Pac-12: Vonzell McDowell

Preseason position reviews: cornerback

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
2:09
PM ET
The good news for all those big-name Pac-10 quarterbacks? Every conference team has questions at cornerback.

And, for the first time in Pac-10 blog history, no one earns a "Great shape" tag.

Only one cornerback who earned All-Pac-honors is back: Arizona's second-teamer Trevin Wade. Only one other returning corner, Washington's Desmond Trufant, even earned honorable mention.

Three teams welcome back both starting corners from 2009: Oregon, Stanford and Washington. But the Ducks have moved Javes Lewis to rover, and a pair of true freshmen -- Terrance Mitchell and Avery Patterson -- are battling for the starting job opposite Talmadge Jackson. Stanford and Washington? They ranked eighth and ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense last season.

USC and Arizona State are replacing both starting cornerbacks, but both actually look fairly strong at the position with plenty of returning experience and athleticism.

A number of teams might end up pretty good at the position. But no one looks like a sure-thing during the preseason. (Heck, we thought California was a sure thing in 2009 and things didn't exactly go according to plan).

So how do things stack up?

Great shape
  • No one.
Good shape
  • Arizona: Wade is an All-American candidate, and Marcus Benjamin showed he can play with a good performance against USC in 2009. And Mike Stoops always has good cornerbacks, so we won't dwell on the questionable depth.
  • Oregon: Probably not a lot of worry here for the Ducks. Injuries in 2009 earned young players experience, and Oregon did rank third in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense. Still, it remains uncertain who will start opposite Jackson, with the freshmen outplaying the more experienced Cliff Harris and Anthony Gildon during the spring.
  • Arizona State: On the one hand, both starters are gone from a unit that ranked second in the conference in pass efficiency defense. On the other, Omar Bolden would have been a starter if he didn't get hurt, and Deveron Carr, Osahon Irabor and LeQuan Lewis give the Sun Devils a nice mix of talent and experience.
  • USC: Shareece Wright was academically ineligible last season, but he might end up first-team All-Pac-10. He might, in fact, be the conference's best cover cornerback. Torin Harris and T.J. Bryant are battling for the other spot in a secondary replacing all four 2009 starters.
  • Washington: Trufant is an up-and-comer, Quinton Richardson is experienced, and backups Vonzell McDowell and Adam Long have starting experience, so the Huskies should be much improved here in 2010. The operative word, though, is "should."
  • UCLA: It isn't easy to replace an Alterraun Verner. Sheldon Price returns at left cornerback after a good freshman season as a starter, and Aaron Hester has potential on the opposite side. Undersized junior Courtney Viney is an experienced third option.
  • Oregon State: James Dockery is solid and new starter Brandon Hardin is big -- 6-2, 215 pounds. There's respectable depth. But the Beavers gave up 23 touchdown passes in 2009, tied for the most in the conference. Of course, the Beavers cornerbacks suffered last season because of an anemic pass rush. That might change in 2010.
We'll see
  • Stanford: If the Cardinal is going to take another step forward, it must get better in pass coverage. Three players who started last seaon are back: Richard Sherman (who's a sure-thing at left corner), Corey Gatewood and Johnson Bademosi. But opponents completed 63 percent of their passes with 23 touchdowns against those guys. Might redshirt freshman Terrence Brown make a move?
  • California: Syd'Quan Thompson is gone; is Darian Hagan back? As in the 2008 version, not the one who lost his job and got buried on the depth chart in 2009. After being touted as one of the best secondaries in the country, the Bears finished 111th in the nation in pass defense in 2009. Bryant Nnabufie, who started four games in 2009, is listed No. 1 opposite Hagan, but Josh Hill (a five-game starter) and Marc Anthony and redshirt freshman Steve Williams are in the mix.
  • Washington State: The Cougars feel pretty good about junior Aire Justin and sophomore Daniel Simmons, who was the defense's best cover corner before he got hurt midway through last season. But it's hard to ignore that the Cougars ranked 112th in the nation in pass efficiency defense with opponents completing nearly 67 percent -- 67 percent! -- of their passes.

Washington spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
6:30
AM ET
Washington

2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 4-5 (seventh)

Returning starters

Offense: 9, Defense: 7, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Polk, OT Senio Kelemete, WR Jermaine Kearse, WR Devin Aguilar, LB Mason Foster, CB Desmond Trufant

Key losses: FB Paul Homer, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, LB Donald Butler

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Chris Polk* (1,189)
Passing: Jake Locker* (2,800)
Receiving: Jermaine Kearse* (866)
Tackles: Donald Butler (94)
Sacks: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (11)
Interceptions: Mason Foster* (3)

Spring Answers

1. There's depth at tailback: While sophomore Chris Polk, who rushed for 1,113 yards last year, sat out because he's still recovering from shoulder surgery, backups shined, starting with a pair of true freshmen who enrolled early: Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier. Toss in impressive efforts in the spring game from Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson, and there are five tailbacks competing for touches.

2. The interior D-line should be tough: Senior Cameron Elisara saw time at end and tackle, which allowed Alameda Ta'amu, Tyrone Duncan and Semisi Tokolahi to show what they can do. Senior De'Shon Matthews and touted incoming freshman Sione Potoa'e also could be in the mix. Being able to rotate four or five reliable tackles is a luxury the Huskies defense hasn't had in recent years.

3. Uncertainty in the secondary is a good thing: Nate Williams will start at strong safety, and Desmond Trufant, who missed spring with a sports hernia, is almost certainly going to be one cornerback. After that, though, things are uncertain. The good news is that's about competition, not a lack of capable players. Redshirt freshman free safety Will Shamburger was one of the spring stars, while Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell, Adam Long and Anthony Boyles are in the mix at corner.

Fall questions

1. Will the injured ends mend? The Huskies defense needs ends Everrette Thompson (torn Achilles) and Kalani Aldrich (knee) to be healthy in 2010. Both sat out spring practices with worrisome injuries. Both are expected back but it remains to be seen whether they will be 100 percent (or even close to it). Even though Elisara showed that he could play end, if needed, and Talia Crichton had a good spring, there's just not enough depth at the spot to be a top-level defense without them. It's possible a true freshman will see action here.

2. SAM I am? Mason Foster is an all-conference candidate on the weakside and Cort Dennison is solid in the middle. But who's the SAM -- strongside -- linebacker? Two former safeties, Alvin Logan and Victor Aiyewa, are candidates, though Aiyewa saw little action this spring due to a shoulder injury, as well as Matt Houston.

3. Who backs up Locker? After junior Ronnie Fouch opted to transfer, there are only two scholarship quarterbacks after Locker: true freshman Nick Montana and redshirt freshman Keith Price. Coach Steve Sarkisian has repeatedly said he's in no rush -- and not worried -- about his backup spot. Of course, the screws tighten a bit if Locker gets hurt.

Ranking the Pac-10 cornerbacks

August, 31, 2009
8/31/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


As a UCLA observer wryly noted, ESPN.com has Bruins cornerback Alterraun Verner as a first-team All-American, while the Pac-10 blog had California's Syd'Quan Thompson and Oregon's Walter Thurmond III as the first-team All-Pac-10 corners.

Yes, there were coin flips involved. There are a lot of good cornerbacks in this conference.

Fact is, the guy who deserves to gripe the most is Arizona's underrated Devin Ross, who was second-team All-Pac-10 a year ago yet seems to be operating in the shadows.
  1. California: Might be the best pair in the nation. Two accomplished, full-time starting cornerbacks from 2008 -- senior Thompson (first-team All-Pac-10) and junior Darian Hagan -- return from a statistically impressive pass defense (24 Ints vs. 12 TD passes).
  2. USC: There are questions here -- is Shareece Wright going to be: 1. healthy; 2. eligible -- but even if Josh Pinkard has to move from safety back to corner, the Trojans are strong here based on pure athleticism.
  3. Arizona: We've mentioned Ross, but Trevin Wade, who steps in for the departed Marquis Hundley, tied Hundley for the team lead with four interceptions in 2008.
  4. UCLA: Verner is as good as anybody in the country, and expectations are high for redshirt freshman Aaron Hester.
  5. Oregon: Coach Chip Kelly tells anyone who will listen that Thurmond is the Ducks best player. Talmadge Jackson and Willie Glasper are 1A and 1B veterans on the opposite side.
  6. Arizona State: Omar Bolden expects to bounce back after a sub-par 2008 season. A troublesome back has returning starter Terell Carr now listed as second-team, with former walk-on Pierre Singfield now No. 1. Safety Clint Floyd might even see action at corner.
  7. Oregon State: The Beavers are replacing both cornerbacks but a strong preseason from Tim Clark and James Dockery ended a lot of hand-wringing over the issue. There's also solid depth.
  8. Washington State: The Cougars pass defense wasn't that bad last year, but that might have been because the run defense was horrible. Things are not completely set here. Brandon Jones will start if his ankle is OK, while Aire Justin is the frontrunner opposite him.
  9. Stanford: Richard Sherman and Corey Gatewood should upgrade the Cardinal's pass defense, but Sherman was a receiver in 2008 and Gatewood was injured. And Stanford was terrible against the pass last year.
  10. Washington: Speaking of terrible against the pass... the Huskies allowed opponents to complete 67 percent of their passes and surrendered 24 TD passes with just seven interceptions in 2008. Quinton Richardson will man one side while the uncertain health of redshirt freshman Justin Glenn means true freshman Desmond Trufant or junior Vonzell McDowell will start on the other side.

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