- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here is Part II of my interview with Cincinnati associate head coach/defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs. For Part I, click here.
Let's talk about this year's secondary. It looked in the spring like you had a lot of competition back there. How is that all shaking out?
Kerry Coombs: Competition is exactly right. I think we're young. At the same time, we have some experience. Everybody made such a big deal last year out of the fact that we had 10 new starters on defense, which was absolutely true. And this year, we're actually younger on defense this year, but we've got more kids with playing time experience. And that's really represented in the secondary.
You know, Drew Frey still has three years of eligibility left, but he's been involved in three different seasons already. He's an experienced kid at the safety position, and he's going to be the quarterback back there and he's gaining confidence every day. Dominique Battle is a guy who started every game he was healthy for last year and got reps as a true freshman when we had three kids who got drafted in the secondary two years ago. So he's a talented kid. Those are the two guys you look at and say, OK, those are your anchor guys.
And then we've got competition at the other safety spot with Wes Richardson -- who's a former walk-on and a self-made player, a kid you have to admire for the way he does his business every day -- and two kids who were redshirt freshmen last year in Pat Lambert and Quincy Quetant.
Then at the other cornerback spot, you've got Camerron Cheatham -- who's a high-knowledge player, he's always right and doesn't make mistakes -- and Reuben Johnson -- who's probably one of the most explosive players on the team, who has no fear of failure. He's a dynamic player who's going to make some plays, and at the same time he runs the risk of being beat because he has no fear. And Chris Williams played as a true freshman last year before he got hurt early.
We'll play a lot of nickel, so those guys are going to have to play and we'll count on them to play.
How big, then, is fall camp for these young guys to get ready?
KC: It's huge for us. First of all, they've got to stay healthy, so this lifting and running period they're in right now is critical. They've got to be in such good shape that they stay healthy so they can get reps in practice. You get a hamstring tweaked or an ankle turned and you miss 10 days in camp, that's like missing half a season for these guys. It's not like DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens; it didn't matter if they went through two-a-days because they knew what they were doing. That's not the case with these guys.
So fall camp will be critical, because this stuff's not decided yet and they'll have to go out there and battle every day. They've got to play when the lights are on. We're going to go to Fresno State on September 4th and play in one of the more hostile environments on the other side of the country, and nobody cares how many years of experience they have or what grade they're in. They've got to line up and play.
Your guys practice every day against, what I think is, one of the best receiving groups in the country. While I'm sure that makes them better, do you have to remind yourself at times if they're having a bad day that they're doing so against some great receivers?
KC: You're absolutely right about that. If there's a better receiving corps in the country, I'd like to know who they are. I mean that in all sincerity, because I see them up close and personal every single day. Vidal Hazelton was one of the best players on our field last year every single day and he was just a scout guy. He'd wear us out. He's going to be dynamic, and with Armon Binns, D.J. Woods, Marcus Barnett and hopefully Kenbrell Thompkins, they're going to be very, very stout over there.
What I don't want to allow our guys to do is to think it's OK for UC receivers to catch balls, because it's not OK. If we start thinking that, we'll be in for a rude awakening when we go against Pitt's wide receiving corps, or Oklahoma's wide receiving corps. The good news for our guys is that we've seen some of the best teams in the country. They've been around enough that they've been to Oklahoma, we just got done getting thrashed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl. So I don't think they'll be afraid of anybody.
Other defensive coaches mentioned in the spring that this year's secondary would be more aggressive than last year's group. How accurate is that?
KC: It's important for everybody to know and understand that last year we designed every week a plan to win the game. People might look at our defense and say this or that without really understanding that we were designing a defense and managing the game to win the game. There were situations where we were ahead early and all of a sudden guys start going for it on fourth down when they wouldn't normally. That impacts your numbers and statistics, but it didn't impact our victories.
Last year, we made a conscious decision based on who we were playing in the back end and their style of play, relative to putting them on an island and straight man coverage against people and whether that was a positive matchup for us. Whereas the year before, when you have three guys who got drafted, you don't have much hesitance to do that. We had a different style of player last year in the back end. They were good guys, good players but a different style so we changed up, didn't pressure as much and did less man coverage.
I think this year coach [Tim] Banks and coach [John] Jancek have a philosophy built around pressure schemes. We'll put more pressure on the quarterback, and there will be more pressure on us in the back end. And I think we're eager for that, the players are eager. You don't find many good defensive backs who don't want to play man-to-man coverage, who don't want to be on an island. If you're afraid of that, you'll end up getting beat no matter what coverage you're in.
Finally, you've risen to the rank of associate head coach and some fans have thrown your name around as a head coaching candidate some day. Is that the career path you see yourself on?
KC: If my job never changes from what it is right now, I'll retire a very happy, happy man and I'll realize I'm very lucky and fortunate to have the life and career I've had. I'd love to be on the sidelines at Nippert Stadium for more victories than any coach in the history of the program. I think that would be something really, really neat.
There are some situations that come around that you don't foresee. If you'd asked me five years ago whether I'd be the coach at Colerain High School the rest of my life, I would have said absolutely and I wouldn't have been lying. But this opportunity came up and was really different and exciting.
I can't tell you I won't ever be somewhere else or doing something else, and I certainly would not hesitate to be a head coach again. But I love Cincinnati, and I love working with Butch Jones. I can see myself being a partner with him for a long, long time.