The six true freshmen defensive backs have made a favorable early impression on their veteran teammates in preseason camp.
“Everyone’s doing really well,” senior safety Nick Washington said Thursday. “Marco (Wilson) is doing really well. Shawn Davis is doing well. (Donovan) Stiner is doing well, C.J. Henderson.
“I feel like all the guys are doing well. They’re making plays on the ball. They’re picking up the defense really fast. We kind of changed some things. Coach (Randy) Shannon tweaked some things. But they’re playing really well.
“The freshmen are fast. They’re in and out of breaks. They’re all playing well, making plays on the ball.”
One of the freshmen could end up in the starting secondary in the season opener against Michigan. Wilson, the younger brother of second-round NFL draft pick Quincy Wilson, has been working with the No. 1 defense at the nickel position and has more than held his own.
“He kind of reminds me of his brother a little bit,” Washington said. “He’s kind of physical on the line of scrimmage and he’s really knowledgeable. He knows what to do. He’s in the right place at the right time.
“He came in knowing what to do. One of the biggest things to get on the field is knowing what to do and being in the right place at the right time. He came in knowing what to do and he’s making plays on the ball, he’s being physical at the line of scrimmage, which is kind of key for DBU.”
Two breakout guys
Based on player interviews Thursday, look for these two young players to have breakout seasons on defense: redshirt freshman outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon and true sophomore defensive end/tackle Jachai Polite.
“Jeremiah Moon, man, he’s one of the fastest guys on the team,” sophomore defensive end Antonneous Clayton said. “He can do it all. He can cover guys, he can rush the passer. He’s down in weight a little bit, but the guy makes up for it in his speed. The guy can do it all. You tell him to do something, he’s going to do it. Like whatever you can do. His speed just makes up.
“We’re going to be able to use him in a lot of packages this year. Like third down. Fourth down. End of the game. Two minute. Like third-and-long, we need an extra rusher in there, we can just throw Moon in there on the edge.”
At 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, Moon is a little bit of an athletic freak with his ability to rush the passer or drop back into coverage.
“What really surprised me with Moon is his get-off the ball. You think the guy is a defensive end, an Arden Key type, LSU like. You have to see it in person. The speed this guy comes off with is just incredible. He’s a guy who’s going to have a tremendous breakout year.”
Polite, who saw significant playing time as a true freshman last season, apparently has been tearing it up in camp, making all kinds of big plays.
“Oh yeah, definitely. Jachai Polite, he’s definitely stepped up, he’s having a great fall camp,” Moon said. “He’s making plays everywhere, so definitely watch out for him.”
Different QB perspective
Being on the other side of the ball, the defensive players have a unique view of the quarterback competition. And they like what they’re seeing from Luke Del Rio, Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire.
“They have like a true competition back there,” Washington said. “All those guys are competing to the best of their ability. They’re all making plays. They’re all putting balls where they need to be at, making it tough for us DBs to make plays on the ball. But they all kind of bring something different to the table, which makes them all unique.”
“Luke is making the smart reads, really smart checks, doesn’t turn the ball over much. He knows who he wants to throw to and he kind of scans the defense before the play, pre-snap awareness.
“Malik, he’s ready to take off whenever, he extends plays. Scramble drill, he extends plays really well. And Feleipe as well. Feleipe extends plays, he’s looking to throw the long ball. He’s also making smart checks. They’re all doing well and they all bring something different to the table.”
Moon said he’s seen tremendous improvement in Franks from last fall.
“His arm strength is incredible. He has a powerful arm,” Moon said. “And his decision making has gotten a lot better, too.”
Preseason All-SEC offensive tackle Martez Ivey returned to practice Thursday afternoon. Ivey missed Monday’s practice with swelling in his knee or ankle and was considered day-to-day.