Welcome to Corners R Us.
The biggest question mark heading into BYU's spring football drills had to be development of replacement corners for graduating Kayle Buchannan and Ben Criddle, a pair of former walk-ons who finished careers with two rings.
While this spot remains a work in progress for coordinator Jaime Hill, it could also be said the work of the new corner guys has been perhaps the most surprising aspect in Cougar camp after
There are four bodies in training. Scott Johnson, Brandon Howard are getting reps with the first group and G. Pittman and Brandon Bradley are in with the second rotation. Johnson, a former safety at Timpview High, is also seeing spot work at play safety, or nickel back, if Hill chooses to fool around with such schemes or leave it as cross-training in case of injury or failure to perform.
It remains to be seen if these guys can hang with some of the Mountain West's speed and size receivers. Time will tell if they can chase down UCLA's blue chippers or if they can fill the shoes of Criddle and Buchannan.
But in week two this spring, they proved plenty pesky, disrupting BYU's offense and leveling hits on Austin Collie and Michael Reed. In fact, some of the biggest hits Friday came from Howard getting his pads into Collie and a Thursday Bradley de-cleating of Reed.
Hill has these guys doing the pawn placement, chess-board-type coverage he got out of their predecessors. Friday, Hill got them making plays and getting physical once they donned pads.
I'd predict this might be the first year Hill breaks with tradition of playing two corners until they drop. He may rotate this four, keeping them fresh.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Johnson, perhaps the quickest learner and braniac of the bunch. "To get a lot of reps, it's really helped technique that much more to go against great receivers like Mike Reed and Austin Collie. I just think it's helped me more in coverage to go against them day in and day out."
Johnson might just be the perfect pupil for Hill. A pre-med major, he's got the mind and dedication to soak in BYU's defense and master it faster than the rest. He's the most consistent at getting it right.
"Film room is one thing but on the field is separate all together," said Johnson. "You can learn it on paper but to come out here you need to not think about it and just react to what is happening.
"It takes awhile. That's what's been most beneficial to me is to feel the game instead of having to work it out strategically in my mind but to come to the point where I just instinctively act."
Breaking down the four corners prospects, Johnson is the mind guy and he's not too shabby in the physical department.
Howard is the fastest, a speedster with great feet. Once one of the top five sprint hurdlers in California high school, he's got good recoverability and break on the ball. Howard has jets explosive enough to keep up with post moves deep.
Pittman might be the most physical, and he doesn't mind chirping about it with receivers. He likes to hit and thrives on the battle part of just mixing it up.
Bradley is BYU's biggest corner and challenges Pittman as the one most likely to deliver the hammer. A guy with the build of a strong safety, Bradley is still recovering from serious knee surgery two summers ago but is progressing.
"I think we're coming along," said Johnson. "We still have a lot to work on. You can never be satisfied where you're at, but from where we were at the start of winter in January, I think we've come along very well."
That might be an understatement. Some thought the corners would trip over themselves. The first week, they did get worked by Collie and Reed, but as this past week ran on, they started battling back and Friday, had a role in "frustrating" the offense.
Credit for that has to go to Hill, who finally got his hands on these players after they'd been working out since January in conditioning drills. It would be safe to say the book is still out on this position but it isn't a panic situation at all. Hill has the uncanny ability to almost hide his corners and make them anonymous.
As Collie, who has faced some of the best trying to trip him up, surmised Friday, "Our defense has come a long way. They are very talented, especially in the secondary. They have a great core."
With Criddle, Buchannan and Quinn Gooch gone from the secondary and Kelly Poppinga and Bryan Kehl gone from the linebacker corps, BYU has to suffer some growing pains this spring and fall, right?
"People may not have expected it," said Collie, "As far as I'm concerned, they are as good as last year."
Johnson said the offense and defense has each had their days. "It is a great opportunity to go against Max and the offense."
Johnson may not be the typical Division I corner, but neither were Criddle and Buchannan.BYU's cornerback school is, well, it's kind of going up Hill.
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