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BYU football: Cougars have some depth at cornerback, finally

Published April 3, 2017 3:20 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki didn't hesitate when he was asked which defensive player emerged during the Cougars' 15 practices of spring camp.

It was sophomore cornerback Chris Wilcox, perhaps surprisingly.

Wilcox started two games as a true freshman last year when Troy Warner went down with an injury, but it was as rough a start for a first-year player in recent memory. He was burned repeatedly in the game against Toledo, and didn't see the field much the rest of the season.

"I thought Chris Wilcox did a really good job," Tuiaki said. "The other two freshmen kids who ended up playing last year, were consistent, Troy Warner and Dayan [Ghanwoluku]. But Chris has really stood out as a guy who could push for time, if not a starting spot."

Wilcox intercepted Tanner Mangum in the spring scrimmage, and got a few more reps than usual because Warner was slowed by a minor injury in camp.

"Oh yeah, Chris Wilcox had a tough game last year against Toledo. I think that got him introduced to college football and it was really rough. But it was a good experience for him. He took the year to learn from guys like Troy and Dayan," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. "I think he is starting to emerge a little bit. You see his body is starting to change a little bit. He got bigger and stronger and definitely faster. We look to him to create some competition at the corner position."

Wilcox described what it was like to get thrown into the fire last season.

"I felt like it helped me grow a lot," he said. "I am just glad I was able to get some PT. The Utah game, when they first threw me in, I was like, O snot. It is getting real now.' It is all good. I am just really glad I got to play so I can learn from my mistakes, things like that. I feel like I am learning a lot more with coach [Gilford], teaching me all the new things, things like that. I am just looking forward to this year to show what I can do with my abilities."

Coaches were hoping to see some improvement from Wilcox, who is from Fontana, Calif., the same town that produced Jamaal Williams, because they eventually hope to move Troy Warner to safety, the position he has the best chance of playing professionally.

"Yeah, I think that will be a conversation for us as coaches. And if we feel comfortable, especially with the development of [2017 signees] Keenan Ellis and D'Angelo Gunter when they get here, as well as the newest corner that we ended up taking [juco transfer Trevion Green, presumably]. If those guys end up being contributors right away we will make that move, at least for their future, for Troy's and Dayan's, at the next level is going to end up being at that [safety] spot," Tuiaki said.

Friday, Kamel Greene and Tanner Jacobson ran with the ones at safety, and Tuiaki said Greene has made the transition from corner rather well.

"Kamel was a big special teams guy, moved from corner," Tuiaki said. "Did a good job getting better there at the corner spot, and then we moved him to more natural position at safety. His development, those kids are doing a really good job, as well as the coaches."

Overall, Tuiaki said the defense is looking solid, especially at linebacker where Butch Pau'u, Fred Warner and Francis Bernard are all returning.

"The backers are good," Tuiaki said. "The three backers who played last year are really good, and their backups are really good as well. So we are comfortable with six guys who could go in, and possibly a seventh or eighth guy.

Those down the line guys will definitely be special teams players for us, and there is a lot of good depth there.

On the D line, there has been good progress with Tevita Mo'Unga and Handsome Tanielu as well as Kesney Tausinga. Solomone Wolfgramm is a walk on who has done a really good job of getting better.

And the D ends, too. Trajan Pili is going to be a legitimate guy for us.

Rhett Sandlin, a kid who played backer, is moving over [to defensive end]. He didn't really have a role, besides special teams, but is emerging as a guy who is starting to get it and show out for us. There are a lot of guys we can lean on. But game experience, there are not too many guys with that on the defensive front."

Sitake said the defense's strength is at safety, linebacker and cornerback provided they find an adequate fill-in for Kai Nacua. The biggest question marks are at defensive line.

"Right now, we feel really good with our safeties," Sitake said. "Tanner Jacobson, Kamel Greene did good. Micah Hannemann, obviously returns. But we really feel good about Matt Hadley, so we moved him to running back a little bit. There are a lot of guys there that can play. Sawyer Powell, Zayne Anderson, Austin Lee. So those names, it is a lot of guys and we feel really comfortable with that position.

I think the DBs got really better with their technique, and it showed in a lot of plays that they made this spring," Sitake continued. "I was really impressed with our corners, obviously, because we return two starters in Troy Warner and Dayan Ghanwuloku, and so those guys are good. Chris Wilcox did great, and Isaiah Armstrong is coming around and some of the younger guys are starting to step up. So I feel really comfortable with our defensive backs right now. A lot of that is because Ed Lamb and Jernaro Gilford are taking control."




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