By Adam Mangum
We had KSL’s Greg Wrubell on the Rise & Shout podcast last week, and one of the questions I asked him was about the defensive backfield. I had asked a similar question of Jay Drew the week before, and Jay had expressed what I believed was the consensus opinion: this is a very inexperienced group, and it could be the weak link on a team that looks very strong and talented on defense.
Greg’s take was almost a 180 from that ‘consensus’ view. What were Jay and I (and others) missing?
Let’s start with the corners. The projected starters are Corby Eason and Preston Hadley. Eason is a typical DB is size, at 5-8, 175. He played quite a bit last season, even starting a game. I think he is most known for being used in the corner blitz and getting 3.5 sacks last year. Eason is a good, hard-nosed corner who can cover and tackle.
Hadley is a very different story. He has size (6-0, 200), but he’s an unknown commodity for me, having transferred from Snow College after two years playing there bookend-ed around a mission. All indications from Greg and other reports are that Hadley is playing extremely well in camp.
What Greg was really excited about was the depth. There will be the inevitable injuries to corners this year, and there will also be needs in nickel or other special packages. Jordan Johnson and Joe Sampson provide that depth.
Sampson is the interesting case. When he transferred, I assumed that his skill level would translate into starting in his first game in a Cougar uniform. There has been nothing to indicate the junior has been a disappointment, just that Hadley and Eason have played better in camp. That’s a very good sign.
I’m not nearly as optimistic about the safeties (but I’m not overly pessimistic either). At the free safety spot, Travis Uale looks to have the inside track, but he’s been hurt and there’s a very good chance that converted fullback Mike Hague will be the starter. I’m not excited about either, Uale because we saw a lot of him last year, and he was just OK. Hague may end up being very good, but he’s likely to make mistakes early in the season, and that could lead to some big plays.
The kat position (Bronco’s version of the strong safety) has become a premier position at BYU, with Andrew Rich being the most recent example of an impact player in that spot. Sophomore Daniel Sorensen will likely start against the Rebels. He’s a somewhat known commodity, having played a little in 2008 out of high school before his mission. He has size and talent, but very little experience at this level.
Sorensen will be backed up by Carter Mees and Jray Galea’i. Not really excited about either, with both being less experienced (and I believe less talented) than Sorensen. I think if Sorensen were to be injured or ineffective, the kat could be a problem.
So is Jay right to be worried about the defensive backfield as a potentially crippling weakness, or is Greg’s optimism in the skill level and depth of this unit justified? I think a little of both. The group lacks game experience, which will likely lead to blown coverages and other mistakes, especially early in the season. But the group is talented on paper, and has impressed some observers in camp. And there’s no doubt that the depth (especially at corner) is better than most years.
After talking with Greg, I have grown cautiously optimistic about the Cougar defensive backfield. Yes, there will be some growing pains, but we may all look back 5-6 weeks from now after seeing awesome play by the last line of defense and wonder what all the worry was about.