Part six in a seven-part series previewing the Cougs' offensive and defensive units.
Early on in the offseason, the defensive backfield was looking to be the most experienced unit on the field in 2009. As Coug fans are well aware of, due to what Paul Wulff described as "some things that have occurred..." there are are a few more question marks headed into the season opener against Stanford.
Youth is the theme here.
Would-be starters Devin Giles and Romeo Pellum were dismissed from the team. Would-be starter Devin Giles was dismissed from the team and Romeo Pellum transferred after being suspended. That's tough to swallow in terms of depth, but the good news is those two weren't exactly superstars anyway. What's left is a lot of youth and inexperience. Not really sure what to expect from Brandon Jones, the Cal transfer, who is a fourth year Junior and has only played one full season, recording nine tackles in 2007. Aire Justin is small, but talented. Wulff claims he has "added strength and maturity" over the offseason. Nolan Washington is the big recruit, but most would agree that it would be much better to get five years out of him. Overall, there is potential for a good showing from this group. There is some talent and some of the inevitable mistakes could easily be covered up by the guys over the top.
The starters are very solid. Senior Xavier Hicks may be the best overall player on the Cougar defense and Chima Nwachukwu is smart (4.0 GPA last year!) and talented (Honorable Mention All-Pac 10 freshman cornerback). Big things can be expected from those two, but they absolutely need to stay on the field. Tyree Toomer is the only other player on the depth chart with any sort of experience. If Chima and Xavier stay healthy, the defensive backfield could do very well in 2009.
Projected Depth Chart
|Pos.||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|LCB||Brandon Jones (5'9", 178, #Jr.)||Terrance Hayward (#Fr.)||Anthony Houston (#Jr.)|
|RCB||Aire Justin (5'11", 156, #So.)||Daniel Simmons (#Fr)||
Shane Thomas (#So)
||Xavier Hicks, Jr. (6'0", 211, #Sr)||Tyree Toomer (So)||Jay Matthews (#Fr)|
|SS||Chima Nwachukwu (5'11", 201, Jr.)||Erick Block (#Fr)||LeAndre Daniels (#Fr)|
Xavier Hicks, Jr. This guy is talented. He has size and speed. He hits hard. He has the potential to have an All-Pac 10 season this year, but he needs to stay focused. If Xavier plays well, he could really hide some of the shortcomings in the rest of the secondary. The Cougars have a recent history of producing some very good defensive backs, and this guy could be the next.
Biggest Question Mark
Insert joke here about staying out of the back of police cars. Seriously though, will the lack of experience at corner prove costly and negate the potentially stellar safety play? As was written above, we are really not sure what to expect from Brandon Jones. Aire Justin should be improved, but this is the Pac 10 and the nickel corner will need to be used. That spot will most likely be occupied by Daniel Simmons and Terrance Hayward. Niether of those guys has every played a down in college football. Hopefully we are presently surprised.
Best Case Scenario
Xavier and Chima have All-Pac 10 caliber seasons. The youthful corners hold their ground and Wazzu pass defense is much improved. Showing confidence in the defensive backfield play, the Cougar linebackers are able to cheat towards the line of scrimmage and the run defense benefits as well.
Worst Case Scenario
Xavier dissapoints. Chima is just okay. The cornerbacks are exposed. Teams are able to throw at will. This trickles down to the run defense, as weary linebackers are forced to focus more on the pass and opposing running backs are left to roam free past the line of scrimmage.
Xavier and Chima will be very solid. Teams will probably try to exploit the inexperience at cornerback with isolations and quick throws. The corners should improve throughout the year and there should be some really solid backfield play in the last half of the season Overall, the unit will be a massive upgrade over 2008 and the defense as a whole will improve as a result.