SPRING PREVIEW: CB battle looms, says Sears

EXPERIENCE AND YOUTH are set to collide this spring at corner out on the Palouse. Four experienced cornerbacks will do battle with three rising redshirt freshmen -- and WSU assistant coach Jody Sears says he can't wait. The Cougars' CBs coach and co-defensive coordinator says there was both competition and "buy in" last spring, but nothing like what is set to begin in less than a week.

As far as veteran corners, the Cougars have a quartet ready to take the field when spring drills begin next week -- Romeo Pellum, Tyrone Justin, Brandon Jones and Devin Giles.

"You look at Romeo and Justin at having the inside track but Brandon Jones is a really good football player. And Devin Giles has played a lot of football," said Jody Sears.

Pellum and Justin combined for 18 starts last year out on the islands. Pellum was third on the team in tackles with 65, tied for the team lead in interceptions (2) and led the Cougars in pass break ups with six.

Justin has always had the athleticism and tools but lack of size has prevented him from reaching his potential thus far. That's beginning to change. It may not sound like much, eight pounds since the season ended in December, but for a guy who weighed all of 150 pounds last year, it's a solid gain.

"I'm really proud of him..The weight room has been extremely helpful with him, with the different kind of culture that is being established. He's (still) got to pack on some muscle mass, and he's starting to do that, he's starting to fill out," said Sears of Justin.

JONES IS DEFINITELY one to watch this spring. Sears is very high on the junior-to-be who had to sit out last season at Wazzu after transferring from Cal.

"Brandon Jones is an extremely good good football player, I've watched him for a lot of years," said Sears. "I'm really anxious to see how he develops this spring because he's had a really good offseason. Physically, he's got it. He's 5-9.5, but he's got it physically.

"He's always in position. He's fast, he's physical, he's not afraid of contact -- at all. He's really quick, he plays press man coverage well, he can run -- he's just got the intangibles."

Giles had speed to burn but needs to become more consistent in all phases to challenge for a starting assignment, said Sears.

"Giles can really run and he's very quick but needs (improvement) from an execution standpoint, of being where he's supposed to be from a coverage standpoint. And he will (continue to improve), just in the last year he's made a lot of progress," said Sears.

WHAT MAKES CB so intriguing a position this spring is the competition doesn't end with those four.

There are three freshmen who redshirted last year that Sears expects to figure in prominently -- Kevin Frank, Daniel Simmons and Terrance Hayward.

"Those three I'm really, really anxious to see how they develop this spring because they're going to put some heat on those guys...They have made a ton -- a ton -- of progress," said Sears.

How so? In the weight room and through the Cougs' offseason conditioning program.

"Just to give you one example, Kevin Frank when he showed up here last August, he was right around a buck-seventy...Now he's a buck-eighty nine. And that's coach (Darin) Lovat, our strength coach. He's packed it on," said Sears.

Simmons is a quick corner, has a good deal of football savvy and has developed considerably more physical strength since he arrived on campus last year. Hayward has size and length, checking in at 6-foot and has long arms.

Hayward is still quite young so he hasn't reached his physical potential yet -- he just turned 17 years old in November -- but Sears says he also has made some good strength gains in the weight room this offseason. Shane Thomas, a walk-on from Spokane, is also in the mix.

SEARS' GOALS at cornerback this spring center on two areas -- trust and consistency.

"We gave up too many deep balls last year, we missed too many tackles. Yeah, we can drill that and drill that, and talk about that and talk about that, but there's got to be a trust. There needs to be a leadership establishment within the core of the group and that's what I'm going to be focused on -- developing that trust, developing that leadership, making sure they're doing all the little things," said Sears.

This spring compared to last feels differently in that regard, said Sears.

"We had 'buy in' last year, we just needed more," said Sears. "But based on the winter, there seems to be more (now). That's not just lip service. Just as much as the weight lifting, the Xs and the Os, that's something this (offseason) that we've really done, the application of our leadership...that's something that has been very much a priority since the end of last season.

"I'll tell you what, with these young guys coming up, there's going to be some good competition. There was competition last year but not like it's going to be this spring."

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