Moving Forward at Cornerback

Cornerback was already a position of concern for Texas Tech heading into the 2014 season. Nigel Bethel's recent dismissal from the team only complicates matters further. The following is a look at the the Red Raiders' options moving forward.

Michael ColeyCBFRIrving, TX6-2185Talented, but raw
Josh KeysDBJRPerkingston, MS6-2185Has the tools, experience to play CB
Tevin MadisonCBFRFayette, AL5-10170Undersized but very productive in high school
Tyler MiddletonCBJRMidland, TX6-0190Showed flashes of brilliance in spring ball
Justis NelsonCBSOMesquite, TX6-2170Came into his own down the stretch of 2013
La'Darius NewboldCBSOLancaster, TX5-11195Listed as post-spring starter opposite Nelson
Thierry NguemaCBSOCorona, CA5-10160Played sparingly in 2013, mostly on special teams
Dee PaulCBSOMunday, TX6-0165Tremendous athletes with good speed and decent size

2014 Texas Tech cornerback signee Nigel Bethel's dismissal from the team, which the athletic department announced in a press release Sunday, was the only choice.

Bethel was expected by many, including, to make an immediate impact as a true freshman at a position of need. That is over and the program must move on.

The Red Raiders do not return a lot of experience at corner which, especially in the pass happy Big 12, is an unenviable position to be in.

Cornerbacks coach Kevin Curtis admitted early in spring ball he had no idea what they had in the handful of guys returning and said everyone, including incoming freshmen, would get an opportunity to compete for playing time once summer rolled around.

"Well all those guys will get opportunities during two-a-days, they'll be here in the summer, will get a chance to do the 7-on-7 with our guys and lift," Curtis said. "So, all those guys--everybody has a chance. Everybody is going to get an opportunity to show what they can do and the best people are going to play. It doesn't matter if you're a freshman, senior, it doesn't matter. So they'll get opportunities to get thrown into the fire."

Texas Tech's post spring depth chart listed Justis Nelson and La'Darius Newbold as starters with Thierry Nguema backing up Nelson at the boundary spot and Dee Paul behind Newbold at field. Tyler Middleton, who raised some eyebrows in the spring by making at least a handful of nice plays on the ball in coverage, is in the mix, but still raw and learning the position.

The only certainty is Nelson and his 6-foot-2 height should start at the boundary corner position after a strong performance in the Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State and a solid spring.

More than likely the Red Raiders will need at least one of the 2014 signees to contribute at some point in the season.

Both Michael Coley and Tevin Madison signed on with Texas Tech last February to play corner and have been on campus since early June.

Coley is tall, fast and athletic, but hasn't played much corner before so there is an expected learning curve. Madison has a lot of experience at the position, but isn't as tall as Coley and will have to make the transition from small school Alabama football to the Big 12.

Fellow 2014 defensive back signees Jah'Shawn Johnson and Derrick Dixon, projected as safeties, could also play in the slot in nickel and dime coverage, but it remains to be seen if they are ready for the step up in competition.

Another thing to consider is the coaching staff hasn't been shy about moving players all over the field so don't be surprised if someone gets moved to corner.

Safety Josh Keys immediately comes to mind as several coaches, including defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt, pointed out his versatility on National Signing Day as one of the reasons he was such a coveted prospect. Keys was a midterm enrollee from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and participated in spring practice to mixed reviews. On one hand he gained weight and was a beast in the weight room, but as often happens with new players, he was lost at times trying to pick up the coverage schemes.

That being said, the coaching staff believes he possesses the tools to be a Division I corner and he could be the answer as a third or fourth corner this fall.

"He's a kid who played corner as a freshman, at the junior college level and is talented enough there with length, range and size," Wallerstedt said.

Texas Tech still has time to tinker with different players at corner, but the season opener is creeping closer. It will be interesting to see who will see the field Aug. 30 against Central Arkansas and as the season progresses.

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