April 13, 2009
(10:23 a.m.): While former UC defensive backs Mike Mickens, Brandon Underwood and DeAngelo Smith most likely will have their eyes glued to the TV April 25 for the NFL Draft, a couple current Bearcats defensive backs will be trying to open up some eyes of their own.
With the departure of the three seniors from last year’s secondary, rising seniors Brad Jones and Aaron Webster know how important their role is to next year’s squad. It’s not just about replacing three NFL-probable players in the defensive backfield. It’s also about finding their own ways to lead what should be a pretty young secondary.
“Our role is to lead and replace those guys,” said Jones, who should take one of the starting cornerback spots abandoned by Mickens and Smith. “I stayed behind them for three years. I played a lot, but I was never looked to be the key starter or the guy who made plays. Now, that’s mostly going to be my role – to pick up right where we left off.”
That won’t be easy. Mickens tied for second on the team in tackles, and he and Underwood each snagged four interceptions. Smith – who tied for the national lead with eight interceptions in 2007 – managed two picks and 10 pass breaks-ups in 2008. That’s a boatload of production to replace.
But Jones, who made two interceptions last season, and Aaron Webster – along with sophomore Dominique Battle, junior Marcus Barnett, redshirt sophomore Drew Frey, and a host of redshirt freshmen – will give it their best shot.
“With the three guys that left, I feel Brad and Dominique and Bones (Barnett) can make the transition,” said Webster, who started 10 of 14 games last year. “They watched Underwood, Mickens and DeAngelo, and they were mentors to the younger dudes. Now they have to do what they were taught.”
That mentorship will continue into this season. Only this time it falls on Jones and Webster to help the younger players through the rigors of a Big East football season where those underclassmen will be expected to contribute for the first time.
“Me and Brad look at it as if we have to be mentors, but at the same time, they have to teach themselves,” Webster said. “We can’t wipe their noses all the time. They will be on the field, and they’ll have to know what to do and what plays are called.”
Jones knows exactly what he has to accomplish this spring in order to be ready for the fall. For the Canton native, it’s all about consistency.
“Before, I had to do it in little spurts,” Jones said. “Now, I have to do it every day, come out and lead by example. It’s a little bit difficult, but it’s starting to become more natural now.
“I have all the physical tools – height, speed, weight and strength,” Jones said. “Now I have to make all that weight room stuff carry over to the field. I don’t think the production is going to be a problem. I think we can match what we did the last couple years.”