POSITION PREVIEW: DEFENSIVE BACKS
Earlier this year, Gamecockillustrated.com previewed the running backs, offensive line and defensive line. It’s time to preview JSU’s secondary for 2009. Defensive backs coach Toby Norwood was kind enough to talk with us about the safetys and corners earlier this week.
JSU is truly blessed to have Coach Norwood on the Staff. Norwood, a Columbus native, played football for the Stanford Cardinal and was a track All-American in the hammer throw. In his freshman year, the Cardinal knocked off a #1 ranked Notre Dame team. In his Junior year, Stanford defeated Notre Dame again and were Co-Pac Team Champions. Evidencing his leadership abilities, Norwood was team captain of the 1993 Stanford team.
After working in business for ten years, Norwood got the itch to get into coaching. He spent two years at Auburn and then came to JSU.
Norwood has high expectations for JSU this year believing JSU can be competitive in every game they play (including FSU and Georgia Tech) and that the Cocks could be dominant at times. Echoing the sentiment of all of the staff, Norwood says the APR penalties will not be an excuse for JSU this year- the players are in good shape and are anxious to play.
After talking to Coach Norwood, it is clear that JSU’s secondary should be fine this year. Here is a breakdown of the personnel at each position.
Safety is a strength for the Gamecocks. Norwood confirmed that the starters at safety are seniors Carnell Clark, pre-season All American selection and Josh Cain. There is a ton of experience here. Clark has started 21 games. Cain has played in 32 games. Cain is an all around athlete- in high school he had 1405 yards rushing the ball and 148 tackles on defense and set AISA weightlifting records in his class.
Norwood on Clark: “He is a senior from Birmingham that played at Parker High School. He is an exceptional player, he plays physical. Some of the biggest hits we had last year were tackles that Carnell made. He started out as a corner and played there for a couple of years. Last year we moved him to safety. He plays extremely hard . . . and is a monster on special teams too. He is one of our best players on kick off team. I expect Carnell to have an outstanding senior season.”
Norwood on Cain: “Josh Cain is a former walk on. He is a guy you can’t keep off of the field. He is a computer science major with a 3.9 GPA that has already graduated. He is an effort kid with a high motor and great leadership abilities. He played well for us last year at safety . He was one of our most productive players in terms of the number of plays that he made. It always seems like he is around the ball. Josh has sneaky speed.”
One of the top backups is Keginald Harris. The Hazelwood high school product drew strong interest from Ole Miss out of high school.
Norwood on Harris: “He has worked really hard this summer. He is probably in the best shape of his life. He has a really good attitude. We are looking at him backing up Carnell. He needs to get better every day that he goes out there. He has a lot of ability. He is a tall rangy player that can cover a lot of ground, especially when he is playing the middle of the field.. He seems to have good ball skills. Its just a little bit of maturation process for Keggie. All of the reps he will get in 2 a days will help him. He should be poised for a breakout year.”
Michael Owens a Senior from Douglasville, Georgia will also provide depth at safety.
Norwood on Owens: “Mike is another former walk-on. He is a decisive player with exceptional straight line speed. He has provided valuable depth at safety. I anticipate that he will continue in that role and contribute as an extra defensive back in passing situations. Mike relishes his play on special teams, especially kick-off coverage.
Coach Norwood also intimated that there are some talented walk-ons in the mix as well
The Gamecocks are talented, but thin at corner. There is not a senior in the lot, but A.J. Davis, T.J. Heath and Jawaan Booker have all played a lot of downs. It’s a tossup to see who will start between them, but regardless all will play.
Norwood on T.J. Heath: “T.J. has played corner here a couple of years. He is tall . . . he runs as well as anybody in the conference. He can play like an all conference player, he just has to put it together every single week. The challenge for T.J. [this year] is to be consistently good. He must bring his A game every day to practice and that will transfer over to the game.”
Norwood on A.J. Davis: “Davis is another player from Birmingham. He played at Clay-Chalkville. Last year was his freshman year. He played over 400 snaps at corner. He did well for a freshman, he got beat on some deep balls, but he learned from that as the year progressed. He has a lot of ability. He is probably 6-1 and is probably one of the fastest players on the team.”
Norwood on Booker: “Book came in as a true freshman last year and ended up playing a good bit. Basically, we rotated the three of those guys . . . they all ended up getting about 420 something snaps. Booker ended up starting at the end of the season. He worked hard in the summer. He struggled in the spring, but you could tell in the summer watching the little bit of drills that we could he’s coming back to the old Book. Physically, he doesn’t look very intimidating, but Book has a physical style of play with good eyes. He’s a play-maker.”
An injury to any of these three would be devastating. However, the Gamecocks will look to true freshman Robert Gray from Collinsville and Lincoln’s Tiger Williams to possibly provide depth at corner. Obviously, in a jam Clark could move back to corner, but the Gamecocks would hate to move him from safety. Another safety valve would be James Shaw who has moved to wide receiver.
In sum, there is talent at every spot in the secondary, but perhaps not the depth JSU would like at every position. If JSU can generate a pass rush, they have the personnel in the secondary to generate some big plays. September 5th can’t get here soon enough!!