PLAYERS LOST: Brandon Hughes (Second team All-Pac-10, 11 starts, 35 tackles, one interception, 11 pass breakups), Keenan Lewis (Honorable mention All-Pac-10, 35 tackles, one for loss, four interceptions, nine pass breakups)
INJURIES: Brandon Hardin is coming off of hand surgery, but is expected to hit the ground running. He played all of the last year with two hurt hands so hey, maybe having just one might not be too much of a problem. Patrick Henderson was slowed down by a sprained ankle, but should be 100-percent healed come fall.
OVERVIEW: The skirmish continues for the right cornerback position. It is a three way tie on the cusp of fall camp between James Dockery, Patrick Henderson and Brandon Hardin with none of them holding clear breathing room above the others.
Henderson has experience on Dockery and Hardin. Dockery has athleticism on Henderson and Hardin. Hardin has size over Dockery and Henderson.
As goes the corner position this year, so might go the defense. The positives and negatives have been thoroughly debated on the message boards - I encourage you to read this superb thread for more insight.
Fall camp has yet to be authored and so much of who starts on the right side will depend on how it all unfolds. That won't stop us from tossing this out there. BF.C's prediction is that Henderson will begin the year as the starter. Riley is loyal to his players, Henderson has more than paid his dues on special teams and we're not sure if one of the others will suddenly bust out and play head and shoulders above the rest.
With Hendu, the 5-foot-10, 187-pounder has the athleticism and hip turn to play corner, but needs to get more physical - a trait that both Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes accelerated at over the course of the careers.
Even if he doesn't earn the starting not, expect to see plenty of Dockery, though. His athleticism is off the charts, but just like Henderson, he needs more experience and with it, consistency.
Dockery is a talker who loves a challenge -- and if he can stay healthy it won't be surprising to see him starting games at some point, be it early or late in the year.
Hardin is the wild card. The coaches love his size and physical nature. At 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, he he can knock any receiver off of their route and can support the run defense.
He has straight ahead speed but a different brand of speed and quickness is needed at the corner and there is some question about his lateral quickness, and recovering from surgery probably doesn't do him any favors either.
There will be a drop off on both the right and left side of the field at corner, though it might not be as deep on the left. The newly christened corner on the right side will be picked on early and often. They will almost certainly mess up and they will give up touchdowns. And the OSU coaches know this.
What the staff is looking for is the ability to get better with each game and not hang one's head after getting beat. And as good as Hughes and Lewis were the last few years, they were beat down their redshirt freshman years.
But they came back every game with a positive attitude, improved and eventually developed into two of the better corners in the Pac-10. And the difference in their performance from the beginning or their redshirt freshmen years to the end of that season was marked.
Whatever player embodies that same attitude will win the starting spot.
The veteran of the secondary is senior Tim Clark who backed up Lewis and Hughes for two years, while starting here and there. Clark is a high energy, competitive player with six starts and loads of experience.
There shouldn't be a huge drop-off on the left side of the field with Clark in the game. If there is, it could be a long year on the islands and the defensive line and linebackers will have to shoulder more of the load.
Other players of note include sophomore David Ross and redshirt freshman Keynan Parker. Neither seems likely to see the field as a cornerback, unless it is during a blowout or there is a monstrous run on injuries, but each could make an impact on special teams.
The coaches really love Parker's speed, it's all about learning technique now. Ross was a big time recruit who has seemingly got lost in the shuffle.
A good year for either of them could help set them up for playing time in 2010.
AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAY: Clark will step up to the plate and become the cornerstone of the secondary. Henderson, Dockery and/or Hardin get better with each game, and start turning heads before the regular season hits the midway point.
A PESSIMIST WOULD SAY: Losing two NFL caliber corners is going to hurt, and it is going to be ugly all year long.
STAR PLAYER: Tim Clark. After waiting in the shadows for two years, it is time to shine for No. 21.
UNIT STRENGTH: Versatility. The coaches have a little bit of everything on the roster. Now they just have to find the right combination and fit.
UNIT WEAKNESS: Playing time. If you take out Clark' statistics, most of the stats from the other cornerbacks came on special teams.
INCOMING RECRUITS: Rashaad Reynolds. A versatile athlete who has 4.4 speed - will redshirt Sean Martin. A big hitter who possesses good hips and the ability to locate and adjust to the ball in the air - will redshirt.
NOTABLE NOTE: Henderson is the only returning player with an interception from last season.
STATS: Clark (13 games, 2 starts): 17 tackles, 3 PBU | Hardin: 13 tackles | Henderson: 6 tackles, one interception