Sears dishes on Cougar safeties, corners

LeANDRE DANIELS

IT ALMOST SEEMED at times this spring the Cougs didn't have four starters and four backups in the secondary as much as they had 7-8 quality guys rotating. That might not entirely be the case, said Jody Sears. But WSU, said the co-defensive coordinator, made a pretty good-sized jump in speed and quality of play over the back-forty. And one of those DBs got Sears' vote for the play of the spring.

Sears wasn't ready to name starters, not with summer conditioning and all of fall camp to go and coming off a pair of rough seasons. But after some prodding, he did dance around the subject a little at both safety and corner.

"I think at that safety spot, you're looking at Tyree Toomer, Chima Nwachukwu and LeAndre Daniels," said Sears. "Those three kids had really good springs. That second group, with Jamal Atofau, Casey Locker and Jay Matthews, they did an extremely good job with that second group although Matthews got hurt at the end. But you're starting to get some depth there, you're starting to develop more speed there.

"But you talk about Chima, LeAndre and Toomer in that first group, and I'd say that's about right after the spring."

At cornerback, it was a similar situation, with three players rotating most among the 1's -- Daniel Simmons, Aire Justin and Nolan Washington.

"You had three guys there with the 1s at corner in Simmons, Nolan Washington and Aire Justin...and then you've got Anthony Carpenter, Terrance Hayward in that second group along with Anthony Houston," said Sears.

BUT SEARS WASN'T ready to say post-spring the Cougs have enough quality depth beyond the top three at each position to go to a heavy rotation in the defensive backfield.

"Well, you can slice it that way, I guess. I think the competition of how it is, and how the rotation has been, I'd like to think we might be able to keep some guys fresh and keep the level of play at a consistent enough level where we could do that. But we really have to see how they do after the summer, and then how they do in fall camp and then see where they're at," said Sears.

AT CORNER, Sears said Simmons, who before he got injured last year was the Cougs' best cornerback, improved considerably in several areas.

'Daniel has really improved on his consistency, as far as his footwork, his break on balls -- you can really see how aggressive he is when the ball is in the air," said Sears.

Washington came in a bit rusty and then rolled an ankle early, said Sears. But after that, he came on strong.

"He is a really good football player," said Sears. "And he did a really good job over that (last two-thirds) of the spring."

In terms of improvement, Justin might have been the biggest surprise among the corners this spring.

"He got a lot stronger this offseason, and it's shown up on the field," said Sears, who gives the nod to Justin for the play of the spring on defense.

"There's a lot to choose from but if I had to pick one, it was where Justin made one helluva play in the final scrimmage. He dove for a ball and took a knee to the helmet. He got dinged a little bit (slight concussion) but that was one helluva football play."

BACK AT SAFETY, just about everyone can have a great play here and there. But Sears said what leaped out to him most was the consistent playing at a high level by Daniels, Nwachukwu and Toomer.

"All three made a pretty good jump. They've all three done a very good job of competing and playing at a high level...And the biggest thing I noticed was the consistency of it, that's what gets you going," said Sears.

AND KEEP AN eye out for Carpenter, said Sears. And not just for down the road.

"He's going to, and he's got to, help us this year. Notably, Anthony Carpenter is going to be a fine, fine football player. Heyward had a fine spring as well," said Sears.

The Cougs didn't come out of the spring to the point Sears was ready to say they can blitz like there's no tomorrow . But they're moving in that direction.

"I think we're getting closer. Definitely," said Sears.

Check back soon for more of this multi-part series, putting both the post-spring offense and defense into context through insights from Cougar offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy and co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears.

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