"A lot of the completions teams had (in 2006) were just blown calls," senior corner Terrence Wheatley told BSN. "Or one side was running the right coverage the other side was doing something completely different."
Wheatley thinks experience will help correct those type of mistakes that showed up last season. One thing the coaches are emphasizing for 2007 is creating more turnovers. The unit grabbed 10 interceptions last fall.
"We're trying to teach guys, when the ball is in the air the kill shot looks really cool, but the interception is really what makes the difference," Wheatley said.
Wheatley led the team with five picks in '06, and he should contend for all-league honors. The plate in his right wrist broke late in the season, and Wheatley had successful offseason surgery to replace it — his fourth operation on the wrist. He was held out of most full contact situations in the spring for precautionary reasons, but was fully healed by summer.
He's the closest thing to a lock to start the secondary has. But defensive backs coach Greg Brown isn't conceding any starting positions until they're earned on the field in August.
"We're not 100 percent settled going into fall and there's going to be some opportunities for some young kids coming in to step up and land a job if they want it," Brown said.
Competition at the cornerback opposite Wheatley promises to be fierce. Junior Gardner McKay saw a lot of reps in the spring. Possessing good speed and ball skills, McKay had a mediocre sophomore season, and needed to prove to Brown during spring ball he's willing to help in run support. The jury is still out. Junior Ben Burney has seen action at corner and safety his first two years, but enters the fall at cornerback. He's got a good combination of coverage abilities and physical play, and the junior could prove the surprise of the secondary this season.
Sophomore Cha'pelle Brown is back at corner after spending the spring at wide receiver. Brown got his feet wet early as a true freshman last season and, predictably, had and up and down year. His toughness and competitiveness have never been in question, and a year wiser, Brown should be solid wherever he lines up. (He could see action on both sides of the ball).
Redshirt-freshmen Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith battled hard in the spring and will figure into the mix at cornerback. Both have great size for the position, something the Buffs haven't had in quite a while. But it will likely be another year before Brown and Smith have a real chance to break into the starting lineup.
Among the youngsters Brown alluded to about having an opportunity to play is Lamont Smith, the true freshman from Pittsburgh.
At safety, junior Ryan Walters has lots of experience after starting 10 games a year ago. One of the biggest hitters on the team, Walters was named to preseason all-conference first teams by Athlon and The Sporting News. Senior Lionel Harris and junior Daniel Dykes will compete for the starting spot beside Walters. Harris started six games last fall in place of injured (and now graduated) J.J. Billingsley. He also led the team with six tackles in the spring game. But look for Dykes, a transfer from Idaho, to emerge come September. Dykes combines decent size and athleticism with smarts — he's not the kind of player who's going to get caught out of position.
Coach Brown likes the athleticism of incoming freshmen Anthony Perkins and Anthony Wright, and the physical toughness of Nate Vaiomounga. Vaiomounga and Wright will play safety, while Perkins may get a look at both corner and safety.
"We're trying to get the cohesiveness and chemistry going," Brown said about goals for the entire secondary in August camp. "Trying to find the right fit for everybody; see what everybody's role is going to be."
Leading returners: Lionel Harris (69 career tackles), Ryan Walters (73 tackles), Ben Burney (29 tackles), Terrence Wheatley (9 career interceptions).
Joel Adams, Jr., S, 5-11, 195
Cha'pelle Brown, So., CB, 5-7, 175
Jalil Brown, R-Fr., CB, 6-1, 205
Ben Burney, Jr., CB, 5-11, 195
Daniel "D.J." Dykes, Jr., S, 6-2, 205
Lionel Harris, Sr., S, 6-0, 195
Jonathan Hawkins, Fr., CB, 5-11, 185
Gardner McKay, Jr., CB, 5-11, 160
Anthony Perkins, Fr., DB, 5-11, 180
Bret Smith, R-Fr., S, 5-11, 190
Jimmy Smith, R-Fr., CB, 6-2, 200
Lamont Smith, Fr., CB, 5-9, 170
Nate Vaiomounga, Fr., S, 5-11, 190
Ryan Walters, Jr., S, 5-11, 200
Terrence Wheatley, Sr., CB, 5-10, 185
Anthony Wright, Fr., DB, 6-0, 185