2012 Fall Camp Guide - Defensive Backs

Jeffrey Jennings concludes his position-by-position fall preview with a look at the defensive backfield. Despite the loss of two starters at cornerback, the corners looked strong in the spring. However, it's the depth at safety that is the concern.

Texas A&M's secondary will face an interesting change of pace in their new conference surroundings. While they won't face the weekly aerial fireworks of their former conference, they will face a much more physical challenge in playing bigger, athletic receivers, and an increased role in run-support. Needless to say, as on any positional unit in the SEC, depth will be crucial.

The Aggies' corners emerged from spring camp on a surprising strong note considering the unit lost four-year starters Terence Frederick and Trent Hunter, as well as last year's starter Coryell Judie. In fact, there were enough standouts at the position in April that the staff felt comfortable enough to move what was perhaps their best performer, Deshazor Everett, to safety, for a trial run.

Two things can be taken from that experiment. The first is that safety depth needs a boost, especially with often-injured Steven Campbell penciled in as a starter. Second, moving a player that was phenomenal in camp at corner means the staff is very confident in what they are seeing from Dustin Harris, Floyd Raven, Otis Jacobs, Toney Hurd Jr., and perhaps even anticipating a potential breakout surprise in head-turning freshman De'vante Harris.

Their development is crucial. If the staff can count on the corners to lockdown their islands, it gives coaches much more freedom in sliding up their safeties and getting eight men in the box to slow down the physical ground games of the SEC. Let's take a look at the healthy list of corner prospects and how the new staff, namely former Boise St. defensive backs coach Marcel Yates, looks to negotiate a safety unit that once again looks for depth leading into the season.


Cornerbacks

Deshavor Everett is leading this strong pack at corner, but the situation in the fall may require his services at safety, where he has also looked very strong. Everett is detailed in that section, but if the staff feels good about their options at safety, Everett could very well be one of the team's starting cornerbacks for the season opener. Louisiana native Floyd Raven was built for playing corner in the SEC. He had a strong camp last August, but looking and playing good may have hurt him, as he wasn't ready, and his redshirt was prematurely burned. However, he moved on and put in a very good showing throughout spring, coming a long ways in his development, comfort level, and confidence on the island. In fact, going one step further, from what he displayed in April, I'd wager that he locks down a starting spot, regardless of Deshazor Everett sticking at safety or sliding back to corner. Floyd brings aforementioned size, excellent speed, a good football IQ, flat out next level ability and superb athleticism. In addition like Terrence Frederick, he is very capable in his tackling and run-support, something that will clearly aid the young man in his SEC wars the next three years. Further aiding his bid to lock down a spot, is his work ethic and focused approach.

Feast or famine, best sums up the career of Dustin Harris to date. He is a player that can make big interceptions, and the highly capable return man, could potentially take them to the house from any point on the field. On the flip side, his coverage gaffs, and often a failure to turn around and look for the ball, often finds him giving up the big play. Bottom line is he must find consistency this season. Given that, it's not just lip service to say Dustin is a hard-worker, and is going full boar for his last campaign. He has taken the next step every off-season, and while he missed a lot of spring camp early, when he got in, Harris looked solid. When Dustin is on his game, he puts his height, agility, hips, and athletic ability to good use as a ball-hawking speedster, and does very good against big-bodied receivers, which obviously serves him well in the SEC (in spite of his slight frame). It will be interesting where he emerges from fall camp, but expect a much more rounded player when Dustin steps onto the field in 2012. At worst he will be a solid option off the bench, but he could well take another leap, and lock down the starting role. Also look for him to have a bigger impact on the return game.

It is never certain just how quick a Juco player will take to his new setting, but Tramain Jacobs pleasantly surprised in the spring, and while not a finished product, isn't too far off from figuring it all out. From his name, to his size, to the nastiness in his play, the Mississippi native was born to play corner in the SEC. The highly sought after prospect, and former Tennessee commit, has all of the requisite skills to be a high level corner, with his fluid hips, ball-hawking athleticism, and speed. This month we'll see just how far along he is, but the move of Everett definitely proves the staff feels good about where he stands in his development. If Otis is dialed in enough to build from the off-season, he could very well rest the other starting job away from senior Dustin Harris at some point.

Tony Hurd Jr. made a huge impression on his coaches in spring, as a disruptive, impact corner. I don't know what it means for him on the depth chart, but he clearly flipped a switch, and at the least, gives confidence and yet another extremely solid option off the bench, or as the nickel corner as I mentioned in spring. The always-physical 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 fearless, and highly effective in run-support, and gave a healthy Jeff Fuller all he could handle in practices (he's good at pressing big targets, that can't dart around him, and he has a knack in knocking them off routes), and his physical play will fit in really well, in the new league. Tony also brings a palpable air of on-field intensity, competition, and like Sean Porter, an intense nastiness in his attitude and play, effective for himself, and infectious to those around him. Tenacious and competitive as they come, he'll be a solid option regardless, but curious where he shakes out on the depth chart at camps end.

Further adding to a strong field of depth is head turning freshman De'vante Harris. He is another small corner that plays really big, and he does it extremely well. Yes that size can work against him, but still looks really good in press, has good hips, and receivers don't often separate from him. Again he has some experience talent in front of him, but has performed so well in summer 7-on-7's, and even achieved the extremely impressive feet of beating "all-comers in spring competitions", namely the absolute burner, freshman tailback Trey Williams. As David Sandhop said of the former Oklahoma commit, "Devante has that "it" factor. Now, he is still very light and A&M seems in good shape at cornerback, so we'll see how he holds up when the pads go on, but sometimes there are freshman so good that you can't keep them off the field. If he can do in pads what he has done in 7-on-7's, then he has a chance to play."

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 further adds to what is shaping up to be a very deep crop of talent.


Safety

If Steven Campbell hadn't struggled with injury for most of his career, he'd easily be one of the team's top performers and garner one of those Preseason All-SEC spots. His presence in coverage and run-support is undeniable, as an athletic ball-player that breaks well on passes and uses his tremendous acceleration to come downhill in run support as a headhunter and a sound tackler. The young man has been forced to leave his tremendous talents on the training table for too much of his career. After battling the nagging foot injuries for three off-seasons now, he actually enters fall practice healthy and he is feeling no ill effects from his past injuries. Counting on that fully, given the history, may be risky, but A&M's defense is simply much better product with him on the field. If he can stay on the field, it makes a unit searching for quality and depth, much stronger, and flexible in personnel.

Deshazor Everett is a sharp football player, and could be the missing piece to the puzzle at safety if the move is ever made permanent. Everett's excellent play at corner in April, coupled with depth and talent concerns, has actually earned him the opportunity to be an integral part of the secondary at both corner and safety. Further, it's a role he has a great chance at stepping up and claiming in the next few weeks. If the experiment isn't needed after fall camp, he'll likely start at corner. However, the move has a great chance to stick, due to team need, and his physical style of play. Everett is tremendous in run support. He follows his nose for the ball, takes efficient angles, and finishes the job with clean, hard tackling. I can still hear the hit he laid as a new arrival last August that sounded like music to everyone, except the receiver that lay in a heap when he was done. Whether he plays safety, or remains at corner, Deshazor is solid in coverage and has great ball skills.

Steven Terrell is not a game-breaker, but he does has sub 4.4 speed, great athleticism, and it would be a definite bonus if he could put a bigger stamp on this defense in 2012. His run support needs to improve, especially given the style of play A&M is about to face. Terrell's shown good things in his career, but he needs to do it with more consistency. If his spring performance was any indication, he is on his way, as he looked really comfortable in the new system before being slowed by injury. He'll look to continue those efforts in August, and provide the Aggies with a measure of depth here.

Howard Matthews was forced into action as a freshman and showed the good and bad, that freshmen starters are prone to do. Mathews will be excellent when brought up in the box in run-support, and the instinctual, ultra-athletic freshman excelled in blitzing when brought up into the box. However, the pass-happy Big XII exposed his cover skills. He was a green defensive back and it showed, but the depth dictated his presence. Other than him looking much more comfortable coming downhill in run support, there wasn't much new to report in his spring outing. He's had the off-season to reflect on maximizing his potential through his efforts. We'll see in the next few weeks if he has readied himself enough to take the next steps forward. Hopefully he's flipped the light-switch, because the young athlete has tremendous potential, and he's needed.

Johntel Franklin needs to step up this fall. Enrolling in January of 2011, Franklin arrived the part at about 210 pounds, but was not ready to hit the field last season. However, with 20 months, on campus, and strong attributes in his pocket, the Juco-transfer is due in making a dent on this depth chart. His film shows a very physical safety that excels in run support, but also possesses good hips and is sound in coverage as well. There is not much of anything to report on the junior, but the clock is ticking. His status is clearly up in the air, but should be atop observers list during fall camp, as he is a player physically capable, and would be a huge shot in the arm to this unit, if he starts rising to the challenge the next few weeks.

Devonta Burns is a hard hitter, and takes great angles in run support and blitzing. He has gotten his feet under him the past year, and brings the requisite attributes to the table. However, the former four-star hasn't made much of an impact to date. As with all of the safety candidates, a good showing in camp is welcome news, and hopefully he proves he's up to the challenge, in adding much needed depth.

Kenneth Marshall could change the equation. He's a freshman and an early enrollee, but an injury kept him out of spring practice which reduced his chances to jump into the mix immediately in August. Marshall has to prove it at this level, but in high school he looked sound in coverage and was a head hunter and textbook tackler. He'll have a prime opportunity to show what he's got in August if he's healthy with playing time available for the players that step-up this fall.


Defensive Backs Overall

The Aggies secondary is a mixed bag, but they have great potential. The corners stepped up to the plate in a big way this off-season. In fact so much so that they've been afforded the opportunity to lend their best man, Deshazor Everett to the safety group at times, who are in need of his talent level and depth. The move also shows confidence in a quality host of corners who will be called on to be much more physical in the SEC. If they can lock down their islands, coaches will also have the freedom to draw down a safety into the box, as will often be needed against the barrage of ground games they will be facing. If Everett sticks, and Steven Campbell can emerge healthy, things are looking really up, as the unit will feature a very strong core of starters and the safeties can put together a respectable level of depth.

Aggie Digest Top Stories