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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Football

Inexperience a non-issue for Cougars secondary


WEB-Justin-Tijerina-Brandon Wilson-IMG_7565

Last season, Brandon Wilson was the only player in the nation to score on offense, defense and special teams. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

When the Cougars’ defense takes the field against the University of Oklahoma on Sept. 3, there will be some new faces at various positions.

The secondary lost the most starters of any group following last season, as William Jackson III, Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart graduated. Jackson III was selected in the first round of the NFL draft, while McDonald is competing for a spot on the San Diego Chargers roster.

“It’s hard to replace 3000–3500 game reps with Adrian (McDonald) and William Jackson and Trevon Stewart,” Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “You’re not going to replace a first-rounder with somebody that doesn’t have his experience or just his athleticism.”

The only remaining starter from last year’s American Athletic Conference Championship secondary, Brandon Wilson, was a Swiss Army knife of sorts. He was called on to play defense, special teams and offense.

This year, Wilson is expected to play only in the secondary. He knows that it’ll be up to him to ensure that the incoming corners and safeties are up to the task of replacing NFL-caliber talent.

“I’m going to have to step up and be a leader and lead the younger guys and the guys that are not as experienced,” Wilson said.

Sophomore safeties Garrett Davis and Joeal Williams, junior safety Khalil Williams, and sophomore cornerbacks Howard Wilson and Jeremy Winchester are expected to compete for the remaining slots in the secondary.

Most of the mentioned players have logged some game time, but many of the minutes have come while on special teams. Players like Khalil Williams have seen some time in the secondary, but only when an injury occurred or when the defense went into a nickel package that called for five defensive backs.

While many players have limited playing time, Orlando believes the secondary can become a solid unit and make up for their inexperience because of who is coaching them.

“We’ve got two of the best defensive back coaches in the country,” Orlando said. “To me, it goes back to your teacher. If you don’t have the experience, your teacher has to take you through the place you are going to get and try to gain that experience in the classroom.”

Despite how well the secondary was perceived last season, they actually ranked near the bottom of Division I schools in passing yards allowed. Much of the defense’s success came against the run, where they ranked in the top 10.

Head coach Tom Herman believes that for a corner to do his job well, a pass rusher must be able to put pressure on the quarterback.

Fox Sports said the Cougars are projected to have a top-10 defensive line that should be able to get after a quarterback and, using Herman’s logic, ultimately help the secondary cover their receivers downfield.

While Herman believes that a strong pass rusher will benefit the unproven secondary, he and Orlando have faith that the crew will be well prepared when the season rolls around.

“The talent is there,” Herman said. “It’s youthful and it’s inexperienced, but it’s physically and mentally mature enough and will be ready.”

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