Unproven defensive backfield poses problem for UCF football staff
Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, June 27, 2013 21:06
UCF will look to follow its 10-win campaign in 2012 with a strong season this year. As football season approaches, the Central Florida Future will break down UCF’s roster position by position.
Graduating 50 percent of a starting unit predicated on trust and communication leaves plenty of room for growth.
Enter: UCF secondary.
Losing defensive captain Kemal Ishmael, who was a sixth round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, and starting cornerback A.J. Bouye to graduation, the Knights are left with a young, inexperienced secondary.
Junior corner Brandon Alexander returns as a starter after producing a solid sophomore season. Alexander is a lanky corner with the size that head coach George O’Leary likes, measuring at 6-foot -1. Alexander posted 62 tackles last season and pulled down one interception.
The last line of defense, junior Clayton Geathers, returns after excelling last season in his second season as a starter. In 14 starts last season, Geathers racked up 117 tackles, and also forced two fumbles.
Losing the leadership and experience of Ishmael gives Geathers an opportunity to become the leader of the secondary, and to be relied upon as a more vocal player.
As spring started, the Knights struggled stopping the pass, as junior quarterback Blake Bortles routinely shredded the secondary for big plays. As players began to grow comfortable in their roles, the unit improved, and the big plays became few and far in between.
Despite not practicing in spring, redshirt freshman Jacoby Glenn is expected to play a crucial role at cornerback, possibly as a starter. Glenn practiced and stood out in preseason camp last season, even working with the starters in practice. Ultimately, Glenn was redshirted.
Drico Johnson, a wide receiver last season, received the majority of the reps at safety opposite of Geathers. Early on, Johnson struggled with the transition, but improved with experience.
It remains to be seen if he improved enough to be a capable starter. Sophomore cornerback Nicco Whigham received some reps at safety and looked better than he did in his first team reps at corner.
Whigham and Johnson will likely compete for starter’s reps throughout the summer, and both will likely see significant playing time.
Spring practice is an excellent chance to earn playing time come fall. Freshman D.J. Killings did just that. Whigham had the first chance to earn the starting cornerback job. After going down with an injury, freshman Jeremy Davis got starter’s reps before he too went down with an injury. In stepped Killings, and he grabbed hold of the starting spot through spring.
“I think [Killings] is going to have to grow quickly; he is going to be in there so there is no place to hide,” defensive coordinator Jim Fleming said after a spring practice. “We don’t have enough corners so he is going to have to play football for us.”
Killings, a member of the 2013 recruiting class, went from covering high school receivers six months before spring practice, to covering perhaps the best receiving unit in the American Athletic Conference.
Killings had six tackles and a pass break up in the spring game.
Upon arriving on campus, freshmen Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin will also be in the mix for playing time, but most likely will get most of their snaps on special teams.