Editor’s note: This is part of a series previewing the 2012 Bryant Hornets football team heading into their season-opening game at home against the rival Conway Wampus Cats on Friday, Aug. 31.
By Rob Patrick
Photo by Kevin Nagle
When the Bryant Hornets’ defense deploys in a standard four-man secondary this season, there could be times when[more] it’s returning starter Aaron Bell (5-9, 165) and three sophomores.
But secondary coach John Wells notes that Bell is a pretty good starting point.
“Aaron’s in the spot where Dillon Winfrey played last year,” Wells said. “We played him a little more to the field side last year.
“When you look at our defense, our boundary corner probably does the most,” he explained. “He has more responsibility than anyone in the secondary. The reason being that’s usually where a quarterback picks on a corner, over there on the island. He’s got to be able to play man-to-man. He’s got to be able to play run support in cover-two into the boundary on the short side. He has to be able to play deep zone coverage, and we blitz him, which we saw Dillon do and make a big play on an interception for a touchdown last year.
“So far, from what we’ve seen, Aaron can handle it,” the coach continued. “We’re looking for big things from him.”
Junior Darian Jarrett (6-1, 160) and sophomores Drew Tipton (5-8, 145) and Mar’Kevious Nelson (5-6, 145) are also working at corner. At safety, juniors Davis Nossaman (5-10, 170) and Jake Johnson (5-9, 160) along with sophomore Brenden Young (6-1, 180) are the safeties.
Wells said Bell has been a great help in leading the way.
“With these other young guys, I think he’s really helped out,” he stated. “And his focus with them has mainly been, ‘Do your job.’
“You know, I stress so much, ‘Where are your eyes supposed to be?’” Wells continued. “Whether we’re playing man coverage and our eyes are supposed to be on hips and hands or we’re playing zone and our eyes are supposed to be on the ball or whether we’re reading off a number two receiver. That, to me, I think they’ve picked up more from him, in watching him. His being that model for those young guys has been, so far, his biggest asset.”
Regarding the corners, Wells said, “I’ve tried to rotate those four equally. They all have good attributes, though they’re a little bit different.
“Darian’s a proto-typical field corner — tall, lanky, rangy, plays the deep ball pretty well,” he noted. “Drew, from day one, he’s the kind of guy that when I make a correction, he makes it right then at practice. Early on, he showed me he could play pass coverage. I was a little concerned about his run reads until the scrimmage (against Little Rock Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 23) when I saw him come up and make some good aggressive plays. He’s going to be able to help us out.
Turning to Nelson, Wells said, “Mar’Kevious is probably one of the quickest corners that I’ve coaches since I’ve been here. I’ve worked both of those (sophomores) at field and boundary corner just to get them get used to both sides but Mar’Kevious, we’ve had him through the spring, so he’s a little bit ahead of Drew, who’s a baseball player. But Drew has picked it up fast. They’re pretty even.
“They all are,” he emphasized. “This has been a really fun bunch to coach because they’re just like sponges, sponges that can run really fast. They’re soaking it in. They’ve got a lot to learn. Don’t get me wrong. They’re still young.”
Nossaman has been working as the field safety.
“He makes a lot of the calls, gets us checked into our coverages,” Wells said. “He’s been doing well filling the alley on runs and being able to read through offensive linemen and get a good read on run-pass. So we play him more to the field. He’s a good solid tackler. He’s that quarterback in the secondary.
“Jake and Davis both came up with big interceptions in the scrimmage,” he noted. “Jake’s made a lot of improvement since last year."
Young was the starting middle linebacker on the unbeaten freshman team last fall. He was also one of the top sprinters in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference in the spring.
“Right now, we look at him almost like a linebacker-slash-safety,” Wells mentioned. “He’s come a long way. When we go into our nickel package, he’s actually a linebacker that can get depth or we can blitz him. We’re teaching him a lot because we want him to be very versatile. He’s that kind of athlete. He could step up right now and play linebacker.”
The coach noted that developing depth is a little different these days.
“At this point, if you go into any high school coaches meeting room, they probably know who their starters are,” he said. “They’re probably talking about depth. If you look at the secondary, it used to be, we looked at depth as, ‘Here are our four starters in the secondary and if one of them gets hurt or gets tired, who’s their back-up?’
“But that’s changed with the evolution of offenses, before people started stretching the field and trying to get mismatches one on one with a linebacker or a safety,” he continued. “I think now we look at it as, ‘Here’s our first four in this situation.’ There may be times where we have five or six out there at a time. We have some of our nickel and dime packages where we have three safeties and two corners. Last year, we had four corners and two safeties out there at times.
“So you look at depth a little bit different in the secondary than you might up front. Instead of thinking, alright, we’ve got to spell somebody or we’ve got to replace them if they get injured, we look at it more as, if we see a team that can run four or five wides that can really run, we may have to have them all out there at once.
“That being said, we’re very young,” he acknowledged. “I look at it as a coach, with a scrimmage like we had, I’m trying to get everybody equal reps. Whether it’s a scrimmage or out there in practice, I’ve been trying to get these guys ready to be on the field.”