It took Cornerbacks Coach Chris Vaughn the better part of two years to get Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn to a level that pleased him.
Now, he's sort of starting that process all over, but this time, the candidates have been under his instruction for a while, which may make that journey less painstaking.
"Our corners this spring have taken some solid steps in reaching the standard we require. Last year's guys played at a pretty high level last year and set the bench mark. Our guys this year understand where we are trying to get to," Vaughn explained. "They know we are not going to make excuses because we lost our two starters. We want to be a strength of the defense and anything less is not acceptable. They know that standard is important and they are working toward that at a steady pace."
It's not as if the top two, of three, corners have never played before. While redshirt freshman Charles Sawyer has never played a down, senior Jeremy McGee and junior Marcus Temple have, and have been successful.
"They both played in some nickel and dime coverages and situations. Now it's time for them to move outside and cover the best receivers on the field.
"It is a transition because they are further away from the help of the safety – they are now really out on the island, but I think they have made some positive steps to make sure we don't have a drop-off," said Chris.
At the field corner, McGee has been banged up some this spring.
"Jeremy has had a broken hand and a rolled ankle. He's missed some practice, but he's shown some strong leadership in our room. He's bringing a competitive nature to work every day," Vaughn noted. "Behind him, (redshirt frosh) Ryan Campbell is transitioning from being on the scout team last year. He's taken some lumps this spring, but in our second scrimmage last Saturday, he made some big plays and showed spurts of being able to help us next fall. He has some techniques issues – the little things – now but we can address those between now and the season.
"(Sophomore) Julien Whitehead has played both corners and can get us out of games if we need him to. He competes hard and we expect him to be a big help in the kicking game next year."
On the boundary, Temple has impressed his mentor with his play in spring training.
"Marcus has been a pleasant surprise this spring. He's further along than I expected at this time. He's had the most solid spring of the corners and has done a really good job. He had a great offseason and he sees himself as the guy now," Vaughn commented. "That's big to have that attitude at corner. He needs to keep working to be as good as he can be, but I am very happy with his progress so far.
"Charles Sawyer is further ahead than I thought he'd be also, which is a good thing. When Jeremy missed some time, Charles got those reps with the number one defense which helped him a lot. He can play either side and he's shown he deserves to play. Really, I consider him a co-starter. When we go to the nickel with three corners, we move Marcus to nickel and put Charles in the boundary. All three of those guys are starters to me. That's exciting."
Senior Demareo Marr can help on special teams, Vaughn believes.
"Demareo has been here a couple of years, but his grasp of the defense is still lacking. I do think he can be a contributor on special teams," said Chris. "(Sophomore) Kyle Horine does a good job for us on scout teams and had a great offseason. He may help on special teams as well."
While it can be scary to lose both starters at the two corner slots, the guys taking their place – plus Sawyer – seem to be eager to take on a bigger role on the Rebel defense. Temple has proven to be a solid football player in his two years as a nickel and dime back. McGee is now very comfortable at corner after switching from running back when he transferred in from UCLA a couple of years ago. They have done nothing in spring to lead on to believe they won't be able to handle the extra workload and responsibility. Sawyer's quick development has also given Vaughn some insurance. If Campbell can fine-tune some things in the offseason and in August, the corner positions will be bolstered even further. Not bad, not bad at all. . . A big P.S. – the defensive front is expected to apply a lot of pressure to opposing quarterbacks in 2010, which will only help the cause of the corners.