Pod Preview: Defensive Backs

Pod Preview: Defensive Backs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – "Patience and leverage," said Jacksonville University cornerbacks coach Joe Anderson. The short and simple answer isn't the solution to a physics problem … or is it?

Anderson's plea for "patience and leverage" is a calling for defensive backs to master technique in what may be the most difficult time to play the position in the gridiron game's history. He knows it well, as a former defensive back and coach for JU Head Coach Ian Shields at Lenoir-Rhyne.

"It's the hardest job on the football field. You're guarding the offense's most athletic players and you're trying to do it backwards," said Anderson. "If you're technical, detailed, and do it with great effort, you'll have the opportunity to make plays."

Jacksonville is bolstered by the return of two seniors to lock up opposing receivers in Armani Sampson and KJ Jenkins.

"He (Sampson) definitely understands patience. He's going to make some plays that a young guy wouldn't. He's doing exactly what we are asking him to do out there," said Anderson. "Jenkins is a great player who is also extremely patient. We've got two players who we are very confident in."

Sampson, from Brandon, Fla., started every game last year and was a ball hawk with four interceptions and five pass break-ups. He found his way to the promised land twice, with an interception returned 46 yards for a touchdown against Stetson, and on special teams returned a blocked punt 51 yards to pay dirt against Valparaiso. Jenkins, from Gainesville, Fla., played in all 11 games and totaled 15 tackles, 12 solo, and one tackle-for-a-loss.

The experience gained by both has helped set the tone in practice for rookies.

"Those two have seen a lot of football. It's a huge benefit for our younger players to see what the older guys are doing in practice and preparation," said Anderson. "Two freshmen, Jeremiah Johnson and Tommy Mack, who has transitioned from wide receiver, are working hard and we are excited about them."

Behind the corners lies the last line of the Dolphin defense in its safeties. Four players with valuable experience yet lacking a full-time starting role on their resumes make up the competition. Safeties and special teams coordinator Greg Newhouse has been impressed with the growth of Emon Smith, Thomas Oporto, Gabe Stewart, and Jeremy Jones.

Smith, a junior, steps in as a seasoned veteran who played in all 11 games last fall. He made seven solo stops and showcased his playmaking ability with a pick-six against Stetson during JU's 41-14 Homecoming triumph.

Oporto was a key player on special teams last season with a hefty total of form tackles. The redshirt-sophomore totaled 10 solo tackles and finished the season on a high with a forced a fumble against Valparaiso.

Stewart, a redshirt-junior, and Jones, a senior, are the most weathered of the safety mix. Stewart made 19 total tackles, 14 solo, in just eight games for the 2015 version of the Dolphins. Jones played in 10 of the 11 contests, had seven stops, and like Oporto forced a fumble against Valparaiso.

Amongst the newcomers, Newhouse has seen plenty of promise.

"Torre Parker has shown quickness and savvy, and Zach Parrish is a competitor," said Newhouse. "Cedric Haskins is tall and has tools, and Ryan Rhoden has good speed."

"We're getting some chemistry going," said Newhouse, currently in his 37th season of coaching. "It's fun watching them grow together personally and as a group. They're getting the system and culture."