Spring Camp Preview 2010: Defensive Backs

In this series Websider's Jeffrey Jennings will take an in depth look at the personnel of A&M's secondary. The focus will be on their attributes, current status, what they have on the line this spring, and where they hope to find themselves at camps end. Jennings will also give a brief sneak peak at the new faces that will be joining them in August. Subscribe to Websider today!

Spring Camp Preview 2010: Defensive Backs

Continuing its trend of vastly improving it's defensive positional areas, Texas A&M's secondary seems set to establish itself as a team strength. I'm not ignoring the question mark at safety, which I'll address momentarily, but they have strong candidates in that battle and the defensive backs as a whole are extremely talented at starter and off the bench if not long on numbers.

Whereas CB is pretty cut and dry, safety should be a lot more interesting and actually one the key focal points this spring. Trent Hunter returns as the rock solid starter at strong safety but the battle for filling Jordan Pugh's starting free safety spot as well as providing decent depth will be wide open. Coaches have moved several players like Steven Terrell, Lionel Smith and even the current number three on the half back depth chart, Bradley Stephens in a move to find the best athletes possible to fill the area and compete with Steven Campbell and Colton Valencia who to date were the primary candidates at the position following the departure of Jordan Pugh.

Long term A&M really needs to hit defensive backs hard on the recruiting trail and soon infuse some new and talented blood so we have a smoother turnover following the 2011 season when Terrence Frederick, Coryell Judie and Trent Hunter depart. Heading into spring the corner situation is fairly transparent but as mentioned the safety position will be a very dynamic spot to follow this spring. Here is what the Ag's have to work with over the next few weeks, through the summer, and heading into August.

Cornerback

Texas A&M's number one option at corner is Terrence Frederick. His raw attributes may lack a little luster but his technique is ridiculously sound for his age. While it's hard to believe he'll be entering his junior season next fall, it's amazing he's as far along as he is developmentally just entering his second spring. (Not a bad find for a guy coaches discovered while looking at former Katy and current teammate Trent Hunter.) His junior year also marks his third year staring. Last season he totaled 61 tackles (45 solo), three for loss, two interceptions, five pass breakups and perhaps more importantly, a lot balls discouraged from being thrown his way. His status is clearly solid this spring (and until he graduates for that matter) but if you have the chance at practice in the next few weeks, just focus on him for a few pass plays, it's a study of how the position should be played.

The young and former national-juco standout Coryell Judie returns from injury and immediately shores up the position for the Aggie's. An early, post winter break off season report shows Judie has lost a step but given the nature of the injury he's coming off of (a season ending knee injury) and the fact he needs to get back into shape, it's actually encouraging that he's only down to a 4.6. Not only will his speed (when healthy and back in form) aid him as a perfect cog in DeRuyter's attacking system, he is a highly impressive press corner, in fact he's said to be the "most physical and best we have in one-on-one situations". In addition he has superb vertical and ball skills down the field. He is definitely an upgrade to corner as a whole and would have made a big difference had he been out there last year. That was really a frustrating blow in 2009, if you recall it was a lot of work getting him cleared and enrolled but he was eventually able to enter late in fall camp and proved a quick learner, only to go down in the first game of the year with only a few snaps under his belt. (Speaking of which, it will be infuriating if the NCAA doesn't grant him a medical red shirt, especially in the face of seeing Jordan Shipley run up and down the field with an AARP card the better part of the last decade.)

If there is a battle at corner this spring it will be between Coryell Judie and Dustin Harris. The young man drummed up a pretty good buzz for himself last summer (following a dazzling THSCA All-Star Game performance and in 7-on-7 team drills) and carried it into a promising freshman season in which he started eleven games. He has true playmaking ability and while he predictably struggled at moments last year he also showed improvement as the year wore on which is essentially all that can be asked of a freshmen. His height, speed, agility, hips and athletic ability are unquestioned and now that he's added some beef to go along with a pretty good reach, it will be interesting to follow how his physical play and press coverage comes along this spring. Most likely if he's to start over Judie in this attacking new system next season he'll need to make significant strides in not only the next few weeks, but over the summer and through August. Regardless if he lands the spot in 2010 or not he'll be an invaluable contributor and a highly skilled talent at the position.

Desmond Gardiner enter his first spring as a player trying to develop and put himself in the position of not getting muscled out of the two deep by the arrival of highly sought after defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. in fall camp. Gardiner is right there with his peers in regards to speed and has sound technique in man and zone coverage. He is physical at the line and also has a good vertical and skills when attacking the ball in the air downfield. With almost a year in the program, time in the weight room and a lot of reps on the practice field, it will be well worth watching just how far along this young player has come as spring camp wears on.

Safety

The only dyed-in-the-wool player at Safety is Katy product Trent Hunter who will enter his third season (and year) on campus in the fall of 2010. Many fans may recall him blasting onto the scene early in his freshmen season (2008) replacing a dinged up Jordan Peterson against Army (posting 17 tackles in that initiatory outing and 65 total that season) and he's not relinquished his starting job since. Solid in coverage and phenomenal against the run, Hunter is very instinctive, takes great angles, is a sound open field tackler and rarely makes mistakes. (Last season he racked up 95 total tackles, 58 solos, 1.5 for loss). He is also a natural leader (he actually established himself in that role as a true freshman bent on changing the culture in the locker room back then) and tireless worker who is building on firm roots. Behind and next to him, it's wide open.

Colton Valencia seems the logical player to back Hunter at strong safety but he has work to do to develop his game and prove he's willing to put in the work to get there. Similar to the situation at defensive tackle in another spring focal area, he's benefiting from a clean slate with new coaches and needs to step it up and take advantage. Though a tad undersized when putting out the effort his ceiling is that of a very capable player. Valencia has good solid ball hawking coverage skills and is a sure open field tackler. He has good hops, instincts and a ball-hawking knack for breaking up passes.

A candidate not mentioned or reported but I'll throw in because it holds logic given the desperate numbers and his background, is Charlie Thomas. Though currently in the outside linebacker hunt, he is blazing fast (played some HB and was a track guy in high school) and while slightly undersized for an every-down OLB, played most of his time in high school at safety. If the Aggie's are searching for another safety option at the end of spring he wouldn't be a bad choice to consider.

Free Safety

Jordan Pugh, who on top of 84 total tackles, three interceptions, nine pass breakups and two fumble recoveries leaves large shoes to fill (perhaps the biggest on campus). Two players Steven Campbell and Steven Terrell would appear the odds on leaders to assume the top two spots in the role given their familiarity and reps and defensive back but don't rule out two other two ultra-fast and athletic candidates Lionel Smith and Bradley Stephens from making their mark.

Backing Pugh last season (25 total tackles and one pass break up) and starting for him in the Oklahoma St. game is Steven Campbell, one of the top contenders here for this extremely important starting job battle. Campbell does a good job of coming downhill and is not only a hard hitter but a solid tackler as well. He uses his speed to cover lots of ground in zone, to break on the ball and in pursuit. As much as he loves to hit, he is equally aggressive in going up for jump balls.

Though he makes his way over from corner, Steven Terrell is a favorite in this competition. He recently proved himself as one of the fastest members of the team busting a 4.41 in a recent off-season timing. Beyond his speed he is very athletic, has a reach that should aid him well in press coverage and good height for matching up with today's tall wideouts on jump-balls. In addition he is very capable in stepping up against the run. Like Campbell, he saw action in all 13 games last season as a freshman and the battle between the two from now through August will hopefully not only prove entertaining but beneficial. It has to or the Aggie secondary and defense will be in trouble. I'm honestly wouldn't worry given the proven competence of both young men but the gravity of the situation bears repeating as it's clearly essential.

Two candidates who are extremely talented athletes but fall into the long shot category here are Lionel Smith and Bradley Stephens. Smith has been bopped around a bit in his career while the staff tries to find a fit for his speed and athleticism. After starting out in the secondary, he was moved to wide receiver (when we were desperately low on numbers last spring) and now back to the secondary again. Just how he pans out is anyone's guess but he has reportedly filled size-wise and as mentioned brings excellent speed to the table. If he can work himself to the point of providing serviceable depth than that would be a positive. There is always that one spring move that looks tantalizing but is often long odds. Bradley Stephens switching from third string half back to safety would fall into that category. Considering the low numbers at safety and a backfield that will be getting crowded in August (as well as his well documented fumble issues) this is a low odds gamble. I've honestly no idea how he is going to shake out on the defensive side of the ball but he is a great athlete and a quality young man. You can bet he'll take the challenge seriously and hopefully will emerge as a decent option on the depth chart by springs end. If not, he'll keep working at it and at the least be remain a solid fall-back option at half back in the future if need be. Also throwing their hat in the ring for further depth options will be DeMaurier Thompson who to date has primarily been utilized as a special teams guy, and converted receiver Chris Caflisch who brings has shown athleticism and ball skills to defense.

A Brief Look Ahead to August 2010: August Defensive Back Arrivals

The highly sought after Toney Hurd Jr., has about every attribute coaches could want in a high-level defensive back but size (currently about 5'9" 185). Great in coverage and run support, Hurd will join the corner fold in August and will very likely step into the two deep right away. LaKendrick Williams will also join the team in August but while coming in at corner, if he sees an early role it will be as a return man, a role where he is expected to excel. No reinforcements will be joining the fold at safety this summer.


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