Fall Preview: Cornerbacks

Fall Preview: Cornerbacks

Is there any position group, outside of the quarterbacks, that could have more of an impact on Utah’s success than the cornerbacks?

To say that Utah was poor in overall pass defense in 2013 would be an understatement. The Utes finished the season ranked 109th in passing yards allowed out of 123 FBS teams. While certainly a factor, you can’t blame the cornerbacks exclusively for this. There were times that play was near perfect, yet still not enough to squeak out that sixth, elusive win in the Utes effort to return to a bowl game.

Against Oregon State, for example, Utah’s corners were exceptional. But a combination of exemplary play from Beavers QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks along with a lack of any sort of pass rush crushed Utah’s late comeback attempt.

Later in the season the cornerbacks had one of their best performances against Stanford, one of the least talked about reasons why the Utes were able to pull off the upset at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Heading into 2014 Utah is faced with replacing Keith McGill, yet another former Ute defensive back that is now in the NFL. Who will step into his shoes as the next lockdown corner in Kalani Sitake’s defensive schemes? Does Utah have enough depth at the position? Let’s breakdown the candidates.

Reginald (Reggie) Porter was my spring camp favorite at the corner position. Porter can flat out ball. When tasked with covering Dres Anderson, Utah’s top WR, Porter didn’t disappoint. He consistently looked like the Utes’ best corner throughout the spring. His field vision was sometimes so good that you have to assume that he sees the field like a quarterback. His length and field awareness compliment his attitude and work ethic nicely. He is constantly putting in work when no one is watching. While he has a high ceiling and has made tremendous strides this spring, he still has limited experience with zero important reps earned in 2013. One of Porter’s strongest skills is his ability to locate the ball fairly easily. This may be helpful in aiding the Utes recent struggles in creating turnovers.

Davion Orphey had a good spring. He is one of the more physical corners on the roster, which is exactly what Sitake likes. While he doesn’t excel at any specific aspect of the game, he is a good all-around corner. He proved that this past spring with his consistency play to play and practice to practice. Orphey’s physicality makes him one of the better tacklers for the Utes in the secondary. If he doesn’t land a starting spot I still think he’ll find playing time as part of a rotation. He is a prime example of the Pac-12 caliber talent that Utah now has in its depth chart.

Eric Rowe is the wildcard in this position group. Will he be able to successfully transition from safety into a starting cornerback for the Utes? He absolutely has the skill set, and while he struggled to adjust to the corner spot during spring camp, fans saw numerous glimpses of what they hope he’ll consistently be able to do. In the big picture, this move may depend less on how Eric performs at corner and more on whether Tevin Carter and Brian Blechen are a serviceable duo at the safety position (assuming they win the positions). Eric is likely to succeed at whichever position Sitake and the Utes place him, but the staff needs to decide quickly where they want him in order to give him the most amount of productive reps possible.

Justin Thomas improved throughout the off-season after a decent freshman year. He is a perfect fit for the nickel back position, especially after being in the program for what is now his third season (he redshirted his first year). He possesses some elite level skills such as his closing speed and his ability to find ball carriers and wrap up in the open field. Now he needs to solidify his play across the board and work on becoming more consistent snap to snap. His size may be an issue but his speed and physicality make him too much of a weapon to leave off the field, especially against the quick, dynamic offenses Utah will face in the Pac-12. Thomas’s speed will make him a real threat to opposing quarterbacks. He should find himself in backfields often as Utah’s best corner blitz weapon.

Wykie Freeman came to Utah with talent, speed, and good size, but for a bevy of reasons he hasn’t lived up to the billing. To be fair, it’s hard to improve your play on the field when you are constantly rehabbing from injury or watching practice from the sidelines. Wykie could still be a tremendous corner for the Utes and he’ll have an opportunity to prove himself during fall camp. Can he stay focused and healthy enough to break into a starting role on the depth chart? That’s the question that still needs to be answered.

At the back end of the depth chart Utah has a good walk-on in Mo Talley and incoming freshman Travonne Hobbs. Hobbs has the measurables to be Utah’s next elite corner, but don’t expect him to see anything other than some minor rotational shifts this season – that is if the coaching staff doesn’t decide to redshirt him. While I see him being a difference-maker for the Utes down the road, I can't picture it happening this season.

Pre Fall Camp Depth Chart



Cornerback


1. Davion Orphey
OR Eric Rowe

Cornerback


1. Reginald Porter
2. Mo Talley

Nickel Back


1. Justin Thomas
2. Wykie Freeman

Post Fall Camp Depth Chart



Cornerback


1. Eric Rowe
2. Davion Orphey

Cornerback


1. Reginald Porter
2. Mo Talley

Nickel Back


1. Justin Thomas
2. Wykie Freeman

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