CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Charleston Southern Sports Information Department is providing a position-by-position preview of the Buccaneers' 2017 squad. In today's edition, we take a look at the secondary.
Previous Positional Breakdowns
Lost: DJ Curl, Corbin Jackson, Troy McGowens, Raymere Thomas
Four Things to Watch from the CSU Secondary
CSU's secondary will count on contributions from a number of largely inexperienced players in 2017. Junior cornerback Shadarius Hopkins, a preseason all-conference pick, is the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield. Gone is three-time all-conference corner Troy McGowens, as well as safeties DJ Curl and Corbin Jackson, all of whom graduated last year.
Safeties coach Mike Adams and cornerbacks coach Bryant Foster have worked together to get the defensive backs up to speed. Both have seen significant progress from spring practice through the end of fall camp.
"I think the biggest thing that's been very encouraging is these guys take coaching," Foster said. "Coming from spring to now, they're actually speaking the same language that I'm speaking and seeing the same things that I'm seeing. They've been able to get more comfortable and relaxed so that they can play faster."
Hopkins the quiet leader
The underclassmen that will start and see major playing time in the back end this year can look to Shadarius Hopkins for guidance. Hopkins started the first three games of his collegiate career as a true freshman in 2015, displaying an excellent grasp of the defensive scheme early. He started all 11 games while helping the Bucs capture their second straight conference title last year. Hopkins should now take over the role of matching up with the opponent's top receiver now that Troy McGowens has graduated.
"The best thing with Shadarius is just his knowledge and want to be great," Foster said. "He doesn't just want to be good. He wants to be great. He's a student of the game, a film junkie and a real technician. He likes to be technically sounds in everything that he does."
Rowland primed for breakout year
CSU's coaching staff and other players have had nothing but good things to say about junior Brandon Rowland as he makes the move from corner to strong safety. Rowland played in ten games last season, earning valuable experience due to his aggressive mentality. He had five tackles against Gardner-Webb and came up with an interception in the Bucs' conference clinching win over Kennesaw State.
During fall camp, Rowland has been a constant presence around the football.
"He is a very aggressive personality type and brings an aggressive mentality to the field," Adams said. "He's an attack-oriented player that once he sees the ball, he wants to go and get it as fast as he can. He's had to learn to tempo himself to the football and make sure he's secure with his reads. Once he's able to turn loose and use his ability, he's got all the tools in the world to be an excellent, excellent player back there. He's really embraced learning the position and trying to be a true, complete safety."
Royer healthy and ready for opportunity at free safety
Like Rowland, slated starting free safety Demetri Royer is transitioning from another position to take on major responsibility. Royer was a linebacker last year and earned a spot in the rotation but suffered a season-ending injury in the opener at North Dakota State. Now healthy, Royer won the starting job thanks to a strong fall camp.
"He's done a great job of getting his body back healthy and he's shown the versatility to make that move back to some of what he did in high school and play back on that hash," Adams said. "He played well in all the scrimmages and all the live situations and really earned the chance to start. He'll provide a lot of presence out there with his ability to get down and support the run and he's learned how to be a good pass defender at times too."
Player Spotlight – Jonathan Slaton
Starting opposite Hopkins at corner will be redshirt junior Jonathan Slaton. Slaton was locked in a competition for the starting nod with UMass transfer James Allen, who is also expected to see lots of snaps. Slaton played in all 12 games as a true freshman in 2014 and following a redshirt year in 2015, contributed in a reserve role last season. The Lithonia, Ga., product was one of the key members of the Bucs' 2014 recruiting class, and the coaching staff is optimistic Slaton can put his ability on display this year.
"Slaton has all the physical and athletic tools to be a very, very good corner," Foster said. "The biggest thing with Slaton is his maturity. You can tell he's grown from when he first got here and even from the spring to now. The thing I stay on him constantly about is being consistent. If he can do that, he's got an opportunity to be a really good football player."
"It really does all go together. It's great that Bryant and I knew each other before we got here. We always have a plan before we go out if we're doing drill work or meeting together. Our kids are tied in together. We always make sure that we're teaching the same language and we're harping on our guys to talk to each other. Communication is critical and I think before the kids can play together, they gotta know the coaches are together and certainly Bryant and I are." – CSU safeties coach Mike Adams on the relationship between the Bucs' corners and safeties
132 – Number of games played by the trio of DJ Curl, Corbin Jackson and Troy McGowens in their CSU careers. Each played in at least 41 games and was essentially a four-year starter. McGowens was a three-time All-Big South Conference pick.
3 – CSU finished third nationally in passing yards allowed per game last season, yielding just 158.8 per contest. Part of that stemmed from playing in a league that features predominantly run-first offenses.
CSU took off from practice on Sunday and will get back to work on Monday afternoon as it gears up for Saturday's season opener at Mississippi State. The Bucs will follow their normal regular season practice schedule before flying to Starkville on Friday.