Spring Review -- Secondary

One area of major concern for the Buffaloes in 2003 was the play of the defensive secondary, especially during the first half of the season. The Buffs hope to improve on their conference-worst pass defense in 2004.

With defensive backs coach Vance Joseph taking a similar position in Bowling Green, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz coached the secondary this spring, with the help of defensive technical intern Darian Hagan, who worked with the corners.

Besides losing Joseph, the biggest blow to the secondary this spring came when sophomore Terrance Wheatley suffered a wrist injury early in camp that kept him out of the majority of the practices. While he is expected to be 100-percent by August, Wheatley – who is considered by some as the best cover corner on the squad currently – needed the reps the spring practices would have provided.

However, Wheatley's injury meant more reps for other corners. In his absence, sophomore Gerett Burl came out of spring running No. 1 alongside sophomore Sammy Joseph. Both junior Vance Washington and sophomore Lorenzo Sims also saw a lot of action in the spring.

But in at least two of the three major scrimmages this spring, walk-on and former walk-on wide receivers were making plays on the CU corners. Mike Duren ran past Burl for a touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone in the Spring Game. And Marcus Gonzales beat Joseph and escaped his grasp for some yards after catch in an earlier scrimmage.

At safety, sophomore Tyrone Henderson made the most of a knee injury that kept starter J.J. Billingsley out of several practices. Henderson impressed coaches with his tackling ability at free safety. Junior Tom Hubbard also saw plenty of action and the walk-on, who at 6-5, 210-pounds is the biggest defensive back, should see the field in 2004.

Sophomore Dominique Brooks and redshirt freshmen Chris Russell and Lionel Harris came out of spring 1-2-3 at the strong safety. Coaches said that eventually, the safeties will be able to play either the strong or free positions. One thing that bodes well for the defensive backs is that despite their youth — there are only two scholarship upperclassmen in the group — they are returning several players with lots of experience, including five players who saw some starting experience as freshmen, or redshirt freshmen.

Overall, one of the biggest things the Buffs need to do in the secondary in 2004 is create more turnovers than they did in 2003. The defensive backs made eight interceptions, the fewest number since the 2000 season.

After emphasizing man-to-man coverage during the first half of 2003, CU started giving more zone coverage looks and found more success in the secondary as the season wore on. Hankwitz wants to play more zone defense in the defensive backfield in 2004.

At the conclusion of spring football, interim head coach Brian Cabral said the plan was to wait until a decision had been made about Gary Barnett's future with the team before hiring a defensive backs coach. CU president Elizabeth Hoffman said last month she will announce whether or not to retain Barnett at the end of May.


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