The Brigham Young Cougars secondary came on strong down the stretch in 2011. Two starters have to be replaced in 2012, but it appears BYU has two guys ready for the challenge.
A challenge is what the defensive backs will get on day one. Whoever the two new players are, they need to be ready. Mike Leach will unleash an air raid in his debut with the Washington State Cougars. The secondary can expect to be tested in games against Boise State, Hawaii, Notre Dame, and New Mexico State.
Senior cornerback Preston Hadley is one of the two returning starters. A year ago he was a new kid on the block transferring from Snow College. He wore the same number 7 worn by Brian Logan, the man he was replacing. Logan had set a pretty high standard in his two seasons at cornerback, and Hadley maintained it.
Hadley was a big reason for the Cougars’ improved pass defense down the stretch. He tied for the team lead with 14 pass break ups. Ten of those breakups came in the second half of the season. Besides being strong in coverage, Hadley is quick off the corner to provide run support, or rush the passer, which allowed him to make 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, and one quarterback hurry in 2011. Hadley is still looking for his first interception as a Cougar. His 51 tackles in 2011 was fifth most on the team.
Junior Daniel Sorensen wasn’t a newcomer last year, but he was returning from a two-year mission to Costa Rica. He came back in great shape and started all season at strong safety. Prior to his mission, Sorensen played linebacker for the Cougars. At times last season, those linebacker instincts left him susceptible to giving up big pass plays after biting on run fakes. Needing improved discipline in this facet of the game is Sorensen’s only glaring weakness.
Sorensen plays physical and has good athleticism. He was third on the team in tackles (61), pass breakups (6), and interceptions (2). Both his interceptions were highlight reel plays. Sorensen took one pick back for a touchdown (Idaho State), and he tipped the other before acrobatically hauling in the ball (Texas). Sorensen is primed for another big year.
Sophomore cornerback Jordan Johnson has, unofficially, been anointed the new starting cornerback to replace Corby Eason. Everyone from head coach Bronco Mendenhall to linebacker Kyle Van Noy sounds sold that this Springfield, Massachusetts product will be the real deal. In limited playing time as a redshirt freshman, Johnson made 16 tackles, intercepted 2 passes, and broke up another. Should Johnson be as good as advertised, it will be very hard to find a weakness with the entire Cougar Defense.
The free safety spot manned by Travis Uale the past two seasons is now open. Seniors Mike Hague and Joe Sampson are fighting for this spot. Sampson appears to have the inside track. He saw much more playing time than Hague in 2011, and took most of the reps at free safety during the spring. Hague was being cross trained at cornerback in the spring, perhaps, in a move to prepare him for a nickel back role this fall.
Sampson was another newcomer last year via the junior college ranks. He arrived late, but picked up the defense quickly, and by game four was making an impact. Sampson finished the year with 23 tackles, 5 tackles-for-loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3 pass break ups, 2 quarterback hurries, and 1 fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.
Sampson is another physical player. He is one of those guys with a high football IQ, which tends to put him in the right place at the right time to make a big play. It makes sense that Bronco Mendenhall would want to have him on the field as much as possible.
Hague, meanwhile, has been looking for a place to play. He moved over to defensive back a year ago. He has a great attitude and appears competent to play at the FBS level, but he has the unfortunate luck of running into a player who is just a little better.
Two players to keep an eye on are senior O’Neill Chambers and sophomore return missionary Craig Bills. Chambers is moving over to defensive back from wide receiver after sitting out a year. He showed well in the spring and may push for the nickel back spot. Bills impressed as a true freshman in 2009—23 tackles, 2 interceptions—and the coaches seem eager to get him back on the field at either of the safety positions.
Robbie Buckner (Sr.) and DeQuan Everett (Sr.) are other prime candidates to be the back up cornerbacks. Jray Galea’i (Jr.) will be a back up at strong safety.
Other defensive backs on the roster include Cameron Comer (So.), Chase Pendley (Jr.), Skye PoVey (Jr.), and Jacob Hannemann (Fr.).
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