Dee Smith, the team’s leading tackler from last season, was the lone defection from last season’s team leaving Khane Pass as the only returning starter.
As the team took the field for the start of camp, the Cardinals have added some depth by moving Russ Yeast from cornerback, and the growth of Jack Fagot and Trenell Troutman. Fagot, a former walk-on, earned a scholarship in the spring, while Troutman played sparingly during his freshman season.
“I think the competition is really high,” safeties coach ShaDon Brown said following Tuesday’s practice. “Khane Pass has played a lot of football, and moving Russ Yeast over from corner has made strides. Furthermore, some of the younger guys who we didn’t expect much from have picked it up and are making plays. I’m pleased after nine practices of the progress the guys are making but we have a long way to go.”
Yeast has made the biggest jump from last year after a disappointing sophomore season. The Greenwood, Indiana, product totaled eight tackles in 11 games and was one of the team’s kick returners. However, he didn’t see the playing time he anticipated last year.
Through the first two weeks of practice, Yeast has opened the eyes of the coaching staff and other members of the team, and has made the biggest stride of anyone on defense.
“I’m a little biased because I’ve known Russ since he was a little boy,” Brown said. “I think he gained his love back. Anytime you lose your love and passion for whatever you do, you won’t be as good at it. He got that back. He got his swagger back. He has that right now and there’s no reason he can’t be an all-ACC player.”
The competition in the secondary has been fierce through the first nine practices, with so many different players looking to be the starter when the team takes on Notre Dame on Labor Day.
Anthony Johnson, who made his collegiate debut last season, turned heads late in the season with his play. The Coconut Creek, Fla., native played in 11 games, making a pair of starts, and recorded nine tackles in his final two games.
He has stepped in to compete for one of the starting cornerback positions, but is in a fierce battle to win a spot on this improving defense.
“It makes every better because no one can get comfortable,” cornerback Anthony Johnson said. “A guy can’t have a bad practice because there is someone there who will take your spot. I think that pushes us to be a great secondary.”
The Cardinals return to the practice field on Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m.