Fall Season Guide 2010 - Defensive Backs

Fall camp is over and it's game week in Aggieland. The Aggie Websider is taking a look at all positions with post-fall camp analysis. Jeffrey Jennings discusses the situation at defensive back and what you should expect to see in the secondary in 2010.

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), the defensive backs are now set to establish themselves as a team strength. I'm not ignoring the depth issue at safety, 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. Dustin Harris, Coryell Judie, and journeyman Lionel Smith, have stepped it up big in the off-season and have rounded out the two deep, providing high quality corners to compliment the well-established Terrence Frederick. Whereas corner is pretty cut and dry, safety should be a lot more interesting. 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 promising young players, like highly touted newcomer, Toney Hurd Jr., duke it out as they hope to emerge as solid options off the bench.


Texas A&M's number one option at corner is Terrence Frederick and he is A&M's best corner by far, playing with superb technique, far beyond his years (just watch him in a game or in practice, it's a study in how the position should be played). 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. (Not a bad find for a guy coaches discovered while looking at former Katy and current teammate Trent Hunter.). His status is solid, but he is quite possibly the most underrated player on the team. Though he missed about all of the spring, he is head and shoulders above the rest of our depth chart, and though he had his spot locked down, he did nothing short of having the most productive fall camp amongst the defensive backs. His daily battles with Jeff Fuller, have no doubt helped push his game and he has proven his mettle time and again. Served by his natural talents, technique, and work ethic, Frederick will have a great season and should earn All-Big XII post season honors, barring injury of course.

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 season, in what 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. He started fall camp slow for a few days, but came on strong and by the one week mark was really making the most his opportunity with Dustin Harris out for a time with a minor concussion. As Coach DeRuyter said at that time, "He's a real talent. . .We've got to create some packages so he can play fast because when he does he's a very, very good football player." Competition is very beneficial and Judie and Harris have pushed each other really hard since spring. Harris had the lead entering camp, but Coryell stepped up to the plate, given the circumstances, and enters the season as the starter opposite Terrence Frederick.

Dustin Harris brought his good height, speed, agility, hips, and athletic ability to the table as a true freshman last season and started eleven games in 2009. Though he understandably struggled at times, Harris 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 really came 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 weight, learning time, and his reach, he has really improved his press coverage a good deal, is playing with a lot of confidence, and has true playmaking ability. A concussion slowed him a bit in fall camp, and while he is set to have a very strong season, enters the first game backing Terrence Frederick. That said, he could push to start on the opposite side at any time during the season, but at the least provides an extremely high caliber backup or nickel corner.

The competition talk between Harris and Judie is not meant to exclude or diminish the extraordinary off-season displayed by one of the most improved players on the roster, Lionel Smith. Expectations were not high for Smith, as he has been bopped around a lot in his career, 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, where he has been tremendous at corner. 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 continued his efforts throughout Augst and at the tail end of camp Coach McMillian was very pleased with his cornerbacks, and said, "Smith would be competing for the first team if he wasn't battling a hamstring strain. . . he's one of the most knowledgeable DB's on the team." Lionel is going to have a very solid year off the bench at corner, and has easily worked his way into seeing significant time on the field, one way or another this season.


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 at strong safety 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. Hunter missed a lot of camp with a minor foot injury (staff being very cautious with it as they can't lose him for the season) but as Hop reported in camp, "even injured Trent Hunter proved his invaluable presence. He's the primary signal caller and though not active, stood back in the secondary helping the young, inexperienced defensive backs with calls. Von Miller may be the playmaker and the vocal, emotional leader, but it's Hunter who is the quarterback of the defense and calling plays in the secondary and disguising coverages." Hunter is ready to go for the season and while he needs to stay healthy, will not be derailed from a big time season any other way.

Though he makes his way over from corner, Steven Terrell is a great fit at free safety. He recently proved himself as one of the fastest members of the team, busting 4.38-40 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. 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). It was obvious early in fall camp that Steven had carried over his momentum, and was very comfortable and confident in his starting role. He put together a quiet but extremely productive August and has had the praise of Coach Sherman and Coach McMillian. He is going to be a solid starter and will do a fine job of filling Jordan Pugh's shoes.

Safety Depth

Steven Campbell is stronger in run support, but still capable in coverage (though not quite as sound 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." Unfortunately, a nagging ankle injury had Campbell out for most of fall camp. Coach Sherman was asked Monday about the time Campbel has missed, "I think it's going to take a little work, because he wasn't involved in spring football either. He's such a talented kid that we'll find a way to get him on the field. Yeah, I wish he had been able to go through spring and fall and not been injured." He's healthy to go as of this week but he obviously has some catching up to do with simple practice reps. On the bright side, he is a phenomenal athlete and even in the worst case senario, has a guy like Trent Hunter right there with him to point him in the right direction so he can do what he does best, read and react.

Heading into camp, I thought Lionel Smith's emergence at corner (giving the Aggies four great CB's) may give the staff the luxury of redshirting the impressive newcomer, Toney Hurd Jr., but the freshmen has played so well and physical, that he has been cross-trained in a move to infuse talented depth at safety. The highly sought after Hurd has about every attribute coaches could want in a high-level defensive back, with the exception of size (currently about 5'9" 185). Despite that, he does well in run support, and is obviously great in coverage (both of which will obviously aid him well off the bench as a safety). He is really smooth in his backpedal, reads quarterbacks well, and shows speed and athleticism in breaking on the ball. It was a pleasure to watch the impressive newcomer in his first night of fall camp. All the seasoned observers, couldn't help but look at each other and shake their heads and smile at the confidence, in your face (of respected veterans) attitude (not tacky, just competitive) and playmaking ability (a stark contrast from the typically reserved freshmen learning the ropes). He was such a breath of fresh air. The young man was all over the place, causing fumbles, breaking up passes, and it was obvious that the guy loves contact and is very competitive. Safe to say Hurd wasn't there to redshirt.

He is still the number five corner but as mentioned, is being groomed to provide emergency depth at safety. Hurd is short for safety, but was such a physical player in his first two weeks that he was the most natural fit to make the move. What's more, the sharp young man was picking up the position rather quickly. With Hunter out, he started in the last scrimmage of camp and looked really good for the most part. The height will be an issue at times but DeRuyter was very complimentary of the young man's performace and announced that his move to safety is permanent for this season. Given the depth at corner and seeing this young man's game in person, I really like this move, and while it doesn't alleviate all concerns of safety depth, it does provide a pretty good option off the bench.

Louis Swope (playmaking slot receiver, Ryan Swope's brother), 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). The freshman is actually playing ahead of several scholarship guys, like Malcome Kennedy. He's been playing well given the circumstances, and Coach Sherman praised his effort and tempo in the game saying that, "I like his speed coming downhill. He doesn't always know what he's doiing or where he's running, but I like the intensity and his speed for the game." Though green, he's earned his way as one of the most impressive freshmen on the team, and will get some playing time early this year as Campbell gets his feet under him.

Further Safety Depth

As Hop reported in camp, "Malcome Kennedy looks the part, and moves fluidly at the strong safety spot" but he has a way to go before being game ready and his efforts weren't helped when injury forced him to miss time in August. He has a really bright future (possibly at DB or WR) but a lot remains to be seen whether he contributes this season or not. Blaine Cheatham is a talented 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 Chris Caflisch also is in the mix and brings good athleticism and ball skills to the defense. 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.

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, and designed to create takeaways themselves. Personnel wise, the group is sound, but as mentioned needs young players to develop for safety depth, as they are short of the magic number four by one man.

Aggie Digest Top Stories