This is the seventh in a series of looks at the 2010 UC football roster through the eyes of its position coaches. It continues with a glimpse at the defensive backs with associate head coach and secondary/special teams coach Kerry Coombs.
Coombs is in his third season at UC and the lone holdover from Brian Kelly's staff.
Starters - Dominique Battle, Jr., Reuben Johnson, Jr., Wesley Richardson, Jr., Drew Frey, Soph.
Backups - Pat Lambert, Soph., Chris Williams, Soph., Camerron Cheatham, Soph., Bruce Horner, Soph., Will Saddler, RS Fresh.
Freshmen - Adrian Witty, Demitri Beal, Deven Drane, Arryn Chenault, Jorian Hudson
Overview: This unit will almost assuredly be great - in two years. For now, the question of how this youthful group will respond remains among one of the greatest concerns on the team. Dominique Battle and Drew Frey will be counted on as the leaders, but beyond those two any number of players could step into a significant role.
Biggest Question: What will happen after Dominique Battle? Will there be a rotation of defensive backs?
Coombs: "The best kid should be on the field for every snap of football, that is what I think. It's going to be the best guy, nobody should play tired, nobody should play hurt, but nobody gets any gifts. They play because they are the best guy for the job on that down, at that time."
Tangibles: 6-foot, 182-pound, Jr.
Last year: 12 starts, 60 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 interceptions
Coombs' take: "
PDJ Projection: Battle is undeniably the top corner on the team. He was a key contributor last year and will need to deliver the same performance and then some to lead this group of DBs. After an early injury, he is practicing again, so it appears likely he will be ready to go by Fresno State.
Tangibles: 5-9, 190 pounds, RS Soph.
Last year: 13 games, 1 start, 13 tackles.
Coombs says: "We are not very technique sound at this point so we have some improvements to make there. Competition is going to be tough. He is a very smart player, he pays close attention and has a good feel. His press technique has to improve. His overall man-to-man has to get better and I would like to see him be a very physical player."
PDJ Projection: Cheatham made a nice play with an interception of Zach Collaros in the first scrimmage of the season and is more comfortable now than he has ever been in the system. He said he believed coming to camp that he would leave as the starting cornerback and also believes he accomplished just that. He owns the confidence to play at corner and I fully expect him to see significant minutes and likely a few starts this season, very possibly the first one coming on opening day.
Tangibles: 5-10, 180 pounds, Soph.
Last year: 11 games, no starts, 5 tackles
Coombs' take: "He's explosive and is going to make big plays, but he has to be a little careful and cautious and we have to coach him through that. He's very confident. I want him confident; I just want him to play within the coverage all the time. But he is very explosive and a very talented player."
PDJ Projection: Johnson is working through some issues with his technique, but the upside of his raw, physical ability could be worth it if he comes along mentally this year.
Tangibles: 6-foot, 182 pounds, Soph.
Last year: 10 games, 0 starts, 3 tackles
Coombs take: "He's doing a super job in nickel."
PDJ Projection: Williams was one of the pleasant surprises of the spring and continues to be thus far in the fall. He appears slotted to play nickel corner for this team, along with Pat Lambert.
Tangibles: 6-1, 197 pounds, RS Soph.
Last year: 13 games, no starts, 7 tackles
Coombs' take: "He's had a nice camp at nickel. He is better than he was in the spring."
PDJ Projection: Coombs really liked what he saw from Lambert. He should contribute in spots and has even been challenging for the starting nickelback position.
Tangibles: 6-3, 200 pounds, RS Soph
Last year: 12 games, 12 starts, 64 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 breakups
Coombs' take: "He's had the best camp he has had since I have been here. He is confident, fast, mature, he is physical. He is going to have a great, great season. I am really excited about the way Drew is playing. Drew has to be comfortable before he is good. I think now he is much more comfortable. He will be more comfortable two weeks from now.
Coombs on Frey's leadership: "For Drew, he has a calming influence. It is a young room. Nobody is graduating in there. He is mature and those guys know that. And they know how to act by watching Drew. He doesn't stand in the front of the room and do a lot of talking, he just does. Because of that he will be a more effective force."
PDJ Projection: The words of Kerry Coombs ring true. They may come partially because Coombs desperately needs Frey to deliver on all those claims and partially because he believes they will come true. If Frey plays with more confidence this year than last year, when he was fourth on the team in tackles, he may develop into the premier player in the back end of that defense. If he doesn't, it will be a long year for that young squad.
Tangibles: 6-foot, 200 pounds, RS Jr.
Last year: 13 games, 0 starts, 21 tackles, .5 TFL, 1 forced fumble
Coombs' take: "He's knowledgeable about the game and what we are trying to accomplish as anybody on the team. He is assignment sound, coachable, physical. I am expecting him to have a great year. It is really a pleasure to watch a kid continue to work hard every day to get better and not take anything for granted."
Tangibles: 5-10, 170 pounds, Fresh.
Coombs take: "He's a very explosive talent, going to be a very good player. He's on the two deep, but I don't know if he'll stay that way."
PDJ Projection: Coach Butch Jones really likes Witty and there is a chance he could be starting at some point this season. If I were a betting man, I would put it at better than 50 percent he starts a game at corner at some point this year.
Tangibles: 5-11, 184 pounds, Fresh.
Last year: Chaminade Madonna (FL) HS
PDJ Projection: The Bearcats and Coombs are still evaluating Beal after he missed some time in camp.
Tangibles: 5-11, 179 pounds, Fresh.
Last year: Planation (FL) HS
Coombs' take: "Drane had a great summer, he came in in great shape. He wants to be good and he is a learner along with being a good man-cover guy."
PDJ Projection: You can lump Drane in with some of the other freshman who aren't likely to see much action unless there are some injuries.
Tangibles: 6-foot, 196 pounds, Fresh.
Coombs' take: "He's really sharp, pays attention and knows what he is supposed to be doing. He is getting some looks in the two-deep nickel right now."
PDJ Projection: Jones loved Chenault the moment he first met him and raved about him on Signing Day. His play has shown flashes of backing up the hype and I would expect him to see some minutes this season. He may not start but will be in the conversation.
Tangibles: 6-2, 186 pounds, Fresh.
Coombs' take: "He's a very explosive kid, plays the ball really well in the air. He'll be part of a great nucleus for a long time."