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Kendall Sanders & Daje Johnson: Future Corners?

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There are some players so versatile that you can imagine many roles for them. Team need and the player's self-perception may dictate their starting point, but it's important to keep an open mind and worry less about accurately projecting a two deep in 2016 than putting playmakers into their best position. Despite what some fans yearn for on the internets (see any Jake Raulerson conversation), certainty about future college position isn't always a good thing, and it can mean you've just recruited a bunch of limited athletes.

The good news is that some athletes work out no matter where you play 'em. Quandre Diggs and Quan Cosby - more or less the same dude athletically and attitudinally - are a pretty good example of how similar skill sets can play out favorably on either side of the ball.

Daje Johnson and Kendall Sanders are nowhere close to physical matches and have very different playing styles, but they do share the common blessing of versatility. Are these two offensive players the potential answer at cornerback post-Byndom and Diggs?

Incoming freshman Daje Johnson's high school coach Chip Killian has an interview with HornsNation that's well worth your time.

On his best use:

Where Daje fits in that crew, just get him the ball. From talking with coach [Bryan] Harsin, they want to get it to him in space. Line up in a tight slot or a wide slot. He's very similar to D.J. Monroe, but they've got to get him more than five touches a game. If not, that kid will be over there drinking Gatorade and trying to pick up cheerleaders.

The last line proves that Daje is my kind of guy, but notice Killian's caution that Daje needs game involvement to keep his focus. That theme pops up again in the interview.

I also found this very interesting:

Daje is not a receiver. You can teach him to be one, but you'd have to teach him a lot and coach [Darrell] Wyatt will have to get on him about running routes and doing all the things polished receivers can do.

Agreed. So reason through this. If Daje needs to see the ball frequently to keep his interest and find his best use, but his actual use in our offense will always be situational, he's either going to have to bide his time post-Bergeron/Brown/Gray or he's going to need to find another position to prevent excessive cheerleader frolic and getting drunk on Brawndo. And that position probably isn't flanker.

TCU actually saw him as a natural cornerback:

At TCU, he was going to be a defensive guy and a star as their boundary corner. I've got a pretty good relationship with the guy who recruits Daje for TCU, Trey Haverty. I saw him more than my wife sometimes. They recruited that kid for more than a year. To lose him like that has got to suck.

Sorry TCU - Hyenas kill most of their prey before lions kicks them off the carcass. I know several TCU bloggers who lamented Daje's loss and it's not hyperbole that Patterson thought Johnson was a potential stud cornerback. I trust the TCU staff in player evaluation and their ability to project basic player attributes into another position more than any other in the country.

What about special teams?

I mean, if he walks on the 40 Acres and he's not returning kicks as a true freshman, I'll be shocked. Put him and Monroe back there and let 'em go -- they don't have anyone better.

The problem for most high school coaches is that their player headed to Texas is typically the best they've ever coached, so they tend to not be able to imagine that there are another half dozen guys on campus with his pedigree, but Killian doesn't mind putting it out there and I dig it. And Daje can impact special teams on offense or defense.


Along the same lines, here's an interview with Kendall Sanders. Kendall doesn't require any imagination or projection to see a potential great cornerback. He's straight from CB central casting and proved it in the US Army All-American game.

He's headed to the 40 to spark some explosiveness in our receiving corps and though that's welcomed, this warmed my heart:

I just want to get on the field. Whatever I can do to help the team. But I guess I would choose slot [receiver] because I love offense. But I do want to go to the next level and that might be as a defensive back. I'm just trusting the coaches to put me in the right spot.

My interpretation: I love offense because I get the ball, but I get it: I know what cover corners make in the NFL.

So I'm trusting our coaches, too, Kendall.

As for preparation for a position where he lacks experience:

I've really been working hard at it. I've been catching 100 to 150 balls each day, working on my footwork too. I have a machine up there at the school that I use. I just got that machine up to 50 miles per hour. I think I can be pretty darn good. I've never just been coached at one position before so I think I can do some great things.

And that's the best summation of Sanders. His athletic gifts will work in a lot of spots, he seems to have eye of the tiger, but all things being equal, natural corners are a rarer breed than quality receivers.

No matter how things pan out, the good news is that having options is never a bad thing.