Spring Camp Guide - Secondary

We conclude our spring look at the Texas A&M football team with a discussion of the secondary. Aggie Websider contributor Jeffrey Jennings takes a look at both safety and cornerback positions and discusses the injuries that will limit the participation of several high profile veterans.

Texas A&M enters spring camp with three-fourths of it's defensive back starters watching form the sidelines for all or most of camp. That said, while it would be ideal to have their services and continuity lent to a defense reloading three starting positions in front of them, the Aggies know what they have in their secondary starters, and have a host of talented up and comers that will be served well by the extra time and reps.

At long last, the unit will boast quality, talent and numbers across the board and will likely be a team strength, though safety play must improve. Cornerback is extremely deep in quality in 2011, but will face a serious reload heading into 2012. so the work the young defenders get now through August of next year will be vital. Safety has been thin the past few seasons but like corner, will see an infusion of some very promising newcomers this off-season, several of which seem primed to instantly shore of depth and raise the bar for talent significantly. In this piece, we'll take a look at the field of veterans, players set to make their move, and the new faces that look to sure up the unit, and load the pipeline for the near future.

Locked in at Starter: Cornerbacks

Left CB

For the second year in a row, Terrence Frederick will miss significant time this spring, but it won't hamper one of the Ag's most solid defenders, entering his fourth year at starter, as a technically superb, highly talented, physical, lock-down corner that also excels in run support. His attributes are only matched by his work ethic, and when he returns, look for Terrence as a man on a mission, in making his senior campaign his finest, and perhaps finally earning himself All Big 12 Honors. He will also serve the young talent well, as a player who almost equates to having another coach on the field.

Right CB

Following off-season surgery on both shoulders, Coryell Judie will likely miss the entirety of spring camp. Like his counterpart on the left side, his absence won't hinder his senior campaign, and the most important thing he can do is get healthy. He'll lend his physically imposing style of play in locking down his side of the field, and continue to shine in run support. Served well by his epic battles with Jeff Fuller, the young man excels in press coverage, and has good ball skills downfield (four interceptions last season). Judie is also essential as a special teams contributor, consistently turning in big returns, including several for touchdowns in key situations last season.

Depth

After being talented enough to start eleven games as a true freshman, Dustin Harris served as the third man in the rotation in 2010, and put his height, speed, agility, hips, and athletic ability into action as a ball-hawking cover man out of the nickel last season. Harris made four interceptions (returning them for 117 yards), including a simply amazing and crucial pick against Texas in Austin. Look for the playmaking corner to continue elevating his game for his junior year and to raise his stock amongst what should be a wide-open battle to reload corner following the season.

Lionel Smith turned in a breakout spring, and extraordinary off-season, as one of the most improved players on the roster last year. His coverage was tremendous, and he showed a real knack for reading quarterbacks and breaking on the ball. Smith is great in one-on-one coverage, and displayed amazing timing in coming down with (or at the least breaking up) jump balls on a consistent basis. While he was relatively silent last season, he gives A&M a sound fourth option and will look to raise his game further, as he prepares for his senior season.

The situation demanded Toney Hurd Jr., lend his physical style of play primarily working at safety in his first year, but he may be getting a look back at his natural corner spot this spring. The highly touted Hurd, is great in coverage and run support. He also brings a palpable air of onfield intensity, competition, and a healthy nastiness in his attitude and play. From literally his first practice last August, he was all over the place, causing fumbles, breaking up passes, basically playing Tim DeRuyter's style of ball with "constant fanatical effort". His intense style, coupled with his considerable attributes, will no doubt elevate his play the next few weeks.

Desmond Gardiner had a good showing last year, in his first spring, racking up a lot of picks, showing strong hands (not just catching-wise, but the actual strength to rip the ball out of the hands of receivers like Jeff Fuller), and took solid steps forward in general. Gardiner has good speed, technique, and is solid in man and zone coverage. He is physical at the line, and also has a good vertical and ball skills when attacking the ball in the air. Cracking this current lineup is a tall task, but Desmond will no doubt seek to raise his play and position himself for this season and the aforementioned 2012 battle.

Joining the A&M cornerback ranks this summer will be two highly talented and physical Louisiana signees from the 2011 class, Floyd Raven and Deshvor Everett (who can lineup at corner or safety). We'll take a closer look at these two leading up to fall camp.

Probable Starter: Safety

Strong Safety

Perhaps sensing an upcoming push from new faces at safety, Trent Hunter has really put in the work this off-season in preparing for final spring and senior season. Trent is solid in coverage and is excellent in run support, taking good angles and tackling well in space. In addition to the extra effort, Hunter will be aided by is knowledge of the system, as he's essentially been the quarterback of the defense for the last three years. It seems competition is serving this area well before camp has even started, and the fact it's his last year provides even more motivation.

Free Safety

Steve Campbell will be the probable starter when the season kicks off, but is coming off of surgery to remove the screws that were inserted in his foot last year, and will be cautiously limited throughout spring (as his presence at starter next year will be essential). That said, he hasn't been sitting idle, and has impressed in workouts, proving one of the fastest members of the team, clocking a sub 4.4 forty. The nagging foot injury has hampered his development, missing most of last off-season and not hitting the field until the Oklahoma St. game. Still he showed enough to prove the stronger option, coming downhill in run support as a head hunter, and sound tackler, and using his aforementioned speed in pursuit and in coverage. As much as he loves contact, he is equally aggressive in contesting jump balls downfield. Despite the time missed, the physical safety has logged ample time on the field, in the system, and should be freer to play more instinctively this year.

Depth

Johntel Franklin, is a premium juco transfer, who joined the team in January and despite the stature of Trent Hunter, will push for time at strong safety, and provide immediate depth. Arriving with great size, (around the 210 mark), Franklin has three years to play three. He is very physical, and great in run support, but also possesses good hips and is very sound in coverage as well. A smart player, coaches love what he brings to the table, and are really trying to get the most out of him, knowing how vital his presence will be to the two deep in 2011. We'll see how far along the curve he is over the next few weeks.

Possessing high echelon speed, Steven Terrell has consistently turned in sub 4.4, forty times, has great athleticism, height and knack for contesting jump balls, is decent in coverage but he needs to improve as he does in run support. He's a good option but at free safety, but will be served well by another spring.

Toney Hurd Jr. who was detailed in the corner section also provides depth at safety if needed. Louis Swope is not very stout but is a talented young DB that A&M is got at a bargain (passed on scholarship at SMU to walk-on at A&M when the SMU staff asked him to greyshirt at the last minute). He was rough in taking to safety last fall, but showed enough to impress the coaches. He's not a big name, but it will interesting to see how he shows through mid-April. Another player not talked about a lot but had a very strong showing, as an early enrollee last year was Clay Honeycutt, before an injury through a hurdle in his growth. Still he showed well and with a year of S&C under his belt, as well as general learning, I'm curious on where he emerges by camps end.

Summer arrivals looking to immediately impact safety depth are Howard Mathews, Devonta Burns, and possibly Deshavor Everett (who could play either safety or corner). Mathews (one of the best athletes and perhaps the best safety in the state) will come in physically ready, and is a quick study who will likely make some noise early. Mathews is also talented enough an athlete, that he may be getting serious reps as a ball carrier, given the razor thin depth numbers behind Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael at running back.

Secondary Overall

The A&M will boast talent and numbers at both corner and safety, though while corner is stocked, safety must address some question marks, and really improve this spring, to allow the secondary to take it to another level. Early off-season returns look good, but the next few weeks will provide a much clearer picture on where the unit stands, heading towards August, and whether or not the secondary will be considered a team strength.


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