Spring Preview Guide 2012 - Defensive Backs

The Texas Aggie football program officially kicks off the Kevin Sumlin era on Saturday with the beginning of spring practices. Aggie Websider previews the team by each position. Today we conclude the preview with a look at the defensive backs.

Having cycled through four-year starter Terence Frederick, and also having lost the services of Coryell Judie, Texas A&M faces the daunting challenge of reloading both corner spots, and right before their first season of SEC. Unfortunately, they also find themselves in a precarious position at safety. Compounding matters is there is a possibility that the defensive backs won't get as much help from the pass rush as they've had the past few seasons.

While that remains to be seen, and may not even be the case all they can do is focus on themselves and what they can control. Cornerback, though inexperienced, at least has a decent and talented field of options vying for the starting jobs and to secure quality depth. However, safety is once again a razor thin. There are some good upstarts but nowhere near as sound, in the feeling one gets in reloading the corner spots. Lets take a look at what former Boise St. defensive backs coach, Marcel Yates, has to work with.


Cornerbacks

Dustin Harris leads this group, but the hot and cold senior, simply must find his consistency on the island this season. When Harris is on his game, he puts his height, agility, hips, and athletic ability to good use as a ball-hawking speedster. However, one has to bring up the coverage gaffs, which were littered throughout his junior year. It's not just lip service to say that Harris is a hard-worker, but he will be delayed in approaching his stride, as he licks his wounds during most, if not all, of spring camp. Still, expect a much more rounded player when Dustin steps onto the field in 2012, as he always takes the next step each off-season.

There is a strong chance Floyd Raven locks down the other spot. While Harris may lack in physical stature, this Louisiana native, was built for playing corner in the SEC. With sound size and excellent speed, Raven also possesses a good football IQ, flat out next level ability, and superb athleticism. In addition like Terrence Frederick he is very capable against the run, something that will clearly aid the young man in his SEC wars the next three years. In fact, he looked so good from day one that it may have hurt him, as the previous staff prematurely burned his shirt. While a wasted year is obviously frustrating to Floyd, and the current coaches, securing a starting a role would go a long way in making up for lost time in 2011. He will be doing all he can the next month, and over the summer, to do just that.

An excellent and versatile, relative newcomer, Deshavor Everett (also a Louisiana product) has earned his way into the fight for starter at corner. As mentioned he could do well at CB or safety and though the corner depth chart isn't much stronger, I wouldn't mind seeing Everett lending his talents over there if worst case scenarios play out. His physical play is just amazing. Everett is tremendous in run support, with brilliant speed, he follows his nose for the ball, takes efficient angles, and finishing the job with clean tackling. He is solid in coverage, and has quality ball skills, but will obviously have to improve in that regard, to lock down this job amongst some solid contenders.

If you were to have a son destined to be an SEC corner, you couldn't give him a more perfect name than Otis Jacobs, and for the Mississippi native, it doesn't stop at the name. The highly sought after junior college prospect, seeks to instantly solve half of the corner equation. He has all of the requisite skills to be a high level corner, with his fluid hips, ball-hawking athleticism, and speed, but the former Tennessee commit, is an SEC corner through and through, with good size and a nasty physical style. This month will test the superlatives he's earned on his junior college tape, and the young man will certainly have a prime opportunity to immediately prove himself, and elbow his way to the front of the pack.

Tony Hurd Jr. is versatile, and will be a high quality depth option and or nickel corner. In fact, he could even serve well in the thin safety rotation if needed (a position, necessity has solely familiarized him with). He also brings a palpable air of on-field intensity, competition, and a healthy nastiness in his attitude and play. He relishes the chance to line up on the island, and he'll get his wish this spring. Hurd is the antithesis of a small corner that plays big. Some may question his stature and ability to hang in the SEC, but this young man is good in run-support, and gave a healthy Jeff Fuller all he could handle in practice (he's good at pressing big targets, that can't dart around him, and he is capable of knocking them off routes), and his physical play would fit in real well. Tenacious and competitive as they come, we'll see how far he junior surges in the battle this spring, but one certainty is, he'll be a solid option in any capacity.

Desmond 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 when attacking the ball in the air. Cracking this current lineup is a tall task, for an upperclassman yet to make a dent, but late switches can go off and he bears mentioning.


Summer Arrival

Like Tony Hurd Jr., De'vante Harris is a small corner that plays really big, and he does it extremely well. Yes that size can work against him, but he is really good in press, has good hips, and receivers don't often separate from him. His arrival is a ways off, but the highly-heralded recruit, and former Oklahoma commit was a big get for this staff, and will no doubt bolster an inexperienced, small but growing foundation of young talented corners.

Safety

If Steven Campbell had been healthy, even half of his A&M career, he would have been one of the most respected standouts in the Big XII and one of the most anticipated in the SEC. His presence in coverage and run-support is undeniable, as he breaks well on passes, is highly effective in contesting jump balls, has a great nose for the ball, and uses his tremendous acceleration to come downhill in run support, as a headhunter and a sound tackler However, he's been forced to spend more time in the training room than the practice or playing field, and enters his third spring in a row, on the shelf. That said, his presence in greatly needed, and all concerned are hoping upon hope, he can heal enough this off-season, to be relatively healthy for the future wars in the SEC.

Steven Terrell provides the safety unit, one of the few, certain pieces of the puzzle. While not a game-breaker, he does has sub 4.4 speed, great athleticism, big play potential, and it would be a definite bonus if he could put a bigger stamp on this defense in 2012. His run support has improved but could stand to get much better, especially given the style of play A&M is about to face. If not, he is at least a steady performer, and one of the few solid pieces this unit can count on at the moment.

In 2011, Howard Mathews was a green defensive back and it showed, but the thin safety depth that has plagued the Aggies, dictated his presence. The instinctual, ultra-athletic freshman, excelled in blitzing, but the pass-happy Big XII exposed his cover skills. In addition, it's the SEC and he simply must improve against the run. Still, nothing accelerates a young defensive back like a baptism by fire, a few months of reflection, and an off-season of opportunity to take a big step forwards. Saturday, the progression and fight to elevate himself, and help solidify a shaky two-deep at safety begins again.

Johntel Franklin was a premium juco transfer from California, joined the team in January of 2011 and was expected to provide immediate depth at strong safety. He arrived with great size (around 210 pounds), as a safety that plays physical, excels in run support, but also possesses good hips and is sound in coverage as well. However, even with all of that, and an eight-month head start, he did not see the field in 2011. Needless to say, Franklin and the Aggies would be well served by him showing a turned developmental corner this April. If he struggles it is not the end, but obviously not a good sign at this point. The clock is ticking for the junior, and a player physically capable of getting it done, would be a huge shot in the arm to this unit if he can simply start getting it done.

Devonta Burns got his feet wet last August, and throughout the fall on the practice fields. He brings the requisite attributes to the table, and the hard hitter takes great angles in run support and blitzing. Where he currently is at the moment with his coverage is unknown, but if he proves capable, the former four-star has a good opportunity to make a dent this spring.

Clearly it's never ideal to count on a freshman but one as talented as Kenneth Marshall could change the equation. Especially when that player has a high football IQ, and an eight-month head start as an early enrollee. Marshall has to prove it at this level, but to date, he looks sound in coverage, shows a great nose for the ball, plays with fire, and when he gets there is a head hunter and textbook tackler. He'll likely struggle early, but if he can show a spark towards the end of April, and carry it into fall camp, that obviously bodes well for the unit. He won't bloom overnight but keep close tabs on this talented upstart.

As mentioned, Deshavor Everett and Toney Hurd Jr. could play corner or safety, and though they are corners, can serve very well at safety, if depth goes from thin to dire.


Defensive Backs Overall

While cornerback faces a serious reload and is up in the air, a pretty strong host of upstarts will look to reload and the position should shake out well, with relatively high quality depth. Safety is a little more dicey. Once again, depth is an issue and counting on Steven Campbell to remain healthy for an entire season in the SEC is asking too much. Given that, no less than two to three young men, really need to step up. It can be done as there are talented options but there is little room for error. Of course compounding these anxieties is a defensive line that is likewise up in the air, and their ability to pass rush and take pressure off this inexperienced group. While that sounds dismal, it's not a lost cause and there are a talented upstarts in both camps (defensive line and defensive backs) but quite honestly, there is little room for error. Quarterback will shake out fine, but focus on these two units as the results now through August will spell a big part of the Aggie's 2012 campaign.

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