Throughout the offseason, and again during the opening practice of fall camp Monday, Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville listed improved depth as the main reason he believes his team’s defense will make a jump after a poor performance in 2011.
That includes the cornerback position, where a pair of junior-college transfers hope to make an impact right away.
Bruce Jones, from Riverside (Calif.) City College, and Olaoluwa Falemi, out of L.A. Harbor (Calif.) College, both arrived in Lubbock during the summer with their sights set on cracking the two-deep during their first year at the major-college level.
Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said the pair will get a chance to do just that.
“The biggest thing we try to do,” Kaufman said, “is put them in a position these next five or six days of, ‘Hey, are y’all going to get yourselves in the hunt?’ We believe that they will.”
Jones, listed at 5-foot-7, 171 pounds, is one of four members of Tech’s 2012 class from Riverside, along with linebacker Will Smith, running back SaDale Foster and defensive lineman Lee Adams. Unlike his junior-college teammates, Jones was unable to transfer to Tech back in January because he had to finish credits at Riverside to become academically eligible.
Now he’s trying to make up for lost time.
“I’ve just been putting in as much hard work as I can to try and get caught up,” Jones said Sunday, when the team reported for camp. “I’m feeling good, real good, heading into camp. I think my body is ready for everything that we’re about to endure. I’m just trying to make an impact on the team.”
Jones, who opened camp working at left cornerback, had nine interceptions during his two seasons at Riverside, and he broke up 12 passes as a sophomore last year. The Red Raiders could certainly use more playmaking ability in the secondary. Last season only five teams in the country intercepted fewer passes than Tech’s five.
“I want to accomplish everything I can,” Jones said. “I set the standard high for myself. I shoot for the stars. I want to be one of the best corners in the league, and I know I have the potential to do that.”
Falemi (5-foot-9, 157 pounds) has similar aspirations. The Nigerian-born defensive back committed to Tech just a few days before national signing day in February. Falemi said he was being recruited heavily by UCLA, but things “went downhill” after coach Rick Neuheisel was fired at the end of November.
That made for a whirlwind end to his recruitment, but Falemi said he was glad to end up at Tech, and he’s looking forward to competing for playing time. He was slotted at right cornerback to start out.
“I’m really excited,” said Falemi, who moved to the United States when he was 11. “I’m ready to go hard, just give it my all. I want to show the coaches they didn’t recruit me for nothing.”
Both players say they have followed the lead of teammate Cornelius Douglas, who is entering his first full season as a cornerback. Jones said Douglas’ relative inexperience at the position — he played only two games at corner last season — hasn’t kept him from being a leader for the group.
“He’s an athlete,” Jones said of Douglas, “so it doesn’t matter that he hasn’t played corner that long. You can see, just off his athleticism, he’s in position the majority of the time.”
Douglas and Eugene Neboh are currently slated as the first-team cornerbacks, with Jeremy Reynolds behind Douglas and Derrick Mays behind Neboh in practice. But defensive backs coach John Lovett said he expects to take advantage of the greater depth he has in the secondary, which means Jones and Falemi will be expected to contribute.
“It’s too early to say right now, but for sure they’re depth players,” Lovett said of the juco transfers. “Both of them are very talented, and I expect both of them to contribute this year. We’ll just kind of see from there. You have to see what the learning curve is, how healthy they stay and how well they compete against these other guys.”
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