Fall Camp Guide 2010: Secondary

What a difference a year can make in college football. In a complete turn from last season, they now are set to establish themselves as a team strength. The unit is poised to have a great season, and is the perfect cog in Tim DeRuyter's system as a compliment to a solid defensive front, which is designed to create mistakes and set up the defensive backs for success.

What a difference a year can make in college football. In a complete turn from last season (when A&M was forced to start a true freshman at corner and was razor thin depth wise), they now are set to establish themselves as a team strength. I'm not ignoring the depth issue at strong safety, which I'll address, but they have a very deep, and highly talented stable of cornerbacks and three excellent safeties. The unit is poised to have a great season, and is the perfect cog in Tim DeRuyter's system as a compliment to a solid defensive front, which is designed to create mistakes and set up the defensive backs for success.

The Ags have four very strong options at cornerback, with a fifth (Toney Hurd Jr.) entering his first fall camp. Dustin Harris, Coryell Judie, and even journeyman Lionel Smith stepped it up big in spring and have rounded out the two deep, adding high quality corners to compliment the well-established Terrence Frederick. Whereas corner is pretty cut and dry, safety should be a lot more interesting and actually one the key focal points this August. Trent Hunter returns as the rock solid starter at strong safety, Steven Terrell and Steven Campbell have shored up the free safety spot, but behind them depth is thin and will see a host of young players duke it out and hopefully emerge as solid options off the bench. In a worst-case scenario, if the situation dictates, the Aggies could slide over talented corners like Judie or Smith.

Right Cornerback

Texas A&M's number one option at corner is Terrence Frederick and he is A&M's best at the position by far. His raw attributes may lack a little luster but his technique is ridiculously sound for his age (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. Though he missed about all of the spring, he is head and shoulders above the rest of our depth chart and has his spot locked down. Though his status is solid, if you have the chance to view a 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 former national-juco standout, Coryell Judie returns from injury and immediately shores up the position for the Aggies. Judie 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 for A&M in 2009. If you recall, it was a lot of work and anxious nerves in getting him cleared and enrolled, but he was eventually able to enter late in fall camp and proved a quick learner. However, after all that, he went down with a torn ACL 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 at some point, 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.). Not only will his speed aid him as a perfect cog in this attacking system, but he physically imposing (he's put together like an NFL corner), and great in press coverage, as Coach DeRuyter said, "he is the most physical and best we have in one-on-one situations". He has a superb vertical attack, and good ball skills down the field. Judie had a very productive spring, served well by some really good battles with Jeff Fuller ("EZ" Nwachukwu) and pushed by Dustin Harris (and vice versa); he has picked up the system well, leading to more natural play. On a final note, though he is right there to push for starter (listed on right side but with a good camp could beat out Harris for the LCB), if anything happens to Trent Hunter at the strong safety spot, given the razor thin depth he would be a good candidate to step in there.

Behind Frederick and Judie at the right corner spot are two young DB's who are a longer shot for playing time given the depth, but are quality players nonetheless. Desmond Gardiner had a good showing in his first spring, racking up a lot of pics, showed 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 is right there with his peers in regards to speed and has good technique 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 downfield. With almost a year in the program, time in the weight room, and a lot of reps on the practice field, he is a fine third option on this side of the field. DeAndre Thompson is a walk on that has earned a scholarship with his play. He took advantage of extra reps in spring, and did well for himself, getting a fair number of interceptions and moving his game forward.

Left Cornerback

Dustin Harris and Coryell Judie had productive springs in an intense, positional battle but Harris appears to have emerged as the starter opposite of Terrance Frederick. The young man took his good height, speed, agility, hips, and athletic ability, starting eleven games as a true freshman. Though he understandably struggled at times, got better as the year wore on which is all you could ask. While it wasn't an ideal situation, he carried that early experience into the off-season and has really come along. Physically he's not imposing, but he's filled out considerably and you can tell he's put the time in the weight room. Between that added beef, learning time, and his reach, he has really improved his press coverage a good deal, and was playing with a lot of confidence. Dustin has been a blanket in coverage and has true playmaking ability. He is set to have a very strong season.

Expectations were not high for Lionel Smith (who has been bopped around a lot in his career) at corner this spring, as the staff was trying 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 a year later, has found himself back in the secondary again. He's filled out size-wise, and as mentioned brings excellent speed to the table. Terrence Frederick missed most of spring camp, due to injury, and Smith made the most of the extra reps, had a breakout spring (not only for himself but as one of the best all around performers in camp), and has found a home after moving around the past two years. His coverage was great and he showed a real knack for reading quarterbacks and breaking on the ball. He is great in one-on-one and amazing in timing and coming down (or at the least breaking up) jump balls. Lionel's emergence may give the staff the luxury of redshirting the impressive newcomer, Toney Hurd. Smith is going to have a very solid year off the bench at corner, though it bears mentioning that with the thin numbers at safety, if the situation dictates he would be a strong candidate to lend a hand there.

The highly sought after Toney Hurd Jr. has about every attribute coaches could want in a high-level defensive back with the exception of size (currently about 5'9" 185). Despite the size he does well in run support and is obviously great in coverage. He is really smooth in his backpedal, reads quarterbacks well, and shows speed and athleticism in breaking on the ball. Even with four solid corners already on campus, upon arrival this summer coaches have stated that Hurd has the ability to play his way into the two deep immediately, but it will be a fight and the redshirt option may also be a good play.

Safety

Though not bursting at the seams for depth, the Aggies desperately needed several safety prospects to emerge, and in the off-season had two high level players (Steven Terrell and Steven Campbell), step up next to Trent Hunter. Aside from them, there are a few athletic options, but all unproven so the aforementioned trio needs to stay healthy and those backup options need to step up their games and be ready in the next few weeks and throughout the season. If not, the next option would be moving a high quality big-bodied corner like Coryell Judie or perhaps a player like Lionel Smith. Again A&M is great at FS starter, and two deep at SS, but depth finds them on slightly precarious footing.

Free Safety

Four months ago A&M had several very promising candidates but zero proven safeties to take over for Jordan Pugh. Fortunately both young men stepped up huge here, and now the position is relatively strong, provided they both stay healthy. Neither has locked down starter and it should actually be a pretty intense positional battle between the two. Though he makes his way over from corner, Steven Terrell is a great fit at safety. He recently proved himself as one of the fastest members of the team, busting a sub 4.4 time, in a recent off-season timing, and has earned Sherman's lavish praise recently at media days and coaches nights. Beyond his speed, he is very athletic, and has good height for matching up with today's tall wideouts on jump-balls. In addition, he is capable in run support but needs to improve. Like Steven Campbell, he saw action in all 13 games last season as a freshman, and the battle between the two in August will prove beneficial. Not only did Terrell have a great showing in spring but he was also one of the top performers (very effective in coverage and blitzing).

Steven Campbell is stronger in run support, but still capable in coverage (though not quite as strong as Terrell). Backing Jordan Pugh last season as a true freshman, he totaled 25 tackles, one pass break up, and earned a start in the Oklahoma St. game. 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 while in pursuit. As much as he loves to hit, he is equally aggressive in going up for jump balls. While he missed a lot of time in spring, Coach Sherman was still very optimistic about him and the group saying, "I think we are getting better play out of our safeties, and I think when you add Steven Campbell to that group, I think its going to be a stronger group than in the past since I've been here."

After one day at quarterback this spring, Clay Honeycutt (true freshman who enrolled early) was moved to safety and got a lot of intensive instruction from Coach McMillan throughout camp. It was quite apparent they were force-feeding him, to get him up to speed as quickly as possible, as the position is so thin. The encouraging thing was it was throughout camp so he must be showing promise in the staff's eyes. He not only did some impressive things in April, throughout summer reports were that he was really a natural safety and the sharp, athletic young man, already has the system down. Honeycutt's body has responded to the eight months of intensive strength and conditioning, and amazingly he's already out there reacting instead of having to think (a rarity in freshmen and a good sign in our search for depth).

Also throwing his hat in the ring for further depth options at free safety will be DeMaurier Thompson who to date has primarily been utilized as a special teams guy.

Strong Safety

The top man in the safety camp 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 (but even more improved this off-season), 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 has built on firm roots as one of the best performers this spring and off-season.

Behind Hunter it's wide open. Blaine Cheatham is a squad player, but coaches are confident they can make a good backup out of the young man, who played mostly special teams in all 13 games but had three tackles against Baylor at safety. Also in the mix is Louis Swope (playmaking slot receiver, Ryan Swope's brother.). Swope is a very talented young DB that A&M is getting at bargain (passed on scholarship at SMU to walk-on at A&M). Chris Caflisch also is in the mix and brings good athleticism and ball skills to the defense. Ultra athletic and talented newcomer Malcome Kennedy is reportedly to start his career at safety. Kennedy has gained some good weight and is happy with the move and knowing it's his best chance at early playing time, has embraced the move.

Defensive Backs Overall

A&M's secondary is poised to not only have a great year but to be a team strength. They will be aided by a solid defensive line, and what should be a very active linebacking corps, finally capable of being consistently disruptive. Look for the defensive backs to perfectly compliment Tim DeRuyter's defense, as a unit excellent in capitalizing on mistakes caused by the complications forced up front. Personnel wise, the group is sound, but the primary area two keep an eye on is who (if anyone) emerges to provide depth behind Trent Hunter at strong safety.


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