Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — From the outset of the 2012 season, BYU's defensive secondary faces a formidable challenge.
On Aug. 30, the Cougars host Pac-12 member Washington State in a season-opening game that marks Mike Leach's debut as WSU's head coach.
Leach has installed his famed "Air Raid" offense in Pullman, which means the WSU Cougars will likely throw the ball around 60 times.
"That will be a huge test for us, especially the secondary," said BYU linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "It's a downfield throwing team and they will definitely test us. They have a lot of dudes coming back. We know what Mike Leach does. They'll be a tough team to beat, so we're looking forward to that."
With fall camp set to open on Aug. 2, BYU's depth chart, as of now, features senior Joe Sampson as the starting free safety, junior Daniel Sorensen at kat safety, sophomore Jordan Johnson at field corner and senior Preston Hadley at boundary corner.
Senior Robbie Buckner is listed as Johnson's backup, while senior Mike Hague is a backup at both free safety and boundary corner. Sophomore free safety Craig Bills, who recently returned home from a mission, played significant minutes as a freshman in 2009.
Because of WSU's focus on passing the ball, BYU's defense is expected to frequently feature five defensive backs in that contest. BYU seems to have plenty of depth in the secondary.
"We have Danny and Preston coming back as starters. Joe played a ton last year and he was a big difference-maker for us," Ogletree said. "He'll have a big year. Craig Bills, who's just off a mission, looks really, really good. We're expecting big things out of him. He'll push Joe at the free safety spot. Jordan Johnson at field corner didn't start last year but he played a lot. There's a lot of experience there. We really trust those dudes. I think they'll do a great job."
The BYU secondary has spent a lot of time in the film room in the offseason, watching tape of Leach's prolific Texas Tech teams, as well as WSU's spring game.
"We also watched film of Washington State last year to get to know their personnel," Hadley said. "As long as we keep watching film, and the coaches start preparing us, I think we'll be prepared for what they have to bring."
In WSU's spring game, quarterback Jeff Tuel completed 19-of-21 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Marquess Wilson caught an 80-yard TD pass and finished with four receptions for 149 yards.
Hadley is eager to square off against Washington State.
"We look forward to the challenge. I think we can hang with anybody," he said. "They can bring what they got and we'll be ready for them. Our coaches will get us ready. I think we have enough talent and enough experience as well to really shut them down, I think."
"I like when teams try to attack the secondary and throw the ball 60 times a game," said Sampson. "I think that will play to our strength. It's kind of like Hawaii last year. We had a lot of fun playing that game. I think our defense is ready for any offense. Our chemistry will be a lot better than last year. Our defense as a whole, everything will be better than last year."
BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy expects Leach to fill the air with passes at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Aug. 30.
"He averaged 68 points at Texas Tech, so you can't imagine him settling for anything less," Van Noy said. "He has some good players up there. I'm sure he'll do a great job with them and I'm sure he'll have them ready for the first game. We're going to be ready, too. It's going to be the battle of the Cougars. I wake every day looking forward to that."
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