spring and will be an excellent nickel back this season. Baldwin actually had an extremely impressive spring and could be a very good player. He made a ton of breakups against UCF's second team offense in practice and also showed a lot of emotion.

There is little doubt that UCF's defense will be its strong point next year and the play of its secondary this spring certainly validated that notion. Burnett, a projected first-day draft pick for 2008 has embraced his role as senior leader, and his fellow seniors aren't far behind. The group will work on consistency this offseason and should be ready for a very strong 2008 campaign.

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