Cornerbacks: A CF.C fall camp preview

CORNERBACK WILL LOOK different when fall camp opens tomorrow. A part-time starter from ‘08 will be holding down the fort on the right side Sunday, joined by a fourth year junior making his Cougar debut. Two redshirt frosh are looking to challenge and a veteran former WR joins the group. Plus, a pair of true freshmen could fight for starting roles. A comprehensive CF.C positional overview of CB..


DEPTH CHART:  RCR-SoAire Justin (5-11, 156);  R-Fr. Daniel Simmons (5-10, 187);  R-Jr. Shane Thomas (5-10, 190);  Fr. Nolan Washington (5-10, 175) | LC: R-Jr. Brandon Jones (5-9.5, 178);  R-Fr. Terrance Hayward (6-0, 187)R-Jr. Anthony Houston (6-3, 205)  Fr. Anthony Carpenter (5-10, 175)

PLAYERS LOST:  Markus Dawes (Started five games and played in 11 contests in '08); Kevin Frank (redshirt year in '08, did not play) Devin Giles (13 games, no starts)  Romeo Pellum (Started 12 games and played in 13 in '08)

INJURIES:  Jones missed a little time at the beginning of the spring with a hand injury but came back with a cast -- and turned in some sharp play.

OVERVIEWInexperience is the watchword out on the islands for the Cougs coming into fall camp. Washington State has only one corner in the fold who saw action at the position last year. But that might not be as bad as it sounds -- one  projected starter sat out last year per NCAA transfer rules, a veteran corner who came over from Cal. The other projected starter had six starts for WSU in '08, and played better and better as the season went along.

Jones was the best corner on the field this spring for the Cougs. A fourth year junior, his corner and overall defensive knowledge had him consistently in the right position, ready to make the play, and then making the play. Jones plays smart, and he's got good swivel with a nice change of direction.

His height (5-9 1/2) is a potential liability in certain situations. But he's more physical than expected, and he played solidly against the run in the spring. Jones also has straight ahead, and make up, speed, he's projected along with James Montgomery to return kickoffs.

Justin saw limited practice time this spring, taking some of the practices off to hit the books. He played his best ball towards the end of last season and when he was out there this spring, had some nice breakups and provided good coverage.

The No. 1 thing he needs in order to become a great corner is physical maturity -- he's got height but he's light in the wallet. He's not yet as physically strong as a corner needs to be -- jockeying with Pac-10 receivers and in providing top notch run support. But if and when he reaches that point, look out, because he's an uber-athlete.

Washington will be given ample opportunity to earn significant turns in fall camp.  He's farther ahead than most incoming corners in terms of knowledge, but he still has lots to learn and will undoubtedly make freshman mistakes. But the bottom line is he might be ready now.

Corner is one of the few positions that a true freshman, a special one, can come in and start his first year. And Washington could be one of those guys. He has outstanding speed and great instincts -- exactly what you want in a corner. He's also ultra-competitive and mentally tough. Despite a painful MCL injury, last November he grabbed two picks and ran for almost 200 yards in a playoff game during his final high school season.

Simmons took a good-sized step forward this spring. Inconsistent early on, a light bulb might have turned on right around the time he took a pick-six to paydirt. He played on both first and second teams -- double reps -- and that helped him improve his technique and form as the session wore on. 

He's a physical corner, and at times, possibly too physical. Loading up for a big hit sometimes means a missed tackle. But he served notice this spring, and if he takes another step in fall camp, things could quickly get interesting.

Hayward is very athletic, and still very young. He has a great skills package but might need another year of football seasoning, physically and mentally, to mount a serious starting challenge. What would be great for WSU is if he does indeed turn a corner in fall camp and is ahead of schedule. At the very least, a step forward by him would give the Cougar coaches more flexibility in their nickel, dime and various defensive packages.

Houston comes over from the receiver ranks and it's anyone's guess how he'll perform on the other side of the ball. He came into WSU as a lauded athlete, but has to date never broken through to seriously challenge for playing time. The fourth year junior has two more seasons to find it. He's a big corner at 6-3, and it will be intriguing to see how, if he earns time, the Cougs might use him in the defensive backfield.  

Perhaps a forgotten man in all this has been another true freshman -- Carpenter. He shouldn't be. While Washington is the odds on favorite among the freshmen corners if one is to earn time, Carpenter also has quicks and athleticism. What will tell the tale on him this fall camp is how consistent he is early on.

Carpenter posted some big tackle marks in high school and if he carries that on at this first fall camp at WSU, he could be squarely  in the mix. Corner and safety aren't all that interchangeable, they require different skill sets. But Carpenter (and Washington) would both seem to have the versatility to play either/or at the college level. It could be a matter of finding out which position fits the absolute best, but they'll get their first looks at corner.

AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAY: Jones has the potential to shut down one side of the field. Justin, although still on the lighter side, should still be ready to come into his own this season based on his play last year. And the rising Simmons, along with Washington and possibly even Carpenter, could all make a serious run at a starting job. That will lighten the pressure on the group, and it will also allow more flexibility scheme-wise. Indeed, WSU might well run more aggressive defensive packages than last year if the corners shine in fall camp -- because they can. With Jones on one side, a battle on the other side would be expected to produce a high-level starter, which means the Cougs might also be able to blitz more effectively.

A PESSIMIST WOULD SAY: The Cougs lost three veteran corners from last year and that will have a decided impact. There will be good plays by the cornerbacks, immediately followed by lapses -- that's what you get with inexperienced CB's. Wazzu has some physical hitters, they might well do better in run support, but the worry is in coverage. If the defensive line and linebackers don't put heat on the QB, like last year, it won't matter if the Cougs have future All-Americans covering the back 40, they'll give up large swaths of yardage. The hope is that this group will develop enough in fall camp, and extend tight coverage long enough, to force the opposing offense into some errors of their own. But that might be a more probable scenario next year rather than in '09.

STAR PLAYER:  Brandon Jones. There are also potentially others who could rise to the same level during fall camp.

UNIT WEAKNESS:  Playing time. Some corners getting their first taste of action in a WSU uniform on Saturday are going to have to play smart and swift if the Cougs are to be successful out on the islands.

UNIT STRENGTHAthleticism, speed. The Cougs have good physical attributes in the group -- it's a matter of how fast they can -- collectively -- get the mental part of the game down pat and play at a high level between the ears.

WULFF: "..Our depth isn't as deep as we thought it was going to be, but we do have some capable players there. Daniel Simmons is a young cornerback that might be able to make a difference in his first year playing. Aire Justin can help us there as well. With some added strength and maturity Justin can be a bigger factor for us. Brandon Jones... will clearly have an opportunity to make a difference at corner. Chima Nwachukwu will have the ability to play a little corner and safety for us. He played corner his entire freshman year before moving to safety last season. And then who knows, we may have a freshman or two that will play in their first year." 


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