Top WKU football position battles: defensive back

7 07 2010

In the third and final installment of our top Western Kentucky football position battles to watch next month, we’ll glance at the defensive backfield.

And it’ll be a big glance – because literally no position seems to be safe here. Meaning that I’d have to guess just about any currently active defensive back on the roster (including the six incoming freshmen at these four spots) will have a chance to get on the field as a starter.

But for the sake of discussion – let’s take a look.

Defensive backs
Favorites:
Safeties – Mark Santoro (6-0, 196, jr.), Ryan Beard (6-0, 187, jr.). Corners – Jamal Forrest (5-8, 162, so.), Avery Hibbitt (5-9, 178, jr.).

Also under consideration – Literally everyone.

This seems like far and away the most wide open section of positions on the field for WKU entering fall camp.

Now let me preface this by saying that the Hilltopper defensive backfield didn’t get any favors from a basically non-existent pass rush last season (which in the end might have been just as big of an issue), but overall pass defense for this group a year ago was downright awful.

The WKU defense wasn’t exactly getting gashed for truck loads of yardage (just over 230 per game allowed through the air), but opponents did complete passes at a video game-like 68 percent clip against them.

You read that number right. Sixty-eight percent, 27 touchdowns, 13.5 yards per catch and just six total interceptions and a whopping overall NCAA quarterback rating of 167.2.

Not good.

So who fixes it? Well I’d have to think that Santoro is the safest player right now in terms of projected starters that should keep their job through fall camp. Basically a two-year starter, Santoro was second on the team in tackles last year with 91 and has been a pretty vocal bright spot in an otherwise struggling secondary over the past two seasons.

Beard – the former Bowling Green standout – had an extremely impressive freshman year before getting into David Elson’s doghouse last season and eventually suffering a rash of difficult injuries. Beard is one of those players that isn’t overly imposing physically or athletically – but he generally seems to put himself in position to make plays consistently when healthy. A pretty heady player who has been tested in the past, and seems to work well with Santoro. The other safety to watch in that mix is sophomore Kareem Peterson, who spent a great deal of time on the field as a true freshman last season – finishing with 57 tackles (fourth on the team). Peterson and Beard should slug it out all camp long for the spot at free safety. Should be a good battle to watch.

Corner is probably the bigger concern here. Because as far as ball hawking goes – well, it didn’t go. Because there was virtually none last year.

Forrest got on the field right away as a true freshman and seemed to be able to hang in there from time to time, but his 5-8 frame absolutely cripples him in certain situations. Another possibility is former Bowling Green standout Avery Hibbitt. Hibbitt has made great strides in the defensive backfield since switching over from the offensive backfield during the early part of his career. A great kid and seemingly a very hard worker, Hibbitt faces the same issues as Forrest in that he is constantly battling to make up for a huge size deficiency.

As far as the rest? I wasn’t joking when I said ‘literally everyone. DBs Vince Williams, Kiante Young, Darryl Williams and Denton Allmon all redshirted last season. All of them will have an opportunity to earn a starting job. Senior Orlando Misaalefua is no longer in the mix on the back end because he was moved to the linebacking corp this spring.

As far as the new guys? WKU coach Willie Taggart inked six – count them – six defensive backs this past winter. And all six of them should get at the very least a chance early on. Xavius Boyd (6-2, 215), Cam Thomas (6-1, 185) and Jerome Speights (6-0, 180) were all Rivals.com three-star players – and all of them have more optimal size measurements than the players currently on the WKU roster. Whether they can get it done on the field remains to be seen, but they’ll no doubt get their chances to prove it.

Brass tacks: Speed, size, speed, speed and size. That’s what this group is currently lacking in a nutshell. Expect at least three of these six true freshman defensive backs to spend a great deal of time on the field. All four positions in the defensive backfield should be hotly contested not just throughout the camp period, but also throughout the entire season. WKU has got to find people who can make plays back here. And I’m not just talking about racking up interceptions – but physical players with enough speed to close gaps and not allow giant gashes all over the field. How quickly these players adapt and how much they improve this season will be a huge factor in how this team finishes overall. That can be said for basically the entire defense – but 68 percent opposing completion rates and 52 percent third down conversion yields have got to stop. Otherwise, it’ll be another extraordinarily difficult year for the WKU football program.

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