Takeaway: Pass breakups turn into interceptions.
Aggressive: Simple tackles become forced fumbles.
This is according to Daniel Jones, a redshirt junior and presumed cornerback starter heading into 2013. At least to him, the mentality can always improve.
There's significant personal ownership. Jones said of a recent position group meeting: "We talked about every guy in the room having to improve so we can be better than last year."
And they look better than ever. Granted, these are the first couple of August practices—generally not indicative of any overall trends.
Cornerback, though, really does require the perfect "mentality." Each time Jones and Nick VanHoose bump chests after disrupting the passing lane, the confidence grows.
August 31st is not so distant. Jones said he was encouraged by the excellent offseason. The defensive backs focused on football-related drills and kept in shape. With the season approaching, they need to figure things out quickly.
"It's been an easier transition," Jones said. "It's about trying to get back into full form in a week so you're ready to go into Cal at full speed."
"Full form" now involves this killer instinct. With elite quarterbacks like Braxton Miller, Devin Gardner and Taylor Martinez on the schedule, they can't settle for decent plays. They need to make the great ones when it matters.
NU lost to Nebraska in 2012 after dropping potential game-sealing interceptions, and blew a chance to win at Michigan when Jones mistimed his jump. That's irrelevant now, and the new season brings fresh optimism.
There's Jones, who had an overall solid stint opposite VanHoose despite the notable setback. VanHoose emerged as the clear-cut top option. Dwight White–who had an excellent spring–and C.J. Bryant also appear ready for expanded opportunities.
They benefit from the tutelage of Jerry Brown, now heading into his 21st season at Northwestern. Revered for his football intelligence, Brown tries to instill that very quality in his players. To succeed, defensive backs are required to think beyond the position.
"[Coach Brown] tries to teach us football as opposed to only teaching us to play defensive back," Jones said. "The biggest thing is learning the scheme and how the game is played."
Sometimes, you learn that the hard way. After coming up just short on several occasions, this secondary prepares to finish and to kill. It's the only way to win.