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2021 Houston Preseason Position Previews: Defensive Backs

Houston’s secondary returns a ton of potential, and could end up as one of the best groups in the AAC.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 13 AdvoCare Kickoff - Washington State v Houston Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


OTHER POSITIONS: QB, RB, WR, OL, DL, DB


Cornerback

Damarion Williams

One of the most underrated players in the country, Damarion Williams deserves more recognition for the things he does. In 2019, he battled with current Dallas Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb and that was overshadowed by an Oklahoma blowout in the game. Williams is comfortable making tackles at the line of scrimmage, and can also run with any receiver downfield to make a play on the ball. Houston will have two of the best corners in the country, and it’s only a matter of time before the praise comes their way.

Marcus Jones

The other cornerback that doesn’t get enough love, Jones might get more attention as a returner. We saw a number of plays where he nearly broke off big plays as both a kick and punt returner, and teams will be weary to kick the ball to him and give him a chance to return it. As a corner, he’s growing tremendously too. Coming from Troy, some thought there would be a learning curve for him to get up to speed in the AAC. If there was a curve, it didn’t last long as Jones thrived right away.

Alex Hogan

Hogan comes in from Texas Tech and will compete for playing time thanks to his play with the Red Raiders. At worst, he provides depth at corner, something that Houston has plenty of already and makes the future at this position look bright. Even if he doesn’t start this year, he’ll be around for a couple more years and can take one of those spots when Damarion Williams is gone.

Art Green saw some time last year and it sounds like he’s having a great offseason. Jayce Rogers is a hard hitter who flies around the field, something we saw more of last year from this defense and something that will get him on the field this year. DJ Small, Kelvin Clemmons and Shaun Lewis are also options in the rotation.

Safety

Thabo Mwaniki

Another hard hitter, Mwaniki is the top returning tackler for Houston, and his physicality will be utilized all around the field in 2021. With the cornerback position set, all eyes go towards the safeties. While there are multiple options that will see the field this year, there are questions about who will be the starters. Mwaniki, the former Oklahoma State transfer, makes a strong case to win one of those spots with his play last year.

Gervarrius Owens

Owens evolved over the 2019 season in terms of physicality, and also proved that he can be a blanket over the top at times. He has good size for the position, and now enters the 2021 season with two seasons of starting experience under his belt. Can he take another step forward this year? Houston’s secondary has the potential to be elite if he does.

Others

Hasan Hypolite move in and out of the lineup with Mwaniki and Owens, making appearances in eight games while starting five at safety. He finished third on the team in tackles with 30 and tied for the team lead with one interception. Gleson Sprewell could be another contributor as well. Since finishing with 81 tackles and three picks in 2018, he’s seen his playing time slip away with the new staff. If he can find a way on the field, he can be a good contributor for the Coogs. Garrison Vaughn was in the rotation before he got hurt last early in the season, and should be back to 100% this year.

Outlook

Here’s how I see the two-deep at this point

CB
Damarion Williams
Alex Hogan

CB
Marcus Jones
Art Green

S
Thabo Mwaniki
Garrison Vaughn

S
Gervarrius Owens
Hasan Hypolite

Plenty of change could happen if players emerge in fall camp in terms of starters, but the contributors in the secondary appear to be set. In a conference known for moving the ball through the air quickly, Houston appears to be equipped to handle that kind of pressure this season.