The University of Akron football team formally ended its fall camp Friday with several battles for positions remaining.
None of the others are as fierce or friendly as the one for the two starting cornerback positions.
“It’s probably the most talented position on our team,” coach Terry Bowden said after Friday’s practice.
Defensive backs coach Otis Mounds, now in his third year with the Zips, offered a similar assessment.
“I tend to stress to my guys that iron sharpens iron,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have an experienced group of guys that make up a good talent pool.”
Seniors DeAndre Scott, Larry Hope, Bryce Jones and sophomore Kyron Brown have all flashed speed, aggressiveness and coverage skills since camp began.
But there are only two jobs and four bona fide candidates. Do the math.
“I have four guys I feel like we can go out and compete at a high level,” Mounds said. “We’re excited about that group. If they continue to stay committed to the process, I think good things will happen.”
Count Jones, a Cleveland Heights native and transfer via Boston College, as one of those who is beyond enthusiastically committed.
With this being his final season and having had to sit out per NCAA transfer rules, Jones is itching to return to the field, counting the past year as one of the most difficult things he’s had to endure. He’s one of those types who revels in the competition.
“I like it. I love it. It’s always great to have that type of competition,” he said. “When I got here, you saw what it was. With coach Mounds, you saw what he wanted. With all the people we have out there. It’s tough competition, but … every day you have to make sure you’re on your game.”
But Jones won’t speculate as to where he falls in the cornerback hierarchy. It’s not difficult to tell he’s doing well, because on more than one occasion Bowden offered unsolicited praise to him and everyone within earshot, including the media.
“I’m in there,” Jones said. “Everybody has their up days. Everybody has their down days. It’s like coach [defensive coordinator and associate head coach Chuck] Amato says: ‘Are you getting 2 percent better every day?’?” I’m not really worried about that. I want to each day be better than I was the last day, and on top of that, I want to help the team get better each time I’m out there on the field.”
Mounds calls that attitude one of the 6-foot, 178-pound cornerback’s strengths as a player.
“His passion for the game itself, which allows him to commit a little bit more,” he said. “He puts in that extra work.”
Jones and the others might not have to worry about not getting significant playing time, depending on the team’s situation in any given series.
If the defensive backs are the team’s strength, the linebackers, heading into next week’s season and home opener against VMI, might be its primary question mark due to the loss of last year’s entire crew, including Jatavis Brown and Dylan Evans.
The talent at corner will allow Amato and his defensive coaches some flexibility regarding how they play. If for some reason the linebackers don’t work out and a crucial third-down scenario arises, there will be another option.
“We can use cornerbacks and still put the 11 best very talented people on the field,” Bowden said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.