Texas Tech football: Who starts at corner?


Texas Tech football is nearing the end of its spring practice sessions. Still, there remain a number of unanswered questions, especially on the defensive side of the football. Today, we examine the competition at the corner back position.

Being a corner back in the Big 12 is about as fun as being a duck during hunting season. Finding a shutdown corner in the nation’s most offensive conference is easier than finding Bigfoot but that is what Texas Tech must attempt to do with its young 2016 defense.

For the sake of fairness, let’s all agree that Texas Tech will not have a shutdown corner this fall. That player is not on the roster yet, or if he is he is yet to emerge.

In fact, the position of corner is as unsettled for defensive coordinator David Gibbs as any position on the defense. Last year’s two main starters, sophomores Tevin Madison and Nigel Bethel II as well as junior Justis Nelson all are in danger of being replaced by a group of hungry competitors ready to make their mark.

First, we must address the situation with Bethel. As we reported about a week ago Bethel is currently not associated with the team and is not partaking in spring ball.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that he expects Bethel to return after Bethel gets his grades under control. However, there are a number of people that believe the 4-star, 2013 signee might not be on the roster in the fall.

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Then there is Madison.   He has no history of off the field issues like Bethel but he seems to have reached his ceiling as a player. At 5-foot-10 and 166-pounds he is not big enough (nor fast enough) to cover elite receivers in the Big 12, especially given Texas Tech’s lack of a steady pass rush which forces him to play coverage for longer on each play.

He is a steady player that is tough and fights on every play but ultimately he was not recruited by Gibbs and Texas Tech must look to get better at his position.

Being as Bethel is even smaller than Madison (5-foot-9), Texas Tech was often abused by larger receivers over the past two seasons. For example, TCU’s Josh Doctson dominated the Red Raider secondary for 18 catches, 257 yards and three touchdowns in the Horned Frogs’ improbable victory in Lubbock last season.

Many felt that Nelson might be the answer for Texas Tech with his 6-foot-2 frame. However, he has proven to be far from athletic enough to play against the Big 12’s best pass catchers.

Nelson seems to have trouble in two areas. First of all, he often appears to have tight hips that cause him to lose his balance when turning or shifting directions in coverage. Second, though he is often in decent position Nelson struggles to make plays on the ball in the air losing out on jump balls far too often.

So what are the possible answers for Texas Tech football at the corner back position? There are quite a few bodies available but can their age or inexperience be overcome in time to help in 2016?

Recently, head coach Kliff Kingsbury mentioned two players by name that have caught his attention. The catch is that neither has played corner back for more than a year at Texas Tech.

"“I’d say Paul Banks has been the best overall (cornerback) that I’ve seen consistently,” Kingsbury said."

Banks is a JUCO transfer from Navarro Junior College who is entering his final year at Tech. He played in seven games last season before sitting out the remainder of the season with a neck injury.

Then there is converted wide receiver D.J. Polite-Bray. The senior-to-be saw action in a handful of games in 2014 due to attrition at the corner back position. However, he did not see the field in 2015 due to a knee injury and other circumstances.

Both Banks and Polite-Bray bring something to the position that is desperately needed; size. Banks is 6-foot-2, 178-pounds while Polite-Bray is 6-foot-0 and 185-pounds.

Then, there are a number of young candidates trying to impress this spring. 6-foot-2, 201-pound redshirt freshman Christian Taylor may see action at corner or safety this fall as he’s turned some heads on the staff.

True freshman Desmon Smith (6-foot-3, 191-pounds) from Odessa, Texas and Douglas Coleman (6-foot-2, 180-pounds) from the New Orleans area are two highly thought of and athletic new faces soon to be on the field at Jones Stadium. It will not be a surprise to see both in the fray at some point this season.

Other players like senior Thierry Nguema and sophomore Adaryan Jones will also get a look. However, both appear to be players that will provide depth and contribute on special teams.

There simply is not a clear answer for Texas Tech football when it comes to which players will be tasked with covering opposing receivers. The team will either have to rely on experienced but less talented upperclassmen or hope that some young players step forward and surprise everyone.

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The best guess right now is that Banks, Madison and Polite-Bray will be the primary trio when the season opens. But the hope for star players lies in upstarts like Coleman and Smith to progress quickly.