“Daniel did a great job, but Jray is continuing to push him, which is what you want at any position,” said Howell. “I like how both players competed and hopefully they continue to push each other into the season.”
Junior Carter Mees (6-0, 195) is another option that Cougar fans may have forgotten about.
“Carter has been with us for a while, but has had some injury problems," Howell said. "He’s someone who could help us out a lot at either strong safety or at free safety."
As mentioned, senior Uale returns as the lone starter in the defensive backfield. Uale improved quite dramatically with his play during last season, and has the coach’s trust.
“I could leave today, right now, and give up the defense and the coaching to Travis, and they wouldn’t miss a beat,” said Howell. “It’s so important for our free safety to know the defense inside and out and understand how to position guys with what the offense does, and Travis does that as well as anyone.”
Despite starting down the stretch last season, Uale was being pushed, and will continue to be pushed by junior Mike Hague (5-10, 190), who switched over from running back.
“Mike showed very well in spring, and will provide that competition level for Travis, and will push him which is what you want,” said Howell. “He understands what we’re doing out there, and it’s been fun to watch his progress.”
Sorting out Sampson
There is a lot of intrigue surrounding junior-college transfer Joe Sampson heading into fall practices. Sampson wasn’t able to transfer midyear, as was the plan, and wasn’t able to show up on campus until mid June, but presents an interesting option nonetheless.
“I haven’t been able to coach him or even see him workout yet,” said Howell about the 6-0, 205-pound defensive back. “I’m not yet sure where he’ll help us this year, or if he’ll help us at all, but I’m optimistic about his chances based on my conversations with him and from what I’ve seen from him on film.”
Coaches have made mention that learning how to play at safety in the current defensive system isn’t an easy task. While the learning process for strong safety isn’t as accelerated as it is at free safety, it’s a challenge.
Given Sampson’s limited time in the program, one may be given to believe that the learning process would be too steep for him to legitimately compete at safety, but Howell would disagree with that notion.
“Through my conversations with him and from his film, I can easily see that Joe is someone that understands concepts,” he said. “For some players, it’s enough just to learn their own assignments, and do those assignments well, but it’s another thing to understand concepts within the entire defense.
"Joe has that, and you have to have that in order to play an effective safety, so no, absolutely not, I won’t say that he can’t compete at safety because he can and that’s why we brought him in.”
Sampson has experience playing cornerback, and could play there if that is where he fits best.
Overall, Howell is excited for the prospects of this year’s defensive backfield. While he isn’t seeing a lot of game experience among them, he’s seeing other things.
“It’s a real fun group, and a group eager to learn and compete,” he said. “They all seem to be aware of the opportunities they have with so many open spots, and they’re thriving with that. We have some good talent that is pushing each other, and will continue to push each other, and it’s an exciting thing to have as a position coach. It’s what you want.”
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