The AAC has some elite talent, but it appears that many teams lack depth in their secondaries. We take a look at where each team stacks up in their “No Fly Zones.”
“Room for Improvement” means exactly what you think, this team needs to get better or maybe has one returner or two but a lot of questions behind them.
“Wait and See” are teams that we’re not sold on, but have the talent or experience to be good. These teams just need time to get their players up to speed during fall camp/beginning of the season.
“Second Tier” are for teams that return valuable experience, but the depth behind them is questionable, and an injury to one or two starters could spell trouble.
“Elite” will be the top teams who have all-conference talent, and also have depth behind that talent who can step in should an injury occur.
1. Tulane: If the secondary, along with the defense, can continue giving its team a chance, Tulane could see a turnaround in 2017. Parry Nickerson led all players with four interceptions and nine pass breakups, and his partner, Donnie Lewis Jr, matched his pass breakup total as well. Jarrod Franklin and Roderic Teamer return at the safety positions, and were key players in run support. Throw in four other players that saw action last year, and this group has the depth to be one of the best in the country.
2. Temple: Good luck moving the ball in the air against the Owls. Temple returns one of the stingiest secondaries in the nation, and they will play a vital role in the team’s success. Safeties Delvon Randall and Sean Chandler do it all, and aren’t afraid to stick their noses in a pile to make a play. Artel Foster, Mike Jones, and Derrek Thomas will all rotate in at corner, and Thomas’ 7 pass breakups led the team last year.
3. Navy: The Midshipman could have multiple All-Conference selections at the end of 2017, and their secondary is just another piece of what should be a great defense. With Alohi Gillman transferring, Sean Williams is the lone returner at safety, but there is some depth behind him. Corner Tyris Wooten led the team in pass breakups, and three others should see the field to spell him and cover the other side of the field.
4. Cincinnati: USF and Cincinnati are going to benefit from having defensive-minded coaches running their teams, and the Bearcats secondary should be more impressive after being average in 2016. Ten players saw action in 2016, and nine of those players return this season. Tyrell Gilbert and Alex Thomas were the ballhawks last season with a combined seven interceptions, and could be two names to keep your eye on in 2017.
5. Houston: Houston was expecting to move on without Brandon Wilson, but the exit of Howard Wilson came as a surprise. Still, the Cougars secondary returns valuable experience despite those two losses. Khalil Williams and Garrett Davis will be the leaders of this group at the safety positions, and will need to find at least one more corner to contribute. Jeremy Winchester appeared to have one spot locked in the spring, but he can’t do it by himself. If 6’4” former receiver Isaiah Johnson is an intriguing option with his combination of size and speed.
6. ECU: The Pirates have 11 of 13 players who saw action in 2016 return this year, and that depth could prove essential to a defensive turnaround. While ECU was middle of the road in yards per game through the air, they gave up 8.0 yards per catch and only accumulated five total interceptions (four from this group). The depth of this group will allow for coaches to rotate bodies throughout the season, but that doesn’t guarantee success or improvement. One guy hard to miss is Bobby Fulp, who at 6’4” had five pass breakups last year, and could take advantage of his size to secure a starting spot.
Wait And See
7. USF: Charlie Strong has so much to look forward to with this team, and while the secondary returns plenty of experience, they need to improve dramatically this year. Six of the Bulls top seven return in the secondary starting with Tajee Fullwood and Jaymon Thomas, who both played free safety last year. Devin Abraham has the most experience at strong safety, but could be part of a rotation with Fullwood and Thomas. Corner Deatrick Nichols led the team with four interceptions, and has support in fellow corner Ronnie Hoggins and nickel back Khalid McGee.
8. Tulsa: Tulsa’s secondary wasn’t great last season, giving up 248.3 passing yards per game, and they only intercepted four passes in 2017. Jordan Mitchell and Mckinley Whitefield appear to be the lead options at safety, while the corner position could be an open competition. Kerwin Thomas led all corners with nine pass breakups, but Reggie Robinson II and Keanu Hill weren’t far behind with seven and six breakups, respectively.
9. Memphis: Losing five of their top seven players will be tough to replace, but the Tigers return Jonathan Cook who is also their top returning tackler. Cook will need to find some help quickly, and will have to do so with an inexperienced group. Just four other players saw action last season, but Austin Hall produced well at the STAR position.
Room For Improvement
10. UCF: All four positions need new starters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean trouble for the Knights. Kyle Gibson was a former four star recruit, and could take over a safety spot along with Tre Neal. Nevelle Clark is the only corner returning with experience, so that position is wide open at this point. UCF finished 30th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, but that could be in jeopardy with so much turnaround.
11. UConn: Senior Jamar Summers needs help finding replacements for three positions and one spot is for NFL Draft pick Obi Melifonwu. Four players with experience will compete for those spots, but replacing Melifonwu won’t be done overnight. Summers will take one corner position, and Josh Robinson IV is the only other corner with playing experience from 2016. Anthony Watkins, Brice McAllister and Marshe Terry will all compete for starting positions at safety.
12. SMU: For a defense that was fairly porous, the secondary did a decent job of breaking up and intercepting passes. However, two key players need to be replaced and that probably won’t be done by two people. Jordan Wyatt will have one corner spot sealed up, and he did a little bit of everything last year (four interceptions, seven pass breakups, four forced fumbles). Rodney Clemons and Kevin Johnson return experience at safety, but there are a few others who could compete for playing time. This defense needs work, and could be the determining factor of the Mustangs success this year.