January 9, 2012

A Look Ahead: Cornerbacks

As the final ink dries on Houston's 2011 football season including their Ticket City Bowl win over Penn State we at CougarsDen will turn the page and begin to look at what the team will look like heading into the 2012 football season.

The 2011 team had a large number of impact seniors but the team will not be hurting when they head into the spring as several good recruiting classes in a row have stocked the cupboard some for new head coach Tony Levine's first season as the helm.

We will start this series off on the defensive side of the ball as we now know that the majority of the staff will return and will likely keep a similar defensive philosophy with the talent they have coming back.

In today's initial installment of the Chastang Ford Look Ahead series we take a look at the returning cornerbacks for the Cougars.

Right off the top the obvious top returning player, likely on either side of the ball, will roam the secondary for his senior year. Senior cornerback D.J. Hayden will look to cap off his short career with the Cougars with a senior season that can likely vault him up the NFL draft board.

Hayden became one of the most talked about players in recent memory for the Cougars after they were able to fight off several top programs who came calling for his services in the final weeks before he signed his letter of intent about a year ago.

Hayden enjoyed a senior year that saw him excel as both a cornerback as well as a special teams player. He had 66 tackles (52 solo), 8 tackle for loss, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He had several other near misses with interceptions including the pick six he couldn't keep ahold of in the bowl game.

More than just his stats he made clear early that teams should not throw in his direction and provided blanket coverage on his assignment, effectively closing off his side of the field to quarterbacks and providing very good run support as well.

In addition, sophomore Zach McMillian will return to his starting cornerback spot opposite Hayden for his junior year. McMillian came in as a first year starter as a true sophomore and easily held his own. He did struggle a little at times with his lack of size against larger receivers but made up for it with his athleticism and with his willingness to stick his helmet in the mix in run support. McMillian will continue to develop and get bigger and stronger and should be solid on his side of the field as well.
McMillian had 44 tackles (26 solo), one tackle for loss and one interception.

Sophomore Thomas Bates returns for his junior campaign after providing much needed depth this season for the Cougars. Bates started three games this year and chipped in with 36 tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack and three interceptions (including two big interceptions in the Cougars road win over Louisiana Tech).

Junior Jefferey Lewis returns for his final year with the Cougars and much like Bates provided good depth this season and will likely provide the same moving forward. Lewis appeared in all 14 games for the Cougars including special teams and has shown before that he will not be ignored if there is a crack left in the door for him to have a shot at starting.

Heading into the spring, the Cougars return both starters at cornerback as well as both players that backed them up on the depth chart this season. This will be one of the position where there will not be much concern heading into spring as well as the fall. The key may be to get repetitions for those younger players that will be counted on beyond next season to make an impact at the position.

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