Which Mountain West secondaries are in the best shape after the spring soccer practice season?
Who looks best equipped to defend the pass?
Estimated Starters/Depth: Hugh Nelson II (CB), Leonard Lee (S?), Ty Marsh (S?), Virdel Edwards II (CB?), Jalen Perdue, Von Killins
This group has seen some major upheaval thanks to deals and the transfer portal, meaning they are only bringing back one player (Nelson II) who played at least 100 snaps in 2021. Flipping from Todd Graham to Timmy Chang, however, seems to have revived them as much as any other unit on the team since Lee returned after being dropped from the roster late in the former coach’s tenure and last month in the spring game of the Warriors starred.
However, we may not know who the most prominent contributors will be until August. With 15 defenders currently on the list, Chang and new defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro will almost certainly keep the competition open for as long as possible.
11. State of Utah
Estimated Starters/Depth: Michael Anyanwu (CB), Monte McGary (S), Dominic Tatum (S?), Andre Grayson (CB), Ajani Carter, Hunter Reynolds, Jaden Smith, Gurvan Hall Jr., Luke Marion
A unit that was definitely of the bend-but-don’t-break variety last year now faces the challenge of replacing a couple of starters (Cash Gilliam, Cam Lampkin, Shaq Bond). Granted, the cabinet isn’t entirely without experience – Anyanwu started most of the games against Lampkin last year, Grayson spent a good chunk of snaps operating outside the slot, and all three under Tatum, McGary and Reynolds spent time on the starting lineup with Bond – but it’s worth noting that only one returning Aggie (Grayson) had an overall PFF score above 70.0. In other words, there’s an element of “proof” here that demands a little more production from all the promise.
Estimated Starters/Depth: Isaiah Essisima (CB), Tyson Williams (S), Emany Johnson (S), Jaden Dedman (CB?), Jojuan Claiborne (S), Bentlee Sanders, Mikael Bradford, Christian Swint
For all the losses the Wolf Pack have had from graduation, the transfer portal and the NFL, the secondary remains remarkably intact. That’s good news considering that despite over 33 attempts per game, only San Diego State and Wyoming allowed opponents fewer yards per pass in 2021.
The challenge for 2022 is that Nevada needs to replace its top safety (Jordan Lee) and top two cornerbacks (Berdale Robins, AJ King), at least according to Pro Football Focus’ rating system. Rebuilding depth at the latter position is probably the most pressing matter, but with options ranging from Essissima to Michigan transfer Darion Green-Warren and sophomore Dorian Blackwell among the 22 defenders in the current roster, it’s impossible to say they aren’t have plenty to choose from.
9. State of Colorado
Estimated Starters/Depth: Robert Floyd (CB), Tywan Francis (S), Jack Howell (S), Langston Williams (CB?), AJ King, Henry Blackburn, Chigozie Anusiem, D’Andre Greeley
2021 has been a frustrating year for the Rams’ pass defense, although things didn’t really start to fall apart on that front until November, but the upside is they could benefit from a fresh start under new coordinator Freddie Banks and have a surprising amount of depth in what to draw.
The question is, even though Floyd flashed some hands and great playing ability and Howell was a freshman All-American last year, how good can they be in their freshman year under Jay Norvell? This isn’t a unit that hasn’t been particularly good at getting their hands on footballs in recent years — the Rams haven’t ranked in the top half of the Mountain West’s passes defended since 2017 — so the new coaching staff could take over that way much time as possible to identify the best options.
Depth chart: Nohl Williams (CB), Johnathan Baldwin (S), Tyson Player (S?), Jerrae Williams (CB), Trent Holloway, Ricky Johnson, Cameron Oliver
If it seems odd that a unit that gave up 8.3 yards per attempt would be ranked so high, consider that they may have turned around in late 2021 by improving their opponent’s completion rate and YPA in November. At the very least, Nohl Williams is the best young corner at Mountain West that no one talks about, while Johnson shone as he received more playing time on the track.
When the cornerback situation is positive, the real questions begin with safety. Both Phillip Hill and Bryce Jackson entered the transfer portal this offseason, so Player and Baldwin could be genuine X-Factors whose play could help set the Rebels’ ceiling this year.
Estimated Starters/Depth: Cameron Stone (CB), Miles Williams (S?), Isaac White (S?), Jakorey Hawkins (CB?), Keonte Glinton (NB), Deron Harrell, Blake Harrington
New faces, old production? That’s what head coach Craig Bohl and defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel are counting on, and the team’s early return from the spring game certainly bodes well.
The Cowboys may replace most of last year’s starts, but White started three of the last four games in Esaias Gandy’s place, while Glinton had two starts at the nickelback position in November and both Harrell and Hawkins have starting experience in Wisconsin and Ole had Miss resp. Given the track record of this coaching staff, chances are they will figure out how to best utilize their new athletes.
6. New Mexico
Estimated Starters/Depth: Donte Martin (CB), Jerrick Reed II (S), Ronald Wilson (S), Tavian Combs (S), Antonio Hunt (CB?), AJ Odums, Hunter Sellers
That unit had some very inconsistent results week-to-week last year, but considering that only San Diego State allowed a lower completion rate and that a below-average November masked some solid work earlier in the season, it’s easier to believe Rocky Long recognize that something has actually been planned here.
Can this unit take another collective step forward? Combs made some key improvements over the fall and Wilson held his own as he received more playing time in the second half of 2021, while Reed II continued to establish himself as a reliable anchor, giving the safety trio great potential. Cornerback has a little more uncertainty behind Martin, who is now a redshirt senior, but bet against Long at your own risk.