Going into last year, Baylor had the unenviable task of replacing absolutely everyone who had ever started a game at cornerback. Without K.J. Morton, Joe Williams, Demetri Goodson, or Tyler Stephenson, we had exactly 0 returning starts on the entire roster.
A year later, it's a completely different story. Now, Baylor returns the full two-deep at both cornerback spots, and all four of them are juniors, meaning they should come back for another round in 2016. In other words, things are pretty good.
So there are 14 names on the combined lists below, and 9 of them belong to players that are sophomores or younger. Sure, some of them (like Houston) may end up at safety down the road, but that's still a ton of corners. And a ton of youth. Next time you think "WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET SOME CORNERS IN HERE???", remember this paragraph. We've devoted nearly 1/8 of our scholarship spots (10/85) to the position.
There's so many players/cruits to cover here, I'm going to take them in groups. Our first group is the starters and backups, the players represented on the current two-deep depth chart.
At this point, it's virtually certain that Xavien Howard, as close to a star at CB as we've had in a long time, occupies one spot. He's big, he's fast, and he's shown tremendous instincts. Behind him will be Terrance Singleton, aka "Freaky T." That's what the Post-Spring Depth Charts said, and that's what the practice reports have confirmed so far. The other side is much more of a battle between Ryan Reid, who started 12 games last year, and Tion Wright. Though Reid's struggles have been well-documented here and elsewhere, my guess is that he wins.
Bringing all four of these guys, representing all or nearly all of the playing time last season, back this year is huge for Baylor's defense. They took their lumps last season against teams willing and capable of challenging them one-on-one (see Virginia, West), and penalties were a bit of an issue.* But in year two of most of their playing careers at Baylor, I expect improvement virtually across the board.
*In the same way that the assassinations of Archduke Ferdinand and his lovely wife Sophie caused a bit of a ripple in early-20th century European politics.
Looking back now over the totality of last season, I think Ryan Reid probably got a bit of a raw deal in public perception relative to his actual performance and how much he improved over the course of the season. Yes, there were games in which his inexperience showed and opposing teams preyed on him, but those games shouldn't outweigh others in which he actually performed pretty well, including TCU. He was a sophomore that had never started thrust into a position where he was expected to cover guys like Josh Doctson and Mario Alford. That's a lot to ask.
The bottom line is that in these four guys, Baylor has a solid core of corners that now have a full season's worth of experience under their belt and should show tremendous growth from it. Assuming we can get an even better pass rush from our front four this year, there's no reason not to think that the pass defense as a whole can be significantly better.
*"Coach, we don't know how much these freshmen actually weigh. What should we do?" "Just put 190. That's believable."
Considering all of the Freshman Four (Tolbert, Houston, Nicholson, and Black) are redshirting, you're really just talking about Vaughns and Blake as your third-stringers almost by default. Their job this season will be to adjust as well as they can to the speed of the game when they can get on the field, and hopefully push for more playing time as the season progresses Of the two, Vaughns has been the more talked-about in the past, probably because Blake is a former-HS QB adjusting to a new position.
With things relatively settled on the front-end, there's not a ton to say about our redshirt and true freshmen this year. I consider that a positive thing considering we won't be relying on any of them to play right away. Instead, the true freshmen get to redshirt and the redshirts get to (mostly) watch. That's a good thing for the future of the position, where we should bring back 13 of the 14 guys on the charts above and already have 3 more CB commits in the 2016 class.
NOTE: With SMU Week starting tomorrow, I'm not exactly sure when I'll get to the safety preview. It could be today, tomorrow, or some time later in the week leading up to the game on Friday.