PRESEASON PRACTICE UPDATE: Defensive Backs Preview
By ODU Athletics
Aug. 25, 2012
Defensive Backs Preview:
One position in particular that has made not only strides since last season, but this preseason as well has been the defensive backs.
"I think we've made a lot of improvement," said Assistant Defensive Coordinator Keita Malloy, who moved to the defensive side of the ball after much success coaching the tight ends and wide receivers the last three seasons. "Coming in I think we had to get a better understanding of football knowledge. You can see the difference out there - the cover schemes we are doing, guys are playing faster, making plays, turning the football over. Again, I'm very happy with the progress we've made, the depth we've had, and looking forward to the season."
"We expected them to come in work hard, learn, pay attention, and just give their all and help out where ever we need help out whether its scout team, playing, or having an `attitude of gratitude' as coach would say," added in defensive backs coach Marc Bacote of the safeties and corners. "There are a lot of guys coming back who have already played in games, so things they can do is understanding where they fell short last year and not do that again this year, also where they succeeded and continue to develop on that."
"We have a good group of db's," said senior safety Carvin Powell. "All of us can play at any point in time in a game."
"I think we've gotten better," mentioned redshirt junior corner T.J. Cowart. "We picked up some things and we are playing faster. We still have things to work out but I think we're as a group we are improving everyday."
"We probably have about 8-10 guys I feel like can all play for us and really helped us improved," said Malloy of his squad, noting not only some of the veteran experience, the developing leadership roles.
Starting at free safety, Powell was among the Monarchs' top defenders with 57 tackles, was second on the team in interceptions, and picked up pair of fumble recoveries. Simmons also racked up 57 tackles at strong safety along with a pair of sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
The Monarchs also return Paul Morant who Malloy said "is good a safety as anybody in the league." Morant captured 56 tackles, which included some big numbers towards the end of last season. Morant made a season-high 11 stops in the first round playoff game with Norfolk State and had eight stops in the regular season finale at Wiliam & Mary. The junior Monarchs also recorded four pass break-ups and two recovered fumbles.
"The newcomers have been really impressive," said Malloy.
Transfer Andre Simmons has been making an impact in camp.
"I cannot say enough about that kid," said Malloy of Simmons, who transferred to Old Dominion from Vanderbilt. "He's worked hard all preseason and learned the system."
"He's very smart, he's positive about everything, and brings a lot of energy," said Cowart of Simmons.
Simmons played as a true freshman in the SEC, seeing action in 10 of the Commodore's 12 games in 2010, playing as a reserve safety and member of the special teams unit.
Adding depth to the safeties are freshmen Fellonte Misher and Malique Johnson. Johnson, who Malloy sees as contributing right away, was a member of the First Team Small School All-State, First Team All-County, and Second Team All-Metro Teams helping Annapolis Area Christian School to a pair of MIAA conference championships. Malloy noted Misher, who was an All-Met defensive back at Coolidge High School in Washington D.C., will also be a factor in the Monarchs success.
Fred Credle, one of the 13 members of the senior class to join the Monarchs squad as redshirt freshmen in 2008, also adds depth at safety as does redshirt freshman Brandon Bacchus. Last season, Credle appeared in all 13 games making 21 tackles, while Bacchus has been competing for playing time after playing to Second Team All-District honors at Kecoughtan High School in nearby Hampton.
At cornerback, the Monarchs welcome back T.J. Cowart. Cowart had an impressive sophomore season back in 2010 racking up 58 tackles, including 40 solo stops, along with a team-leading 11 pass break-ups. However, two games into the Monarchs' inaugural CAA season, Cowart broke his wrist at Georgia State sidelining him for the rest of the season. After rehabbing and working hard in the off-season, Cowart is eager to return.
"My goal is to try and catch more picks, but most of all I want to get my team back to the playoffs so we can win this championship," said Cowart.
The Monarchs also return Second Team All-CAA honoree and a member of the inaugural Jerry Rice Watch List for the Most Outstanding FCS Freshman in Eriq Lewis. Lewis led ODU with five interceptions and became the first Monarch with more than one interception in a game with two picks at William & Mary. He posted 41 tackles and a team-leading 41 pass break-ups and 14 passes defended along with three forced fumbles.
Both Powell and Cowart noted the play of Reggie Owens this preseason and has been a noticeable presence this preseason. Owens had his redshirt year taken off at Villanova, but injury kept him sidelined the rest of the year. But 2011 could prove to be a break out season. Coming out of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Owens came to ODU after earning Second Team All-Tidewater and First Team All-Beach District honors with stats that included eight interceptions and five pass break-ups.
Keenen Terry made two starts at corner last season and ended the 2011 campaign with 40 tackles, including a season-high eight stops against CAA Champion Towson and six stops against James Madison, ODU's first ever top-10 victory.
Aaron Evans returns to the defense this fall after filling in a role at wide receiver in the spring. Last season, Evans made 30 tackles and also played as a true freshman making 13 stops.
Adding into the mix is redshirt freshman Akil Jones and freshman Phil Dickens. Dickens played quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive back at James B. Hunt High School helping the Warriors to two County and Big East Championships. Jones was All-District and Northern Region All-Star as a senior having recorded 10 pass break-ups and one interception as a senior and six interceptions, 16 pass break-ups, three blocked kicks, and 20 tackles as a junior.
Make no doubt that expectations are high for this group.
"I expected us to be on the same page, make plays, and do the things we're capable of doing," said Bacote.
"We are going to be a top-20 pass defense in the nation," said Malloy. "Last year, we were 104th. I'm looking forward to getting the season excited. I'm excited about September 1st taking Duquesne and getting everyone to understand that this group is very talented. We had some hiccups in the past and we going to clean that up and play very well this year."
"First and foremost, we've got to get a championship ring," said Powell of his final season. "We've only got one shot and we've got the talent to do it."