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Question: As fast as you can name all the players who have started at cornerback for Kansas in the last two years? Go.
Answer: Chris Harris, Anthony Davis, Daymond Patterson, D.J. Beshears, Justin Thornton, Kendrick Harper, Corrigan Powell and Isiah Barfield. So yeah, you can say the previous regime had a quick hook at that position. If a player made a costly mistake on the field, sometimes he wouldn't be seen again for several games, or in several cases, the rest of the season.
This trend wasn't lost on the cornerbacks. They adjusted their style of play accordingly and played it safe trying to minimize risk. The result was usually not favorable. In 2008 Kansas ranked 114th in pass defense and 96th in 2009.
"That was a big problem because it made people not want to make a play," said cornerback Greg Brown. "Sometimes it is a guessing game and you have to jump routes even when it might be a double move. It was just a bad atmosphere."
Now, things are a bit different. New coaching staff. New schemes. New attitude. Cornerbacks coach Vic Shealy is trying to change the mindset of his corners this spring.
"If you never push guys into taking a chance, then they will never know where their comfort level is," Shealy said. "If you are afraid to make a mistake because you think you will be sitting on the sideline then you will play slow because you want to reduce the risk that is out there."
While changing the attitude is an ongoing process, the new scheme will free the cornerbacks up to make plays on short throws. The corners will play closer to the line of scrimmage and get more help from the safeties than they did in the past.
"Last season, we played seven yards deep so the cornerbacks had to be on top of every route," Brown said. "We were so scared to jump routes that we would get beat with slants and outs. We would get beat with the short stuff instead of the deep route. Now we are improving on jumping the short routes."
As for who you will see on the field next season is anyone's guess. Players and coaches say the competition for playing time is so close that they can't name any clear-cut favorites to start. Every corner is getting the same amount of reps on the practice field. Shealy said the competition will go into fall practice and don't be surprised to see a secondary by committee.
"We will package our personnel with our schemes so we can put guys in position and ask them to do things that they can do best," Shealy said. "I think we can have a committee secondary that we roll out. It might be based on the different attacks we will see and the schemes that we are trying to attack our opponent with."
When pressed for an answer though, Shealy said seniors Chris Harris and Calvin Rubles have been leading drills, and the surprise player of the group has been redshirt freshman Tyler Patmon.
"He is a real football smart guy," Shealy said of Patmon. "Anytime you have a guy who plays fast mentally and plays with good instincts, then they will be a faster player physically."
"He has been a surprise to us in many ways because of the maturity that he has been playing at. I think the upperclassman have been taking notice of him."
So far, the early returns in spring practice have the cornerbacks winning the advantage over the wide receivers. At the end of several practices, head coach Turner Gill will give out "Toasts" or "Handcuffs". If he gives out a toast, then the receivers won the day's battle, and vice versa with the secondary and handcuffs. The current score:
"We are killing them," Brown said. "I think by the end of spring practice we are going to get a couple more handcuffs and no more toasts."
"We are much more relaxed because our position coach tells us, 'Just go out there and make plays, sometimes you are going to get beat.' He isn't going to yell at us or embarrass us. It's way different than last year."
Still, the corners know they have a long way to go, and Shealy hopes the rest of the spring will be spent increasing the group's confidence.
"I want guys to feel that freedom while practicing," Shealy said. "We will begin to narrow that understanding of what that appropriate level of taking risks and shots to the ball by the time we get to September. Right now you put guys in positions that you tell them that you want to see that cushion shrink a little bit and if you get burnt on a deep ball, blame it on me, but I want them to see what it feels like to let a receiver pressure them a little bit. If they are a little stressed, then we need to find a way to coach them out of that stress instead of them playing timid and back off the ball."
"Allowing guys to fail is sometimes the best tool to help them be successful."