August 1 and the start of fall camp draw closer, and yet there remains a few questions. After a very good 2011 season, cornerback warrior Preston Hadley missed all of spring camp due to offseason shoulder surgery. The senior used the summer to get himself ready for fall.
“A lot of us have been using the summer to try and get healthy, and that’s the number one priority,” said Hadley during BYU’s media day. “We meet up with receivers and do some one-on-ones and get used to covering routes again. As far as the DBs are concerned, we’re out there just doing our individual drills, just trying to get ready for that first game.”
Having missed all of spring camp, there’s always the chance that Hadley has some rust in fall camp. So, how does he feel?
“I feel good. I feel good enough,” Hadley said. “You’re never going to be 100 percent, but like the trainers told me that if we were going to play a game today, you better go out and bang.”
He did admit that he is currently limited during workouts, however.
“Yeah, for me personally I feel that with some of our lifts, I’m still limited,” Hadley said. “I feel that despite that, the nutrition program has really helped me to get my weight up and maintain that weight as well. I feel like I have a lot more energy on the field and when we’re out there running around. I used to be on team fast food, but I’m a believer in nutrition now.”
But the question is has he physically recovered enough to contribute like he did last season?
“Yeah, I’m ready to go but I just need to get my strength up,” Hadley said. “I’m a little thin right now but I’ll be ready by the time the season starts. I’m almost there and it’s kind of hard to say because it’s up and down. Some days it feels really good and other days it feels not as good.”
He said his struggles result more from the lack strength due to not being able to lift while recovering rather than due to the injury itself.
“It's more to do with just, you know, getting myself back to where I was before I had my surgery. I'll get that back before we strap the pads on though. I'm pretty confident about that."
Heading into fall camp, the cornerback position will look as follows:
The starter will be 5-foot-10-inch, 185-pound sophomore Jordan Johnson. Former field side starter Corby Eason said that Johnson “is one of the better overall athletes on the team.” He added, “His speed, athleticism and footwork is really good. He’s quick and he has all the tools. I like him."
Senior Robbie Buckner, at 5 feet 10 inches and 176 pounds, has the most experience at the field position and could be the one to dethrone Johnson. Buckner was among the top athletes in Arkansas from his recruiting class and is a smart player in coverage with his reads. He will be pushing Johnson in fall camp for that starting spot.
However, spring camp showed that 6-foot-1-inch, 211-pound O’Neill Chambers was capable of a few surprises of his own. It will be interesting to see how much summer preparation Chambers put in to help elevate his game at the field side.
The obvious starter heading into fall camp will be Preston Hadley, and he said he feels he could play tomorrow if called upon. At 6 feet and 200 pounds, the junior college transfer was an aggressive, hard-hitting corner last season who endeared himself to Cougar fans with his playmaking effort and success. Hadley recorded 32 solo tackles, 19 assisted, 14 pass breakups and one sack on the season.
Sophomore Cameron Comer comes in at 6 feet and 191 pounds and played in three games last year in mop-up duty. Comer should receive some more time on the field this year, gaining more experience as he heads into starting contention his junior year. Despite not being far removed from his LDS mission, Comer showed good athleticism and played on both sides of the field - at boundary and field - during spring camp.
Senior Mike Hague is the utility man at the boundary corner side. Though he has been playing safety, where he performed well last spring camp, Hague was cross-trained at the boundary corner back position.
DeQuan Everett is another cornerback who fits the boundary side well. At 6 feet 3 inches and 205 pounds, Everett has the size to be an effective run-stopper in the secondary while playing on the shorter side of the field.
“I think that we have a lot of guys that can play and could easily be a starter,” said Hadley. “I don’t think there is much of a gap between the starters and the backups to be honest with you. I think our guys are passionate enough and love the game. Even if guys have injuries, I think because of their passion and love for the game, many will probably stay in.”
Tough as nails and known for sacrificing his body to make a play, Hadley pointed to his own approach to playing the game while injured as an example of something seen among every member of the cornerback group.
“Last season I was hurt all season,” he said. “I didn’t come out or never pulled myself out. I think it would be that way for [the others]. Robbie is like that, Mike and Jordan are like that, DeQuan is like that and Cameron is like that. I think all of those guys are like that, so it would take a lot to pull one of our secondary guys out. I never really look at depth being a concern because I know our guys are going to give it all they’ve got.”
Looking to the future, Hadley said that the cornerback positions will be in good hands once he and his senior teammates graduate.
“I think when we seniors leave after this season, we do have guys in the program that definitely have the talent,” Hadley said. “We have Cameron Comer and Jordan Johnson that are two that easily have the talent, so hopefully this year they can get a little experience. That way they can take care of the team when we hand them over the keys to the Ferrari. I know they won’t take those keys and crash it, if you know what I mean. Those two guys are confident and I’ve seen it time and time again. Those are guys that can easily run and compete with the ones, so it just really comes down to who is playing their best at that time. I feel confident in the young guys.”
At the safety position, Hague, Joe Sampson, Daniel Sorensen, and return missionary Craig Bills will battle for starting positions. It's reasonable to say that Sorensen, who started last year at Kat safety, will again be the starter this year. Joining him at free safety will be Sampson, who made a name for himself last year in the Cougar secondary.
“At the safety position we're going to be really strong there and should have a lot of really good depth," said Hadley. “Daniel and Joe did a great job over spring camp and both have a lot of playing time. I'm really confident with those two guys back there.
“Then we have Mike [Hague], who also made some noise over spring camp playing safety and switching to cornerback when we needed help with depth. He's such a competitor back there and he'll compete in fall camp. Then Craig [Bills] came home and he's looking really good. He's put on a lot of good weight and looks like Daniel out there."
Both Chase Penley and Skye PoVey did well for themselves during spring camp and will provide added depth at the safety positions.
The Cougars are looking to bring in two junior college cornerbacks and possibly a safety in this next recruiting class. The two cornerbacks that have claimed to be offered by BYU are Carroll Washington and Davion Orphey. Safety Robertson Daniel, a junior college midyear transfer, is another defensive back that could receive an offer in December upon receiving his degree.