There's no position in football more physically and psychologically brutal than cornerback. Corners are typically the smallest players on the field, and yet they sometimes step up and take on 215-pound running backs and 250-pound tight ends.
Corners are exposed before God and everybody like no other players. When they fail, everybody sees it. And those failures can be extraordinarily costly.
In the Big 12, the difficulty of playing cornerback is compounded. The conference is unquestionably the nation's premiere passing league. No other conference boasts the quality of quarterbacks and receivers that cornerbacks face in the Big 12 on an almost weekly basis.
Tommy Tuberville, fresh off a season in which his secondary surrendered 24 touchdown passes while nabbing only five interceptions, well appreciates the challenges that confront Big 12 corners.
"In our conference your corners are on an island so much they gotta be their own athlete," Tuberville begins.
"They don't get help from anybody other than themselves. They get short passes thrown on ‘em. They get challenged deep, so they gotta be able to play everything. They gotta have a burst to break on the short passes. They gotta have a long stride to keep up with the deep passes. And they've gotta be able to jump for the deep passes to be able to knock them down."
If that sounds like a tall order, it is. Throw names like Landry Jones, Geno Smith, Casey Pachall, Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jaxon Shipley, and Tevin Reese into the brew, and it's clear that the challenges in the Big 12 this season will come from some rather accomplished foes.
It's also clear that no defense can hope to make it through the Big 12 gauntlet with only two or three quality cornerbacks. As Hillary Clinton might say, it will take a village.
Tech's coaches are comfortable with Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh as the starters. But as defensive coordinator Art Kaufman relates, depth is still just a tad shy of optimal.
"I think there's some guys that are stepping their game up. They're not ready for prime time yet, but we still got five or six practices to get ready."
Of the backup candidates, junior college transfer Bruce Jones is the player Tuberville and Kaufman are both keeping their eye on.
"I like this Bruce Jones," says Tuberville. "He's a new guy that's only been with us a couple of weeks. He came from LA. He's a 42-inch vertical jumper."
Kaufman affirms that "Bruce Jones has made a little bit of a jump."
He adds that junior Derrick Mays is also doing well in fall camp.
"Those are the two that are probably at the front of it."
But Jones and Mays alone may not be enough in the rugged Big 12. Fortunately, Kaufman sees other players making headway as well.
"But there's the other guys that are coming too. I think Oly [Olaoluwa Falemi] is coming, and I think Brandon Bagley's got a chance to be in the mix. I think those guys, the first two starters, then we've got about three to five guys that are in the mix to get those backup spots."
If Falemi and Bagley, along with Jones and Mays, can at least be serviceable, cornerback should not be a source of worry for the Red Raiders in 2012.