BECB's analysis of the 2012 Big East football teams continues with a ranking of the defensive secondaries.
1. Rutgers – The defense is at the helm of Robb Smith, promoted to coordinator from cornerbacks coach under Kyle Flood. His secondary is talented and has the huge advantage of having a quality front seven in front of it. As solid as the Knights were last season, they will be better in 2012. Gone is David Rowe, a big-play safety, but corners Logan Ryan (2011 All-Big East 2nd team) and Brandon Jones return, along with safety Duron Harmon (2011 All-Big East 1st team). At the other safety position will be Wayne Warren or Lorenzo Waters. This unit is the standard by which others will be measured.
2. Cincinnati – The Bearcats are almost a carbon copy of last year: six of eight players on the two-deep roster are back, including three starters. Reuben Haley and Wesley Richardson have bid farewell, but talented cornerbacks Deven Drane and Cameron Cheatham return along with safety Drew Frey (2011 All-Big East 1st team). Corner Dominique Battle will be back from a knee injury last season too. Chris Williams may be a regular nickel package again. The Bearcats also landed a prized DB recruit from Georgia, Demetrius Monday. This unit has some accomplished pass defenders, but with some key losses on the defensive line, one wonders whether their run defense will be put to a greater test in 2012, or their need to stay tighter in pass coverage for that extra second or two.
3. Louisville – The Cardinals’ secondary has a wealth of talent, but varying levels of experience. Corner Anthony Conner and safety/nickelback Mike Evans have departed, though six others return from the 2011 roster. Headlining the unit is safety Hakeem Smith (2011 All-Big East 1st team). He’ll be joined at safety by Calvin Pryor. At the corners will be Adrian Bushell (2011 All-Big East 1st team) and Andrew Johnson. Pryor and Johnson are still sophomores. More underclassmen – safety Kamal Hogan and corner Charles Gaines – are waiting in the wings. In addition to this, the Cards welcome highly regarded DB recruit Gerod Holliman. The future is bright in the Louisville backfield.
4. Connecticut – Injuries plagued the Huskies secondary last year, but it did give some extra starts and playing time to several players on the roster. This year UConn bid farewell to safeties Harris Agbor and Jerome Junior and corner Gary Wilburn. Returning are senior corners Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz (2011 All-Big East 2nd team) along with sophomore safeties Ty-Meer Brown and Byron Jones. David Stevenson had two INTs in the spring game and is a strong candidate for the nickel spot. Taylor Mack is also provides depth and experience. Expect this unit play take it up a notch in defensive coordinator Don Brown’s second season.
5. Pittsburgh – The Panthers say so long to corner Antwuan Reed (2011 All-Big East 2nd team) and nickelback Buddy Jackson. They say hello to new coordinator Dave Huxtable. The change means implementation of a new scheme and necessary adjustments. Jarred Holley (2011 All-Big East 1st team) is back to pilot the secondary, joined at the safety position by Andrew Taglianetti. There is plenty of depth behind them too including Jason Hendricks and Michigan transfer Ray Vinopal. Another Big Blue transfer, Cullen Christian, is expected to start at corner alongside veteran K’Waun Williams. Depending on their ability to adjust the Panthers could be a formidable unit.
6. South Florida – The Bulls have a tremendous front seven, but the secondary is not at the same level. This year they’ll be without corner Quenton Washington and safety Jerrell Young (2011 All-Big East 2nd team). Anchoring the unit will be corner Kayvon Webster (2011 All-Big East 2nd team) and safety Jon Lejiste, who is coming off an injury. At the opposite corner is Fidel Montgomery, and JaQuez Jenkins is likely to start at free safety after an impressive spring. Corner George Baker is a veteran off the bench, and safety Mark Joyce is another quality backup. The Bulls secondary will be physical, characteristic of the entire defense. It’s a unit that while not as talented as some others in the conference will be effective nonetheless.
7. Temple – It’s easy to dismiss the Owls as a "mid-major" program. The program has not enjoyed the visibility or recruiting advantages of the other Big East teams – and it’s lost more than a dozen starters – but it has some solid units. Among them is the secondary. The owls lose two key starters from last season in Kee-Ayre Griffin and Kevin Kroboth. Veterans expected to start this year include corners Zamel Johnson and Maurice Jones, and corners Justin Gildea and Vaughn Carraway. The overall defense will have some struggles during its first year in the Big East, but the backfield should not be a disappointment.
8. Syracuse – The Orange did not have one of the best secondaries last season, and this year they lose talented safety Philip Thomas as well as corners Kevyn Scott and Olando Fisher. They gain a new defensive backs coach though: Donnie Henderson. Their top returning players in the backfield are corner Keon Lyn and safety Shamarko Thomas. Ri’Shard Anderson will likely start at the other corner and Jeremy Wilkes at the other safety spot. The reserves are mainly underclassmen. One of the most coveted Syracuse recruits is a Wayne Morgan. He could leapfrog into the two-deep quickly.