Veteran leadership in secondary overcomes short depth chart

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    Although the Horned Frogs’ defensive secondary received national hype for the upcoming season, the loss of Sir Demarco Bledsoe and injury of junior Colin Jones at the position of strong safety leaves the secondary in an unsure position for the 2009 season, head coach Gary Patterson said.

    “You lose a Stephen Hodge, you lose a Sir Demarco Bledsoe, you lose a Colin Jones, so now you’re down to your fourth safety and you still hold people under 200 yards,” head coach Gary Patterson said in his weekly press conference Tuesday.

    The experience of the secondary lies in the returning cornerback starters, seniors Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders.

    In last weekend’s game, both Priest and Sanders recorded two tackles, and Sanders was tallied for one pass breakup.

    Priest and Sanders are returning for their fourth starting season and have started all 39 games in their careers at the university. They share the most career starts of any returning players for the 2009 season.

    Priest, who made second-team All-Mountain West Conference in 2008, was ranked in the top 20 cornerbacks nationwide by CollegeFootballNews.com and had 26 tackles last season.

    Sanders led the defense last season with 12 pass breakups, as well as 45 tackles. He also made All-MWC honorable mention.

    In 2008, Sanders had a career high of seven solo tackles against Oklahoma. He also made two key interceptions in the victory over BYU last season.

    Although Sanders and Priest will return as the most experienced players for the upcoming season, Patterson said he expected leadership to come from the defensive line, specifically the defensive ends.

    Patterson said junior Jason Teague and sophomore Greg McCoy will back up Priest and Sanders.

    “All four guys that played a year ago are playing this year,” Patterson said. “It’s a good group, a group that has played in a lot of football games and we’ll be able to rotate them.”

    Due to the loss of Bledsoe and Jones’ injury, the struggle in the secondary will lie with the open safety positions this season, Patterson said.

    “We have two corners and we have a free safety right now,” Patterson said. “I would probably tell you this is where we need to keep gaining depth.”

    Junior Tejay Johnson is the lone returning safety, but will move to a new position as free safety after playing at weak safety in 2008.