Seventh in a series previewing Texas Tech spring football practice.
When Texas Tech starts spring practice Friday, it might have the “Help Wanted” sign posted in regard to cornerbacks. Tech coach Tommy Tuberville wants to see if the late-season play of Cornelius Douglas was for real and if new defensive backs coach John Lovett can find another corner with whom to pair him.
The Red Raiders have several returnees who have started games at that position the last two years, but Tuberville said Wednesday that Douglas is the only corner he considers first team on the depth chart going into February and March workouts.
“As well as he played for us having not ever played (corner), I’m anxious to see how much better he can get going through spring and summer and then through two-a-days,” Tuberville said. “I think his upside’s huge.”
The 5-foot-9, 197-pound senior spent most of his Tech career as an inside receiver, but started the last two games of last season on defense.
“He made some mistakes,” Tuberville said, “but he covered up for a lot of it, too, just with his athletic ability.
“He’s physical. Has great acceleration to the ball. Plus, he understands football. After playing receiver, he understands routes and what they’re trying to do on the other side.”
On a unit that ranked 113th in the nation in pass defense efficiency, Tech got five starts apiece out of returnees Derrick Mays and Eugene Neboh, four from Jarvis Phillips and two each from Happiness Osunde and Douglas. Osunde’s out for the spring after knee-ligament surgery in December.
Also in the audition line are sophomore Urell Johnson and freshmen Jeremy Reynolds and Thierry Nguema.
Tuberville seemed down on the whole group for much of last season.
He released cornerbacks coach Otis Mounds when the season ended and replaced him with Lovett, who served as Tuberville’s DBs coach from 1995 to 1998 at Mississippi and his defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2001 at Auburn. Lovett is one of three new defensive assistants added in a staff shakeup.
Tuberville was reluctant to put the cornerbacks in any order beyond Douglas.
“I want John Lovett to make his own opinions,” he said. “We’ve watched film — all of it; cutups and all those things — but I intentionally want to let all these new (assistants) make their own opinions from day one about them.”
The secondary is more settled at safety. D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis were the two leading tacklers on a sieve of a defense. After making six starts at corner in 2011, junior Tre Porter will move back to safety. He started five games there late in the 2010 season, and it’s the position for which Tech coaches believe he’s better suited. A concussion caused Porter to miss the last four games, so he'll be brought back carefully over the next month.
Johnson and Davis will open spring with the first team.
“I thought they played well at times,” Tuberville said. “They improved. They were two guys probably that improved most during the year. I thought if there was a bright spot of two guys getting better in their position, those two guys were.”
Depth could be an issue with five safeties gone from the 2011 roster: Brett Dewhurst and Jared Flannel, who were seniors, and Giorgio Durham, Desmond Martin and Russell Polk, all of whom had eligibility remaining, but aren’t back.
Tuberville said the depth shortage likely will force sophomore transfer Austin Stewart from Pierce (Calif.) College to play in 2012, though he has a redshirt season available. Other safeties are Shawn Corker and J.J. Gaines, though Corker will be limited this spring coming off shoulder surgery.
Corker, a sophomore, made stops at wide receiver and cornerback before safety. Gaines, a redshirt freshman, spent the fall training first at corner and then at safety.
Tuberville said the secondary will use field corner/boundary corner and strong safety/free safety at some point, but won’t make those distinctions early in the spring.
“We want everybody to learn pretty much every position,” he said. “We eventually might play right or left corner or boundary or field corner. We’ll have them play both sides (in spring). Same thing with the safeties. We want the safeties to have to play on a tight end side and the open end side.”
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