For a team that has been in a state of flux over the last few years in determining positions and depth, the BYU Cougars finally have stability everywhere on the field, especially on defense, where they return eight starters from the 2011 season.
The secondary returns three starters from last year, and welcomes a productive cornerback from last year into the starting lineup to join the veterans for this season.
Senior cornerback Preston Hadley finished the 2011 season ranked ninth nationally in pass breakups, with 14, as well as finishing fifth on the team with 51 tackles, anchoring the secondary, and could see most of his playing time against the opposing team’s best wide receiver.
“It’s always fun to be challenged,” Hadley said. “That’s why we come out here and play everyday. You’ve got to be competitive. That’s what football’s about. We just go with our best versus their best and see what happens.”
The safety positions are both set from last year, with senior Joe Sampson and junior Daniel Sorensen taking back their positions. Sorensen finished the year second on the team with two interceptions, and had 61 tackles, good for third place. Sampson is a big hitter that returns some defensive firepower.
The void that was left by graduated cornerback, Travis Uale, will be tough to replace, because of Uale’s three interceptions last year. It will most likely be filled by sophomore Jordan Johnson, who impressed in his cover skills and defensive intellect during play last year and fall camp this year. Johnson tied for second with Sorensen on the team in interceptions last year with two, and has earned the position from Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“I’m really confident (in Johnson),” Mendenhall said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t expect some mistakes, but the way he’s worked, he’s trustworthy and will build through the mistakes that he makes.”
In addition to those four, the Cougars have a few other defensive backs that will most likely see time in sub packages and nickel and dime formations. These include seniors Mike Hague and Robbie Buckner, and may even include freshman Micah Hannemann, who has impressed during fall camp, according to Mendenhall.
The confidence the Cougar secondary has heading into the 2012 season is high, as they are looking to improve upon an impressive 2011 season, in which they finished 22nd in the nation in points allowed, with just 20.4 points per game.
“I’d say we’re real confident,” Hadley said. “Obviously, we still have a lot to prove. We haven’t proven anything yet. You have to play like every play’s your last.”