Perhaps the most interesting bit of news to come out of Fall camp so far is the fact that Reuben Johnson has had his career inexplicably cut short. It’s a shame really despite the fact that he would have been taking snaps behind Chris Williams for most of next season. But Johnson provided some stability at the Nickelback in case Williams were to be lost for a good amount of time. As an aside, if I seem a little obsessive over this position it’s because it’s the next wave in college football. The future is now, folks!
Anyways, as 2012 approaches one of the most unnoticed position battles occurring at camp has to be for that back up nickelback role. Incoming recruit Isaiah Gourdine is likely the nickelback of the future because of his abilities to clog running lanes but also shutdown receivers. But just who will be backing up Chris Williams in the interim? My four candidates after the jump:
Adrian Witty: Coming out of Spring camp ‘Hit-Stick’ Witty was listed as the backup strong safety behind Drew Frey. He’s been bouncing between both safety positions of late, still in a backup role, but has proven to coaches that he deserves more playing time. Witty will probably get most of his reps in 2012 on special teams but there’s no reason to believe that he can’t be an effective nickelback after Chris Williams graduates this season. The coaching staff has him high on the two-deep at safety so they obviously respect his coverage skills and I would think he would be quite effective against the run.
My only reservation is if Jancek and Elder believe Witty is a destined to replace Frey beginning in 2013 and want him to learn behind the vet next season. If that’s the case then by all means they should leave him right where he is. But Witty would make a nice nickelback.
Aaron Roberson: When push comes to shove, Roberson will probably be the guy replacing Reuben Johnson next season. As a senior he’s one of the most veteran defensive backs on the team and makes most of his money on special teams. He hasn’t had much playing time with the starting defense during his time at Cincinnati but Roberson will not be asked to do that in 2012, just take 5 – 10 reps off of Williams’ plate so he can get a breather.
Kevin Brown: If this staff really wanted to get the youth movement started early they would tab Brown as the back up nickelback. The safety from Indianapolis is a big-bodied kid can lay the lumber on ball carriers. And when he verballed to the Bearcats I even mentioned that he might make a solid outside linebacker for UC if he bulked up a bit. I fully believe Brown can cover tight ends streaking down the field or stepping out in the flat but I’m not fully sold on him taking on a slot receiver who is generally among the fastest players on the team. In that sense, I have full confidence in him stopping the run but not so much against the pass, especially in one-on-one situations.
Pat Lambert: A senior like Aaron Roberson, Lambert has been a star on special teams. Going into Spring practice I believed he might take over the free safety role after backing up Wes Richardson for so many years. But that hasn’t been the case and Fairfield-native Arryn Chenault has been running with the 1st team for most of the Summer. As such Lambert might be regulated to yet another season on special teams unless the coaches elect to try him out at nickelback. But in all his time at Cincinnati he has only assumed the starting role for a short time when Richardson was banged up in 2010. I think it’s unlikely but we might see him backing up Chris Williams sometime this Fall.