BF.C Fall Camp Preview: CORNERBACK

CORVALLIS – There's been a whole lot of positive press this season on the cornerbacks. So just how good will Jordan Poyer, Rashaad Reynolds and crew be this year? What is it about the group that has engendered such optimism? And despite their many strengths, do the Beaver corners have a weakness, one that new assistant coach Rod Perry figures to start shoring up when fall camp kicks off on Monday?

Snapshot/Stats:
Jordan Poyer- (6-0, 190) Senior standing – To list all of Poyer's accolades would take up half this page – so in the interest of saving time, how about we just say he is pretty "dam" good. Poyer's presence is felt all over the field, and he is a standout punt returner. In addition to the many 2012 preseason award lists he's been named to, Poyer was listed as the No. 2 senior cornerback in the country by ESPN NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper earlier this year.

Rashaad Reynolds- (5-10, 186) Junior standing – Reynolds is the other starting corner along with Poyer for the Beavs. A very skilled athlete who shows promise both on defense and special teams. Reynolds proved that he could hit during spring ball, and he complements that skill with good eyes and swift recovery time. Started all 12 games last year, notching 68 tackles (19 assisted) and an interception along with some vital special teams work. Smart player with the ability to keep pace with most Pac-12 wideouts.

Sean Martin- (6-10, 186) Junior standing – A versatile player with high-quality vision and agility, he's listed as No. 2 on the pre-fall camp depth chart behind Reynolds at RCB. Demonstrated consistency on-field as a third string corner last season prior to breaking his foot during in the third game. Career statistics amount to 12 tackles, four of which are assists and one tackle for a loss. He enters as the No. 2 but look for a few other guys on the roster to give him a run for his money this fall camp.

Ryan Handford- (5-9, 204) Senior standing – Handford has potential but a broken finger kept him out for the bulk of the 2011 season, and he lost valuable playing time. He is listed as the No. 2 corner behind Poyer and expect him to put up a fight alongside Martin. Special teams are a likely option as well.

Malcolm Marable- (5-7, 172) Sophomore standing – Has proven himself as most useful on special teams. No marked statistics for 2010 - in 2011 he only accrued two tackles, both of which were assisted. However, on special teams Marable posted an impressive 12 games starting at kick returner with 13 returns for 322 yards. Enters camp as the No. 3 at left cornerback.

Brian Watkins- (5-9, 185) Senior standing – Has only recorded four tackles throughout his four years at OSU. Watkins enters fall camp as the third-string corner on the right side. Biggest impact is likely on special teams unless significant injuries wreck the cornerback position.

Naji Patrick- (5-8, 190) Redshirt freshman – Displays quick feet and his frame makes him ideal for slipping past/under tackles on special teams, where he is expected to contend for a kick return spot. Patrick has also been on the receiving end of some positive feedback from the coaching staff and fellow players for his work at corner. He may be in close contention with others throughout camp for the third string corner spot.

Larry Scott- (5-11, 192) Redshirt freshman – OSU would like to see him steadily develop throughout the season with limited time on-field as a defensive back. He may factor in with the special teams unit.

Mishawn Cummings- (5-9, 185) Redshirt sophomore –The coaches like his potential. Look for him to try and carve out a niche in fall camp.

Tyler Hasty- (5-11, 180) – Newcomer out of Bellevue, Wash. Hasty is noted by analysts to have good instincts, fair speed and a well developed understanding of the fundamentals. Should make for a good player after some experience with the team in the fall.

Kenyan Parker- (5-11, 178) Senior standing – Retired

The Good: As if Mike Riley's brimming optimism regarding the secondary wasn't enough – spring ball reinforced the notion that OSU's defensive backs are capable of creating havoc for Pac-12 offenses. Yellow and black would be more fitting colors for this groups' practice jerseys - they swarm like bees on the field and sting with precision (I had to). Metaphors aside, this set of cornerbacks looked the most game-ready departing spring ball. Reynolds and Poyer are a dynamic duo and with a little tuning up in the fall, both could really turn heads (and picks) come the regular season.

Rod Perry. We have already noted the importance of the Beavs' new DBs coach but it deserves another mention. Working with a coordinator who spent a large part of his coaching career in the NFL looks to have ignited a fire beneath the corners and safeties. Perry's influence manifested itself in the secondary throughout the spring session, and it is a dominant factor in Riley's overall enthusiasm regarding his defense.

There is considerable depth for the cornerbacks going into fall camp – an increasingly positive development for Mark Bankers defense – so much so there is at least a chance the safety group's lack of depth could result in Banker, if need be, reaching into the cornerback pool and throwing Poyer into the mix at safety. Should that happen, OSU has no shortage of guys who can fill the void alongside Reynolds, (with Martin the likely first choice).

Patrick had a standout out spring and Riley was high on his overall talent. Patrick looks ready to make an immediate impact if necessary, and shows a lot of energy coming off the snap. It is not uncommon for a young corner to make a starting appearance and Patrick seems to know what he is doing – he may not be the biggest guy in the ranks, but he made up for it with instincts plus good closing speed once the ball is in the air.

Versatility - Cummings and Patrick have the skills set to make an immediate impact on the field, particularly on special teams. Perry also has four returning seniors and two juniors at his disposal, one of whom is among the highest ranked defensive backs in the Pac-12 and gaining national preseason recognition, (Poyer). On the whole, the group is fundamentally sound and energetic.

The Bad: The only real complaint that can be made would be in terms of overall speed. On average, they are not as consistently agile as some other top corner groups and there's less speed with the loss of Parker, (though he had yet to seriously threaten for a starting gig.) The speed deficiency could prove detrimental against some of the Pac-12's quicker offenses (Oregon, Utah, USC).

Apart from that, any additional criticisms would stretch when it comes to on-field performance. It can be argued that in 2012, Riley, Banker and Perry are in possession of one of the most potent secondary crews available to OSU in the last decade.

Keep your eyes peeled: For an intense battle for the second and third string corner positions – most likely primarily between Martin and Patrick – but don't be at all surprised if Handford or someone else creeps into the mix.

PLUS + OSU typically employs a healthy mix of the 4-3 or 3-4 defensive strategies but with rising youth like Patrick, Scott and Cummings all light on their feet, there could be some defensive tweaks if Banker and Perry want to make them. A 3-3-5 to protect against deep passes in the fourth quarter? We'll see starting in September.

The Question: How will this group of corners fair against opposing running attacks? Riley and crew have made it quite clear that the defense must improve its aptitude in stopping the run, and a good amount of that is the responsibility could come from the corners, especially if a young D- line starts to struggle against opposing offensive linemen. How will they respond out on the islands?

Intangibles and Final Thoughts: This secondary has some hype to live up to with anticipation mounting amongst fans –just how good will Poyer be his senior year? But a unit is only as good as their worst player, which bodes well for the defensive backs under Perry. All are very skilled athletes who adapt quickly on the field. They show versatility in their skill sets, all displayed good closing speed and many possess the ability to pick a ball off in traffic.

Competition often brings out the best in athletes. Look for some fierce battles among the corners – resulting in a more game-ready and hardened body of defensive backs (at every string) when fall camp comes to an end.

Poyer may see a decreased role this year on special teams as Riley and Banker might look to preserve his energy for potential clutch situations throughout the season. However, Marable and Cummings, along with various members of the offense (Jovan Stevenson, Storm Woods) offer themselves as prime substitutes for returning kicks or punts, so in the event that Poyer is not as prominent in that vein, the Beavs might still be in good shape.

The secondary returns three in 2012 -- corners Poyer and Reynolds, and safety Anthony Watkins who led the team in tackles (85) last season. (All three are in the Top 7). The trio, along with safety Ryan Murphy, is capable of making life tough for Sean Mannion in camp, and for offenses during the regular season. The nice thing about the corners this spring was their teamwork – they worked hard, played fast and looked fairly complete. With fall camp just days away, the question is this – who will play harder?

Predictions: Poyer and Reynolds start with Martin first off the bench and Patrick/Handford getting in some occasional reps as well. Marable sees some solid special team work, as does Patrick.

Poyer- 60 tackles, two for loss totaling 4 yards, with nine pass deflections and three picks (one of which he will almost return for a touchdown). Will also muster 325 return yards on special teams.

Reynolds: 66 tackles (zero for loss) with nine pass deflections. Look for Reynolds to pick off a few deep passes (something to the tune of four interceptions). He has got the lateral speed to keep up with just about any wide out in Pac 12 play, and it will surprise some opposing quarterbacks.

Martin: 11 tackles, one for a loss, and one sack - likely the result of him coming off the corner on the blitz. No interceptions but big hits make up for heavy hands.

Patrick- 7 tackles and a pick.


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