Ranking the Big 12's space force units: Ranking the 2020 cornerbacks

Ian Boyd

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Keep up with the full 2020 space force series:
-The importance of wide receivers
-Ranking the league's receivers
-The importance of left tackles
-Ranking the league's left tackles
-The importance of cornerbacks


There’s two ways for a team to utilize their top cover corner. One is to keep him on the left, since offenses regularly stack their best receiver to the quarterback’s right side. The other is to always keep him on the boundary, since the boundary outside receiver is easy to isolate and the offenses that don’t put their best guy to the right typically place him there.

Kansas State would shadow the opponent’s top corner to either side with their top guy (A.J. Parker) in 2019. Most teams don’t follow that prescription for whatever reason, in a related story K-State was able to pace the league in pass defense in 2019.

The 2020 cast of corners in the Big 12 isn’t particularly inspiring at a glance barring the dramatic emergence of some hitherto unknown players. As I demonstrated the other day, this is one position where you can use everyone’s favorite measurable, the 40-yard dash, as a decent proxy for whether an up and coming talent has what it takes to surprise.

So I’ve included 40-yard dash times for all of these players. Here’s the caveat though, when these guys were tested by that metric in high school they were not necessarily well trained on how to shave off time like they would be in the NFL combine. Don’t dismiss these numbers, but don’t over weight them either.

Here’s how things are shaping up at this crucial position.

No. 1: Texas

Top cornerback: D’Shawn Jamison
Alternative targets: Josh Thompson, Jalen Green, Kenyatta Watson II

Texas returns two part time starters from 2019 along with another player in Josh Thompson who played nickel for a few games in 2018, was injured for 2019, and now returns. The two main options are D’Shawn Jamison and Jalen Green, who started nine and seven games respectively. Green has better size at 6-1, 195 but the 5-10, 190 pound Jamison is the better athlete and possesses better ball skills (three INT in 2019). If neither seize the day and Thompson doesn’t emerge or is moved, there’s also former 4-star sophomore Kenyatta Watson II waiting in the wings. Overall there’s a lot of talent for Texas and either Green, Jamison, or Thompson is due to put it together as an upperclassman.

Like a few other teams high on this list, Texas is likely to employ press-quarters in the boundary a lot. Meaning the cornerback in the boundary is playing press-man and the boundary safety is freed up to read keys and provide help to different areas of the field.

Press-man in the boundary.jpg

Measurables
D’Shawn Jamison: 5-10, 184. Junior. 4-star from HOU. 4.48 40 time (SPARQ)
Josh Thompson: 6-0, 215. RS junior. 4-star from ETX. 4.57 40 time (SPARQ)
Kenyatta Watson II: 6-1, 184. Sophomore. 4-star from GA. 4.5 40 time (SPARQ)

No. 2: Oklahoma

Top cornerback: Tre Brown
Alternative targets: Tre Norwood, Jaden Davis, Brendan Radley-Hiles

The Sooners played Tre Brown as their left cornerback for most of 2019 even though Parnell Motley was the better player thanks to multiple seasons as a starter in the league. Motley is now gone leaving Brown to try and consistently be the top guy for Oklahoma.

Brown is pretty similar to TCU’s Noah Daniels. He has elite speed and he knows how to use it to stay in the hip pocket of a receiver in press-man coverage.

Jaden Davis is listed at a similar size (both around 5-10, 180) but they both appear to be safely smaller than that, at least in terms of height. Davis is getting fierce competition from redshirt junior Tre Norwood, who saved Oklahoma’s season in 2018 by moving from corner to strong safety for the Big 12 title game and allowing them to alternate bringing Caleb Kelly and Robert Barnes into the box to stifle Texas’ run game. He missed 2019 with injury and now returns. Brendan Radley-Hiles will likely remain at nickel but his skill set is that of a coverage player.

Given Brown’s proclivity for man coverage, the Sooners may be all the more likely to emphasize more physical play from the other corner position and turn to Norwood. It could be tough to defend screens and quicks with Radley-Hiles and Davis as the first line of defense on the perimeter.

Measurables
Tre Brown: 5-10, 185. Senior. 4-star from OK. 4.43 40 time (SPARQ)
Tre Norwood: 5-11, 194. RS junior. 3-star from AR. 4.62 40 time (SPARQ)
Jaden Davis: 5-9, 185. Sophomore. 4-star from SFL. 4.58 40 time (SPARQ)

No. 3: K-State

Top cornerback: A.J. Parker
Alternative targets: Kiondre Thomas, Lance Robinson

Kansas State is in great shape for 2020 with the healthy return of A.J. Parker. At 5-11, 178 he’s not the biggest but he has the hips and quickness to stay on top of routes or to effectively stick to guys when he’s playing press. He also demonstrated comfort in a variety of schemes last season, they threw the kitchen sink at Tylan Wallace while keeping Parker across from him. When Parker had to match up with Wallace 1-on-1 in space though without heavy help, he was losing. Parker missed the end of the year with a right ankle injury.

Opposite Parker the Wildcats have Minnesota grad transfer Kiondre Thomas and then up and coming Lance Robinson, a speedy but smaller athlete from Louisiana who caught my eye back when they signed him. The Wildcats have shown a partially Bill Belichik approach overall with how they scheme coverage matchups. They’ll regularly bracket a troublesome receiver and then play man coverage elsewhere, but they’ll still use their best cover man on the guy they are bracketing. So depth of quality at corner is very important for them.

Walter Neil, Jr was solid for them opposite Parker a year ago and is transferring after getting edged out by Thomas and Robinson. That development suggests if Parker is healthy, K-State will improve in 2020.

Measurables
AJ Parker: 5-11, 178. RS senior. 2-star from OK. Est. 4.6 40 (based on HS 11.36 100m)
Kiondre Thomas: 6-0, 186. RS senior. 3-star from AR/Minnesota transfer. 4.46 40 time (SPARQ)
Lance Robinson: 5-9, 185. Junior. 3-star from LA. 4.62 40 time (SPARQ)

No. 4: TCU

Top cornerback: Noah Daniels
Alternative targets: Tre’vius Hodges-Tomlinson, Keeyon Stewart

The Frogs are in relatively decent shape despite losing Jeff Gladney. Noah Daniels was a promising redshirt freshman in 2018 that was in the mix before injuries derailed him. At 6-0, 195 he has pretty good size and ran the 100m in high school in 10.34 seconds, if he’s still close to that he’s basically an NFL athlete at the position heading into his fourth year in the program. His 2018 film before the injury revealeda pure man corner who could stick on good wide receivers, including the crew for the Dwayne Haskins Buckeyes.

After Daniels there’s a lot buzz around the program for the nephew of famous Frog Ladainian Tomlinson, Tre’vius Hodges-Tomlinson, who’s a short but twitched-up athlete at 5-9, 171. Patterson has already confirmed mini-Tomlinson as the second starter, beating out Keeyon Stewart who played some solid snaps for the Frogs in 2019. TCU is very deep in the secondary this season. I’m guessing they’ll put Daniels in the boundary and let him play man while relying on feisty Tomlinson to defend screens to the wide side of the field and play zone.

Measurables
Noah Daniels: 6-0, 195. RS junior. 3-star from HOU. 4.51 40 time (SPARQ)
Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson: 5-9, 171. Sophomore. 3-star from CTX. 4.59 40 time (SPARQ)
Keeyon Stewart: 5-11, 160. Sophomore. 3-star from HOU. 4.55 40 time (SPARQ)

No. 5: Baylor

Top cornerback: Raleigh Texada
Alternative targets: Kalon Barnes

Texada was a starter in 2019 and was a skilled press-man corner for the Bears. At 5-10, 180 or so he’s not huge and he doesn’t have elite recovery speed but he tended to stick on receivers and use technique well to deny easy positioning. Kalon Barnes is the presumed second corner and is a better all-around athlete but hasn’t been blooded yet by Big 12 play.

It’s not clear what Dave Aranda has in store for these guys in 2020, but he’s tended to lean pretty heavily on man coverage at both of his previous stops. If he does likewise in Baylor, it could be pretty tough for Texada and Barnes. If he helps them out like Rhule did with shifting coverages, occasional safety help, and drop eight schemes they could prove to be quite good.

If they try to play the “press-man coverage in the boundary” system of TCU, OU, and Texas it could go very poorly.

Measurables
Raleigh Texada: 5-10, 176. Senior. 3-star from DFW. 4.57 40 time (SPARQ)
Kalon Barnes: 6-0, 181. Junior. 3-star from ETX. 4.4 40 time (Est. from 10.03 100m)

No. 6: West Virginia

Top cornerback: Dreshun Miller
Alternative targets: Nicktroy Fortune

Nicktroy Fortune played regularly for West Virginia in 2019 and acquitted himself well as a true freshman. Dreshun Miller was a blue chip JUCO that was injured in 2019 and redshirted instead of initiating his career as a Mountaineer.

At 6-1, Miller has some unique size and has been praised for his play but Fortune is much faster and has shown more of a knack for man coverage. The Mountaineers play a lot of off quarters and cover 3 in their scheme, using these guys to just sit over the top almost like a safety. I expect they’ll mostly play Miller to the boundary while using Fortune in man coverage to the wide side of the field. As a reminder if you haven’t seen, here’s how they like to align to TE trips formations:

WVU vs y-off trips.jpg

The boundary corner is almost a deep ½ safety with help underneath from the weakside linebacker, who becomes almost a flat corner. To shore things up in the box, to the extent they even need to given how effective the Stills bros are, the free safety shades over to shadow the tight end and becomes a hybrid linebacker near the box.

All that to say, the Mountaineers bracket the boundary a lot and trust the far corner who’s further away from the quarterback to be the guy asked to hold up without safety help. Both jobs are easier then teams like Oklahoma, TCU, or Texas that want the boundary corner to play press-man so the boundary safety can help against the run.

Measurables
Dreshun Miller: 6-1, 190. RS junior. 4-star from GA/AZ JUCO. 4.7 40 time (est from HS 11.76 100m)
Nicktroy Fortune: 6-0, 187. Sophomore. 3-star from GA. 4.5 40 time (est from HS 10.74 100m)

No. 7: Texas Tech

Top cornerback: Adrian Frye
Depth: Zech McPhearson

Adrian Frye is the only Big 12 cornerback to be recognized on the Coaches’ 1st team All-Big 12 as a first or second year player. He made the list in 2018 as a redshirt freshman after picking off five passes, then the new coaching staff moved him to safety for 2019 where he had minimal impact. He’s back at corner and joining second year starter and Penn State transfer Zech McPhearson. Frye was considered a little iffier on technique but has tremendous ball skills, demonstrated by those five interceptions and 10 pass break ups in 2018. If he can get back there and beyond then Tech is in solid shape here. His specialty there was in playing a good shuffle technique on the perimeter and staying within range to use his length and ball skills to disrupt fades.

Measurables
Adrian Frye: 6-1, 175. RS junior. 3-star from HOU. No times available, guesstimated 4.5.
Zech McPhearson: 5-11, 188. RS senior. 4-star from MD/Penn State transfer. 4.49 40 time (SPARQ)

No. 8: Oklahoma State

Top cornerback: Rodarius Williams
Depth: Christian Holmes

Williams is a 6-0, 192 pound four-year starter for the Cowboys who spent his three previous years starting opposite A.J. Green. The Cowboys gave the tough assignments to Green and relied on Williams to avoid getting beat over the top. Now he’s top dog along with transfer Christian Holmes from Missouri, who’s also an experienced vet that hasn’t been asked to play a major role outside in the past either. Overall things are mixed here, neither guy is likely to give up freebies but neither may be able to handle being the focus of an opponent’s attention either.

Measurables
Rodarius Williams: 6-0, 180. RS senior. 3-star from LA. 4.74 40 time (SPARQ)
Christian Holmes: 6-1, 182. RS senior. 3-star from GA/Missouri transfer. 4.53 40 time (SPARQ)

No. 9: Iowa State

Top cornerback: Anthony Johnson
Depth: Tayvonn Kyle, Datrone Young

Scroll down to the measurables on these guys and you’ll see why a program like Iowa State would be particularly keen to employ coverage schemes that don’t require the cornerbacks to be able to stick on vertical routes without safety help.

The Cyclones can help their cornerbacks with their inverted Tampa 2 scheme but they prefer to be able to play their boundary corner in quarters so the boundary safety can be one more player getting involved in the run fit. Anthony Johnson held that spot down for most of 2019 but he’s better as a cover 2 corner or overall defensive back than a man corner. He’s solid playing deeper zone and can tackle reliably.

Tayvonn Kyle could be an answer here, a third year player from Georgia who's 5-11, 176 and one of their longest and most fluid cover man. Expect Kyle to get some looks at playing man coverage while Johnson and their three safeties focus on zone coverages and run support.

The Cyclones aren’t terrific in man, although they’re better than these 40 times would suggest, but they have some players that are pretty well rounded as defensive backs.

Measurables
Anthony Johnson: 6-0, 192. Junior. 3-star from SFL. 4.84 40 time (SPARQ)
Tayvonn Kyle: 5-11, 176. RS sophomore. 3-star GA. 4.85 40 time (SPARQ)
Datrone Young: 5-9, 170. RS junior. 3-star from SFL. 4.71 40 time (SPARQ)

No. 10: Kansas

Top cornerback: Kyle Mayberry
Depth: Elijah Jones, Corione Harris?

Corione Harris is the most promising player here on the roster but was suspended indefinitely in the spring after incurring some felony charges. It seems safest to assume he won’t be involved on the team.

Kyle Mayberry is pretty experienced fifth year player but he’s also yet to have a particularly big impact in Big 12 games. The Jayhawks need Harris to come back, stay on the straight and narrow, and then be more skilled at keeping opposing receivers off it. Elijah Jones is a redshirt senior and former JUCO transfer who’s yet to get his chance until now.

From 1996 until now, a period of 24 seasons, Clint Bowen was a coach or GA at Kansas for 21 of them. For most of the last decade he was coaching up their safeties. The Jayhawks have been surprisingly solid in the secondary a few times over that tenure but it’s over now.

Measurables
Kyle Mayberry: 5-10, 180. RS senior. 3-star from OK. 4.5 40 time (SPARQ)
Elijah Jones: 6-1, 185. RS senior. 3-star from FL/IA JUCO. No times available
 

Ian Boyd

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Worth noting a few things.

One, there's not a ton of separation between Jamison, Brown, and Daniels. All have similar attributes and resumes. Parker is a little different than them, less of a pure burner but more well rounded in his skill set. I gave Jamison the edge because he's more physical and has better ball skills than Brown or Daniels.

Two, playing press-man in the boundary is a challenging way to do things and everyone that employs that strategy is risking getting popped by some good teams. Baylor edged out a lot of close wins in 2019 because doing that to Denzel Mims was a good way to get beat for six.
 
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bHero

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Worth noting a few things.

One, there's not a ton of separation between Jamison, Brown, and Daniels. All have similar attributes and resumes. Parker is a little different than them, less of a pure burner but more well rounded in his skill set. I gave Jamison the edge because he's more physical and has better ball skills than Brown or Daniels.

Two, playing press-man in the boundary is a challenging way to do things and everyone that employs that strategy is risking getting popped by some good teams. Baylor edged out a lot of close wins in 2019 because doing that to Denzel Mims was a good way to get beat for six.
It begs the question... which receivers on the schedule next year are most likely to beat Jamison?
 

Ian Boyd

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It begs the question... which receivers on the schedule next year are most likely to beat Jamison?
 
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genericbufan

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Barnes and Milton are Baylor's best press-man CBs. It'll be interesting to see how we use Texada, who is much more of a bail-technique CB. Aranda loves press-man, and it sounds like we're likely to see a good deal of it from Barnes and Milton. All are sub 4.5s 40 guys, so speed won't be the issue.

Somewhat of an under-the-radar focus area, but the success (or failure) of Barnes and Milton in press-man will be hugely important for BU's 2020 season. It's up there with OL and DL play in terms of importance and uncertainty.
 

sherf1

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It begs the question... which receivers on the schedule next year are most likely to beat Jamison?
Wallace and Rambo stick out as the obvious first concerns, and I'll hat tip our Baylor friends by including Thornton.

Also assume we'll get our regular torching from a Tech receiver, but it may not be the boundary guy (Vasher).
 
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Ian Boyd

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Barnes and Milton are Baylor's best press-man CBs. It'll be interesting to see how we use Texada, who is much more of a bail-technique CB. Aranda loves press-man, and it sounds like we're likely to see a good deal of it from Barnes and Milton. All are sub 4.5s 40 guys, so speed won't be the issue.

Somewhat of an under-the-radar focus area, but the success (or failure) of Barnes and Milton in press-man will be hugely important for BU's 2020 season. It's up there with OL and DL play in terms of importance and uncertainty.
Probably Aranda will just bite the bullet in hopes of being stronger for the future.
 
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bHero

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Wallace and Rambo stick out as the obvious first concerns, and I'll hat tip our Baylor friends by including Thornton.

Also assume we'll get our regular torching from a Tech receiver, but it may not be the boundary guy (Vasher).
The good news is that neither of those are 6-3 guys with a sub-4.4 like Mims was. Bad news is we're not sure if it matters...
 

sherf1

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Thornton is, haha
Actual sub 4.4 or "reported" sub 4.4? Somehow a lot of those guys end up running slower at the combine. Did a couple google searches but nothing definitive came up, like camp laser time.

Even sprinter Duve was 4.39, so just barely.
 

genericbufan

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Actual sub 4.4 or "reported" sub 4.4? Somehow a lot of those guys end up running slower at the combine. Did a couple google searches but nothing definitive came up, like camp laser time.

Even sprinter Duve was 4.39, so just barely.
He's faster than Mims. Who knows what he'll run at the combine, but he ran faster 40s than Mims when they were both at BU.

 
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bHero

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Thornton is, haha
Usually every kid runs a 4.4 at camps.. I don't usually take the anecdotal stories as much, and teams definitely aren't forthcoming w/camp times.

There is some stuff that supports that he might have done it in the past... like a 10.5 100M. He's 20-25 lbs heavier today than when he ran that, so it'll be interesting to see how much he was able to keep. It doesn't always fall off, as an example Devin Duvernay ran a 4.38 in HS at ~190 and then 4.39 on his pro day at 200+. But there can be a relationship.
 

genericbufan

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Usually every kid runs a 4.4 at camps.. I don't usually take the anecdotal stories as much, and teams definitely aren't forthcoming w/camp times.

There is some stuff that supports that he might have done it in the past... like a 10.5 100M. He's 20-25 lbs heavier today than when he ran that, so it'll be interesting to see how much he was able to keep. It doesn't always fall off, as an example Devin Duvernay ran a 4.38 in HS at ~190 and then 4.39 on his pro day at 200+. But there can be a relationship.
The difference in TT and Duvernay is that Duvernay was a very developed kid in HS, and he was really bulked up running his 40s at the combine. Tyquan was an undernourished and undeveloped Florida kid who was 6'3" 165 in HS. At 6'3" 180 he doesn't have bulk slowing him down; rather, he's getting closer to where his body needs to be for peak speed.

And I don't mean this as a slight against Duvernay at all. I love what he brings to the table. But he entered college with a completely different level of physical development than Tyquan. Also, Tyquan is a baby. Just turned 20 last month. (Not sure about Duvernay's age relative to his classification, though.)
 

bHero

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The difference in TT and Duvernay is that Duvernay was a very developed kid in HS, and he was really bulked up running his 40s at the combine. Tyquan was an undernourished and undeveloped Florida kid who was 6'3" 165 in HS. At 6'3" 180 he doesn't have bulk slowing him down; rather, he's getting closer to where his body needs to be for peak speed.

And I don't mean this as a slight against Duvernay at all. I love what he brings to the table. But he entered college with a completely different level of physical development than Tyquan. Also, Tyquan is a baby. Just turned 20 last month. (Not sure about Duvernay's age relative to his classification, though.)
Maybe... DD was a 10.3 guy. TT is a 10.5 guy, so I can see a sub 4.4.
 

genericbufan

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TT was a 10.5 guy...as a 150 pound 16 year old.

Ignoring all of that, he definitely plays faster than Mims, and BU staffers claim that he runs 40s (on campus) faster than Mims. Again, who knows what he'll run at the combine. Who knows if he'll be healthy this year. Etc. But speed isn't an issue for Thornton.
 

mattwson

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I know in a normal year with a normal offseason, the space force is of utmost importance. Considering this year's shortened offseason and the number of guys that could miss games, do you think we will see more of an emphasis on the running game across the country than we would in a normal year? If your QBs and WRs didn't get a million reps in the offseason and any of them could miss a game at any time, wouldn't most OCs lean more on a run game or a screen game?
 

sherf1

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I know in a normal year with a normal offseason, the space force is of utmost importance. Considering this year's shortened offseason and the number of guys that could miss games, do you think we will see more of an emphasis on the running game across the country than we would in a normal year? If your QBs and WRs didn't get a million reps in the offseason and any of them could miss a game at any time, wouldn't most OCs lean more on a run game or a screen game?
It's possible if you look at it as defense is more athleticism and offense is more execution.

That's gonna have diminishing returns though as teams adapt. I think a more likely consequence is this season favors teams with continuity and experience. Texas mostly fits that description on offense. New OC but not a whole new system and almost everyone important was here last year too
 

Ian Boyd

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I know in a normal year with a normal offseason, the space force is of utmost importance. Considering this year's shortened offseason and the number of guys that could miss games, do you think we will see more of an emphasis on the running game across the country than we would in a normal year? If your QBs and WRs didn't get a million reps in the offseason and any of them could miss a game at any time, wouldn't most OCs lean more on a run game or a screen game?
I doubt it. Art Briles used to give his players the summer off without throwing much and then would make up for it in the fall.

If teams did try to emphasize the run game more it would play heavily to the advantage of a few schools, Texas in particular.
 

Justin Wells

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I doubt it. Art Briles used to give his players the summer off without throwing much and then would make up for it in the fall.
True story. Those guys didn’t stop from August-December. He’d check the mileage often.
 

Ian Boyd

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I was at that game, I think that was one of the biggest "OMG SPEED!" moments I've had. The stadium was in awe
I'm coming round on him, I had a faulty memory of him mostly doing his work in other settings and not in the boundary X. I'd put Baylor higher at WR if I did it again.
 
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travisroeder

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I'm coming round on him, I had a faulty memory of him mostly doing his work in other settings and not in the boundary X. I'd put Baylor higher at WR if I did it again.
It's fair enough. I tend to remember most other Big 12 players by how they do against Baylor, and Thornton did nothing against Texas. Brewer vs Texas was the pinnacle of zero arm strength, only throw to Mims.
 

Ian Boyd

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It's fair enough. I tend to remember most other Big 12 players by how they do against Baylor, and Thornton did nothing against Texas. Brewer vs Texas was the pinnacle of zero arm strength, only throw to Mims.
Yeah, I watched a lot of Baylor games though. I really only remembered the Mims boundary vertical stuff.
 

ripharley

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Yeah, I watched a lot of Baylor games though. I really only remembered the Mims boundary vertical stuff.
Speaking of which, how do you watch a live broadcast — formations first, followed by defensive alignments? I found myself first trying to understand the coverages pre-snap watching SMU-TSU Saturday, helped by the many wide field shots that we normally don’t get live.

If you’ve not thought about it, that’s probably a good sign.
 

Ian Boyd

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Speaking of which, how do you watch a live broadcast — formations first, followed by defensive alignments? I found myself first trying to understand the coverages pre-snap watching SMU-TSU Saturday, helped by the many wide field shots that we normally don’t get live.

If you’ve not thought about it, that’s probably a good sign.
I try to zoom in from the coverage shell. Meaning I'll start with the coverage shell, and try to zoom in from there. You really have to train your eyes, or really your brain I guess, to be able to process the common shifts and restructuring that takes place after the snap. And I only do that if I'm watching intentionally, if it's more casual I'm ball-watching like anyone else.

With Texas I actually take notes on the Longhorn formation, which is probably too limiting but it gives me a written record of what Texas was doing. As Sun Tzu probably said, the enemy tells you who you are, so I should probably try to get my eyes more on what the opponent is doing against Texas. It's hard when you only get one look, much easier on rewatch.