Pace feels confident in new-look secondary

After losing their top three cornerbacks from last year, Vanderbilt's secondary was destined to undergo something of a makeover for this season. And while some of these changes are simply a matter of younger players stepping up into bigger roles, there are also a few cases where last season's familiar faces are no longer in familiar places.

Key among these changes is the shifting of senior Andrew Pace from strong safety to cornerback, a move designed to help fill the void left by the loss of last year's starting tandem, Dominique Morris and Bill Alford, with an experienced veteran.

"In spring practice, the coaches told me I was going to be making the switch from safety to corner, and I was more than happy to do it," Pace said. "I feel comfortable because the two positions are similar in what they require, as far as techniques and fundamentals. So really it's not too shocking of a change. I feel confident in my ability."

Senior Kelechi Ohanaja (photo left by B Wiseman) has filled in Pace's old position from the free safety spot, making room for redshirt freshman Reshard Langford (photo at right by B. Wiseman) as the deep man. And now that junior corner Sean Dixon is suspended for the opening game, a pair of redshirt freshmen—Jared Fagan and Josh Allen—will likely rotate at the other cornerback position.

Certainly the biggest adjustment lies on the shoulders of Pace, who had started every game of the previous two seasons at strong safety. But with the athleticism displayed by Pace, coaches feel confident in the senior's capabilities at his new position.

"You usually don't think of a safety going down to the cornerback spot, because safeties are typically a little slower and not as agile," Head Coach Bobby Johnson said. "But Andrew is a very talented athlete. He has good feet and can break on the ball very well."

In his two seasons as a starter, the 6-foot, 200-pounder from Mountain Brook, Ala. also showed some playmaking ability, leading last year's team in passes defensed with seven. Having been clocked with 4.4-speed coming out of high school, Pace does not feel that he will be overmatched at his new position.

"Really, I feel like I'm fast enough to play how the coaches want me to," Pace said. "The coaches have helped me to brush up on my technique, and besides that there are a lot of mental aspects involved that are just as important."

Coaches are also pleased to have such an experienced player in a secondary slated to have two starters that have never played a down of college football before.

"A guy like Andrew is going to give you what you expect," Johnson said. "He's done it the whole time he has played for us. We expect our seniors to be leaders, and his experience has helped us in getting the younger guys ready to play."

With the Commodores set to face a Wake Forest team that relied heavily on a successful rushing attack last year, the first test of the season does not appear to be an overwhelmingly difficult one for the overhauled secondary. But at this juncture in his college career, Pace knows better than to underestimate an opponent.

"They're capable of doing great things with the ball both running and passing," Pace said. "Even though they were known for their ground game last season, we know they're not going to just let the passing game go. We feel well-prepared for both, so hopefully we'll come out on top."

Though it is impossible to predict the success of this unit until they are seen in action, the hope is that the secondary's makeover will be a major facelift for a defense that allowed an average of over 400 yards per game last season.

Redshirt freshman Josh Allen is ready to take a key role in the Commodore secondary. (VM/ L. Yates)

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