Ranking the Big Ten Positional Groups: Defensive Backs
Coverages are more complex and officials err on the side of the offense when making a bang-bang call. Want to be a defensive back in college football these days?
Saturday – Secondary
Sunday – The Coaches
Before looking at the coaches, our last day looking at position groups examines the defensive backs.
The best units from top to bottom:
1. Michigan State – Only Pat Narduzzi’s defense could lose the best DB in the nation and an additional first team All-Conference SS and still have the best unit in the Big Ten. The lynchpin of this year’s team will be senior FS Kurtis Drummond. Drummond is coming off of first team All-Big Ten accolades and his 22 starts lead MSU. At SS, should be junior RJ Williamson Jr., who has two solid years of playing time under his belt. The CB positions will be manned by incumbent junior Trae Waynes, who finished with 8 passes defended in 14 starts last season, and sophomore Darian Hicks looks to man the opposite spot after playing in 14 games last year as a true freshman, but he will be challenged in camp.
2. Michigan – The hype in Michigan’s secondary this season centers around the arrival of highly-anticipated recruit Jabrill Peppers. Peppers should come in and either start or serve in nickel packages right away, but the most accomplished Wolverine is junior CB Blake Countess, who was earned first team All-Big Ten accolades by many media outlets. Jourdan Lewis is another CB with experience, as the sophomore played in all 13 games last year as a true freshman. Junior Jarrod Wilson should be the FS after playing in all 26 contests his first two years in Ann Arbor. At SS, sophomore Delano Hill leads two other talented sophs for the starting position.
3. Northwestern – This is an experienced and deep defensive backfield. The Wildcats have starters all over the two deep. At SS, is three-year starter senior Ibraheim Campbell (37 career starts) who is paired with junior FS Traveon Henry who finished last year with 10 starts and 77 tackles. The CB positions should be manned by junior two-year starter Nick VanHoose (22 career starts) and sophomore Matthrew Harris, who started 5 games as a true freshman last year. Other CB’s expected to challenge for the starting position and receive playing time regardless are sophomore Dwight White (6 starts) and senior Daniel Jones (8 career starts). This team should improve on their 5-7 record last year and, if they do, it will rest on the shoulders of the DB’s.
4. Maryland – If experience won championships, you could crown the Terps champs of the defensive backfield. Maryland returns 6 of their top 8, and that does not include expected starter senior CB Jeremiah Johnson, who started 12 games as a sophomore and then only appeared in 2 games last year before losing the season to injury. Opposite Johnson should start sophomore CB William Likely, who started 11 games as a true freshman last year and earned frosh-All American accolades. At the safety spots return two junior starters Sean Davis (15 career starts) and Anthony Nixon (16 career starts). Behind the expected starters are three players with starting experience, including transfer Zach Dancel, who started 8 games at safety as a true freshman at New Mexico.
5. Wisconsin – A lot of experience returns at the CB position for the Badgers, as both returning starters seem poised to hang on to their jobs. Junior Darius Hillary finished last year with 13 starts, 30 tackles and 6 passes broken up. Opposite Hillary is sophomore Sojourn Shelton, whose 11 passes defended helped earn him post-season recognition. Junior Devin Gaulden is coming off injury, but looks to be the next CB on the field. At SS, returns junior Michael Caputo who finished last year with 63 tackles. Free safety is still up in the air, and it looks to be between senior Peniel Jean and sophomore Leo Musso.
6. Ohio State – The Buckeyes lose three starters from last year’s porous defensive backfield and look for youth to help fortify the defense. The lone returning starter is senior CB Doran Grant, who started all 14 last year and fished with 10 passes defended. Opposite Grant will be junior Armani Reeves who has played in 18 games in his career. An intriguing backup is redshirt freshman Eli Apple. Apple was highly regarded out of high school and looks to start cashing in on his potential this fall. Free safety looks like it will be a toss-up between two sophomores Vonn Bell (14 games, true frosh) and Cam Burrows (12 games, true frosh). Free safety is also undetermined as sophomore Tyvis Powell could be challenged by incoming freshman Erick Smith.
7. Nebraska– The Huskers secondary is long on potential, but equally long on uncertainty. Senior CB Josh Mitchell (15 career starts) is one certainty as his experience will go a long way while the other CB position remains a toss-up between Byerson Cockreall and Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose. At SS Corey Cooper returns and is the strength of the secondary. FS Nathan Gerry is a sophomore who played in all 13 contests and started 3 last year as a true freshman for the Huskers. If it’s not Gerry look for fellow sophomore LeRoy Alexander (13 games) to get the starting nod.
8. Iowa – Iowa returns two starters and has some talent in the secondary this year. The Hawkeyes will rely on senior SS John Lowdermilk (78 tkls) to serve as their leader, while junior Jordan Lomax (20 games) will serve as FS. Sophomore Desmond King showed a lot of promise last year starting 12 games as a true freshman Iowa and Hawkeye-Nation hopes he will be a lynchpin of the secondary for a few years. The other CB position should be manned by sophomore Maurice Fleming who played in 8 games last year or junior Sean Draper (20 career games).
9. Penn State – Junior CB Jordan Lucas leads a secondary that returns talent but also has some holes to fill. Opposite Lucas will be either junior Trevor Williams or De’Quan Davis both of whom have double-digit career games played and tackles. At one safety spot is experienced senior Adrian Amos (25 career starts) and senior Ryan Keiser looks to lead for the other starting position. Depth is a concern after the five named players and Penn State will hope that someone else emerges in camp this summer.
10. Minnesota – Minnesota returns three starters and looks to improve behind experienced junior CB Eric Murray (13 passes defended). Former JC Brien Boddy-Calhoun looks to lead for the other CB spot, but coming off injury, he will be tested by senior Derrick Wells who has 15 career starts for the Golden Gophers. At FS, Antonio Johnson returns with 8 career starts and SS should be manned by Cedric Thompson (18 career starts, 138 career tkls). In 2013, Minnesota only allowed Big Ten opponents to score over 23 points on two separate occasions and this unit could surprise this season.
11. Rutgers – Was last year’s pass-defense (or lack there of) and abomination because of dismissed Defensive Coordinator Dave Cohen, a problem due to a rash of injuries or does the problem lie deeper? The Scarlet Knights are counting on the former as a new DC (Joe Rossi) has a wealth of experience and bodies to pull from. The veteran leader is senior SS Lorenzo Waters (24 career starts) and at FS Rossi will decide between senior Jonathan Aiken (3 starts, 24 tkls) and sophomore Deion Stephenson (8 games as a true freshman). CB is equally undecided as two sophomores played as true frosh last year in Nadir Barnwell (4 starts, 12 games) and Anthony Cioffi (5 starts 31 tkls). The veteran of the group is senior Gareef Glashen (5 starts) while incoming true frosh Andre Boggs or Kam Lott could see the field right away.
12. Indiana – Three starters return for the Hoosiers sieve-like defense, so if the experience is good or not remains to be seen. The returning starters at CB are senior Tim Bennett who finished the year with an incredible 21 passes defended, and opposite Bennett will be junior Michael Hunter (15 career starts). Mark Murphy (31 career starts) is the most experienced Hoosier defender, while the other safety spot looks to be contested between sophomore Antonio Allen who played in 7 games (35 tkls) before an injury ended his season and junior Dawson Fletcher.
13. Purdue – After last year’s unit was decimated by injury, there are plenty of question marks for the Boilermakers. Senior SS Landon Feichter had a promising sophomore campaign (13 starts, 80 tackles), but last year was cut short after half the season. At FS Purdue returns senior Taylor Richards (25 career starts) athletic sophomore Robert Gregory. The CB positions should be manned by senior Antoine Lewis (30 career games) and junior Frankie Williams (16 career starts). Junior Anthony Brown (10 starts) will also challenge for playing time.
14. Illinois – The entire two deep returns (although Earnest Thomas moves down a level to LB) for the Illini defense. Unfortunately, this defense allowed 41 points per game in Big Ten contests. The safety spots will be occupied by senior Zane Petty (75 tkls) and junior Eaton Spence (12 starts, 49 tkls). CB looks to be manned by junior V’Angelo Bentley who doubles as a return-man extraordinaire and sophomore Caleb Day might have the leg up at the other CB position. This unit will need to build off of their experience they gained in 2013.
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