July 29, 2010

Pleasant surprise at cornerback




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With all-conference performers at every level of Kent State's defense,
the Golden Flashes enter the 2010 campaign in good shape defensively.


Last fall, even with a 5-7 record, the Flashes' defense ranked among
the best in the Mid-American Conference. Kent State was second in pass efficiency
defense, fifth in scoring defense, rushing defense and eighth in passing defense.
They finished sixth in total defense, third in sacks by and first in opponent
first downs and red zone defense.


Credit defensive end Monte Simmons, linebacker Cobrani Mixon and safety Brian Lainhart for much of that success. All three earned
all-MAC honors and should again be the driving force behind the Golden Flashes' defensive
efforts.


But, the 2010 season might hinge on the development and growth of Kent State's
cornerbacks.


Of the top six cornerbacks listed on Kent State's pre-season depth chart
only two saw action last season: Josh Pleasant and Norman Wolfe.
That leaves the Flashes young and inexperienced at the position.


The good news is senior Kirk Belgrave returns in 2010 after a one-year
academic hiatus.


Belgrave's experience should help solidify this unit.




HEAD OF THE CLASS

Junior Josh Pleasant is Kent State's top cornerback. Last fall
he finished third on the team with 73 tackles and was fourth in the MAC with
12 pass breakups (11 breakups, 1 interception).






Josh
Pleasant was fourth in the MAC with 12 pass breakups in 2010.


Pleasant arrived in Kent in 2008 after playing a year at Hargrave Military
Academy. At Hargrave Pleasant picked off six passes and returned two punts
for touchdowns.


As a freshman Pleasant made two starts in 11 appearances recording 22 tackles
and an interception. He was named Kent State's Defensive Rookie of the
Year.


Last fall Pleasant started all 12 games, with perhaps his best performance
coming in the season finale against Buffalo. He made 12 tackles, broke up three
passes and forced a fumble.


If Pleasant can carry that momentum into the 2010 season he could land himself
on the all-MAC team. That would also be good news for Kent State's defense,
which will rely on the play of its cornerbacks to prevent big plays.


Pleasant is slotted as the No. 1 guy at halfback, that's the player
responsible for covering the boundary or short side of the field. That position
was created in 2005 when the KSU coaches had two future NFL players in the
lineup: Jack Williams (then a sophomore) and Usama Young (a junior).


The player lined up on the short side of the field typically finds himself
in man-to-man coverage most often, so it was important to find a guy with great
ball skills and instincts, and it didn't hurt to be smaller in stature.
That position was perfect for Williams and the terminology stuck.


Now Pleasant, who stands a generous 5-foot-10, 181-pounds, has been assigned
the role of halfback and the results speak for themselves.




THE REST OF THE BUNCH





Kirk
Belgrave (left) gives KSU some much needed experience at cornerback.


Behind Pleasant there wasn't much more experience at the position; that was until Belgrave literally
made the grade.


Belgrave, a 6-foot-1, 197-pound fifth-year senior, has played in 33 games
with eight starts in his three years on the field at Kent State. He sat out
the 2009 season for academic reasons but his hard work in the classroom has
him slotted as the No. 1 cornerback.


He enters the 2010 season with 59 career tackles and one interception.


The depth at halfback includes 5-foot-8, 163-pound junior Norman
Wolfe
,
who played in 11 games at nickel back last season. He recorded 27 tackles and
four pass breakups.


Behind Wolfe is freshman Dylan Farrington, a 6-foot, 190-pounder
from Chapel Hill, N.C. An all-conference performer during his junior and senior
seasons at Chapel Hill High School, Farrington ended his career with 116 tackles
and 19 interceptions. Last year Farrington attended Hargrave Military Academy
where he led the team in picks and earned a spot in the Offense-Defense All-American
Bowl and was named by Rivals.com as one of the Top 50 prep players in the country.


Farrington enrolled at Kent State in January and participated in spring drills.


Behind Belgrave the Flashes are much greener.


Sure, both Darius Polk and Sidney Saulter were on the squad
last fall but Polk broke his collarbone during camp and missed the season and
Saulter has yet to see any playing time.


Polk, a 6-foot, 183-pound redshirt freshman from Lynchburg, Va., spent the
2008 season at Hargrave Military Academy. Before that he was a three-time all-state
selection as a wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner at Virginia Episcopal
School. Polk was one of the stars of fall camp before he suffered the injury
in the Flashes' final preseason scrimmage.


Saulter, a 6-foot, 173-pound redshirt sophomore from Miami, Fla., has been
part of the program for two seasons. He redshirted in 2008 and did not see
action in 2009. As a senior at North Miami High Saulter earned honorable mention
all-Dade County honors after posting 81 tackles, eight pass breakups and three
picks. He was also a regional qualifier in the 300-meter hurdles.




NEWCOMERS

Kent State signed two cornerbacks in the recruiting class of 2010. Farrington
already has enrolled and Malcolm Pannell should arrive in August.
Pannell, a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder from Pickerington Central High School in
central Ohio, chose Kent State over an offer from Ohio University. A two-year
starter at Central, Pannell recorded 39 tackles, broke up 17 passes and picked
off three pass attempts. He also contributed with over 800 yards of combined
offense and special teams yardage.




POSITION STRENGTHS

Up until a few weeks ago this section of the cornerbacks preview was going
to be much shorter, but that all changed when Belgrave's hard work in
the classroom paid off with his eligibility.


That gives Kent State two seasoned cornerbacks to start the season, with a
third-Wolfe-providing depth.


It also provides the position with another upperclassman to provide leadership.
And who better to follow than the guy that could have taken the easy road and
given up on his academics and football career but instead chose to work harder
to give himself another year on the football field?


Kent State's outlook on defense certainly improved when Belgrave earned
his eligibility.


But, that's not the Flashes' only strength at the position.


Pleasant has proven himself to be among the best in the MAC at the position.
He's excellent in man-to-man coverage and he's not shy about delivering
the big hit.


There's plenty of athleticism at the position, which could lead to a
big year in turnovers and an even better pass defense efficiency.




POSITION WEAKNESSES

Kent State's across-the-board weakness is a lack of quality depth. With
the exception of running back, the Golden Flashes don't have much experience
behind their starters.


There's plenty of talent, but excelling in high school or prep school
is one thing. Competing at the Division I level in college is another.


There's a learning curve. How quickly Kent State's reserve cornerbacks
pick up their responsibilities and adapt to the speed of the game will determine
the success of this unit.




OVERVIEW

It can't be stated enough how important it was to get Belgrave back
for the 2010 season. Kent State's defense filled a big hole, and now
the coaching staff can concentrate on developing depth rather than identifying
a starter to play opposite of Pleasant.


While Kent State's defense ranked second in the MAC in pass defense
efficiency the Golden Flashes were eighth in the conference in pass defense.
That's a number that has to improve for Kent State to compete for its
first MAC title since 1972.


With two experienced starters in Pleasant and Belgrave, along with the rest
of Kent State's defensive contributions, that's an area that should
see immediate improvement in 2010.


Depth certainly is an issue as Wolfe is the only projected backup with game
experience. The talent is there, so Kent State at least will have plenty of
athleticism on the field. That hasn't always been the case.


Kent State's season doesn't hinge on the play of the cornerbacks,
but if the Golden Flashes want to compete for a MAC title they can't
afford to give up 337 passing yards to a 1-11 team (Miami) or over 500 to anybody
(Bowling Green).


















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