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How's Your Unit? - Defensive Backs
Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin
Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 31, 2013


The most interesting defensive back situations this offseason.

2013 Spring Preview

Top Position Battles - DBs

- More key 2013 spring defensive back battles

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1. Oklahoma
Considering there wasn’t much of a pass rush to count on, the Oklahoma secondary held up extremely well, allowing just 11 touchdown passes on the season with 13 picks. In the pass-happy Big 12, only West Virginia hit the 300-yard mark, however, the lasting image everyone will remember is Johnny Manziel doing whatever he wanted in the Cotton Bowl. Even with the issues against Texas A&M, it’s going to be a big problem losing corner Demontre Hurst and safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris.

The rebuilding of the secondary will start with all-star corner Aaron Colvin, a great tackler who finished third on the team with 61 stops to go along with four picks. A former safety, he could move depending on how the young corners progress. It’s time for some former star recruits to become active and productive starters, beginning with senior nickel Gabe Lynn at strong safety in place of Harris. Sophomore Gary Simon spent last year behind Colvin, but he might get thrown into Hurst’s spot at left corner. Junior Julian Wilson and senior Kass Everett have seen enough time to find a spot somewhere, but there’s room for true freshmen to shine with safety recruit Hatari Byrd and corners Stanvon Taylor and L.J. Moore all with all-star upside and talent.

2. Michigan
The Wolverine pass defense was fantastic, finishing fifth in the nation allowing just 169 yards per game, but it closed with a clunker getting lit up for 341 yards and four scores by South Carolina. That was the first time all season that the D allowed more than 200 passing yards. And now there’s work to do with fifth-year senior Jordan Kovacs gone at strong safety after finishing the year with 68 tackles, and veteran J.T. Floyd is done at one corner spot after coming up with 48 stops.

Thomas Gordon will get the spotlight as the leader and top returning defensive back after making 81 tackles at free safety, but he has to start doing more when the ball is in the air. Raymon Taylor is back at one corner while Courtney Avery and Blake Countess – who’s trying to come back from a torn ACL – will battle it out to replace Floyd. The stars, though, are in the recruiting class. Dymonte Thomas was one of the nation’s top safety pickups, and Delano Hill wasn’t far behind. Jourdan Lewis will eventually be the team’s No. 1 lockdown corner, while Channing Stibling, Reon Dawson and Ross Douglas are all fast, terrific prospects for the outside.

3. UCLA
The Bruin secondary had a few issues. It might have been a transitional season, but the defensive backfield was full of veterans and should’ve been much stronger. Five of the 15 picks came in one game against Houston, and the 27 touchdowns allowed were too many for a team that had such a killer pass rush. Washington State and USC bombed away, but the pass defense allowed 244 yards or more in eight games, and the only times the secondary held firm against the better teams was when the front seven was being pounded on. It’s going to take a few changes to switch things around with corners Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price gone along with strong safety Andrew Abbott.

Tevin McDonald is a good one at free safety, but it’s going to be a fight for the other jobs with sophomores Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau looking to step up at corner, while Stan McKay could move over from free safety to strong to replace Abbott. On the way is arguably the nation’s best haul of new defensive backs. Corners Priest Willis and Johnny Johnson are among the best corners, while safeties Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman are NFL-caliber prospects with a world of upside.

4. Georgia
The linebacking corps might have suffered the biggest blow, and the defensive front needs plenty of help, but the secondary could use a big overall, too, after losing corner Sanders Comings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams. But it’s Georgia; there’s more NFL talent on the way, and it might be coming in the form of the 2013 recruiting class with JUCO transfers Shaquille Fluker and Kennar Johnson to potentially step in immediately, while true freshman Tray Matthews might be too good to keep out of the mix. Cornerback also received reinforcements with Shaquille Wiggins, Brendan Langley and Reggie Wilkerson all fitting the mold of star Bulldog defensive backs. For now, Damian Swann is back at one starting corner spot, while Connor Norman, Blake Sailors, and Corey Moore will fight it out for jobs. It’s going to be a long offseason.

5. Wisconsin
It’s not like the Badgers played a slew of teams that bombed away, and the Rose Bowl was turned on giving up a few big plays, but the secondary was a strength throughout last season. Corners Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith are done, as is strong safety Shelton Johnson, who was excellent against the run making 56 tackles and often serving as a fourth linebacker. The defensive line will be a plus and the pass rush should be solid, but there’s work to do in the defensive backfield needing Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary to be ready for primetime. Dezmen Southward is back at free safety after finishing fourth on the team with 62 tackles, but it’ll be a battle between sophomore Michael Caputa and junior Michael Trotter for the open strong safety job. Donnell Vercher is a JUCO transfer who could build the depth right away at safety, but the best new recruits are for the future. Corners Jakarrie Washington, Keelon Brookins and Sojourn Shelton are all nice prospects.

6. Clemson
Defensive back was one of the strengths of the Tiger recruiting class, and it needed to be with corner Mackensie Alexander one of the team’s top pickups and safety Cordrea Tankersley good enough to see time right away. There’s depth, too, with safeties Korrin Wiggins and T.J. Green and corner Adrian Baker just part of the bulk coming in. The pass defense wasn’t exactly a rock, and now the new guys might have to at least provide a little bit of depth with safeties Jonathan Meeks and Rashard Hall gone along with corner Xavier Brewer. Hall was the second-leading tackler and led the way with four picks, and now it’ll be an open casting call for the free safety gig. Robert Smith made 12 tackles as a reserve and could step in at either safety spot, while corner Garry Peters needs to turn into more of a playmaker as the lone returning starter. 6-3, 200-pound sophomore Cortez Davis is built like a safety, but he could end up taking over for Brewer after spending last year as his backup.

7. Mississippi State
Considering the talent and experience, the secondary wasn’t quite as strong as it was supposed to be. It wasn’t bad, though, with future NFLers Johnthan Banks at corner and safety Corey Broomfield two lockdown defenders. Darius Slay was a playmaker on the other side of Banks with a team-leading five picks. Replacing them won’t be easy, but having free safety Nickoe Whitley and his 88 tackles back is a huge plus for the young secondary. Jay Hughes came up with 32 tackles and will get the first look at the strong safety job, while corners Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun will need to be ready to handle the SEC spotlight right away. JUCO transfer Justin Cox is a ready-made free safety and nickel option, but corner Jahmere Irvin-Sills and safety Brandon Wells will have to wait a while before they’re ready.

8. Cincinnati
Butch Jones left Tommy Tuberville with an empty cabinet in the secondary. While the pass defense didn’t allow too many big plays and didn’t get toasted, it got dinked and dunked on to death. However, the Bearcats only gave up 13 touchdown passes and came up with 16 picks. Corner Deven Drane is back after coming up with a decent year, but safeties Dominique Battle, Drew Frey and Malcolm Murray are gone along with key nickel defender Chris Williams. Adrian Witty should fill in at one of the safety spots without a problem, and Arryn Chenault should be fine after making 49 stops in a reserve role. Sophomores Leviticus Payne and Trenier Orr got in as true freshmen and need to settle in at one of the corner jobs on the other side of Drane.

9. Texas Tech
It flew a bit under the radar nationally, but the Texas Tech secondary was fantastic last season, finishing 15th in the nation and first in the Big 12 allowing just 192 yards per game. The stats were a bit misleading, helped by playing Northwestern State, Texas State, New Mexico and Iowa State, and with Kansas abandoning the pass and throwing for just 29 yards in its close loss, but still, the Red Raider defensive backs were a plus, and now safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson – the team’s top tacklers - are gone along with corner Eugene Neboh. Nickel back Tre Porter came up with a decent year and could move to safety, but J.J. Gaines has the most pressure having to rise up and be a productive big hitter in place of Johnson. Bruce Jones is only 5-7, but he’s a feisty corner, while 5-9 Olaoluwa Falemei is a quick option in place of Neboh. Dorian Crawford and Martin Hill are coming in from the JUCO ranks to try to help out the corner situation right away.

10. Illinois
The pass defense only allowed 194 yards per game, but it was beaten badly deep time and again finishing last in the Big Ten and 107th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The secondary only came up with seven picks, and three of them were in the opener against Western Michigan, while allowing 21 touchdown passes. It took a while, but the coaching staff finally settled on a starting lineup for the final four games of the season. The problem now is that corners Terry Hawthorne and Terry Green are gone along with free safety Supo Sanniuu Strong safety Earnest Thomas is the one returning starter to the defensive backfield coming off a 69 tackle season, but he only came up with one pick. Steve Hull has been around long enough to step in at free safety, but he’s more of a strong safety, while sophomore V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence will get the first chances at the open corner spots. JUCO transfers Eric Finney and Zane Petty will be instant factors at safety, while freshman corner Darius Mosely could be too good to keep off the field.

- More key 2013 spring defensive back battles