As Northwestern State wrapped up Wednesday morning’s preseason football practice, cloud cover parted and revealed blue skies above.
The Demons hope that’s a metaphor for the cornerback position, which went through a major makeover in 2015 when young players got on-the-job training that at times, especially early in the season, was trial-and-error.
With sophomore Ike Warren leading four veterans back to man the two corner spots, defensive backs coach De’Von Lockett has more cause for confidence at this point than last year. That doesn’t mean the seventh-year assistant is any more relaxed. Warren, a highly-regarded true freshman last fall, played in all 11 games and started the final six, leading the corners with 32 tackles while breaking up three passes. Having a season under his belt is a great help, he said.
“The difference is knowing to come out and work on my technique every practice, being smarter, practicing well. All we have to do is play with great technique, play strong, play smart,” said the 6-1, 194-pound Tyler, Texas-John Tyler product.
Lockett appreciates the leadership of his starters, Warren and junior Manuel Mukes, who started every game last fall.
“Ike and Manny Mukes have stepped up their games with fundamentals and understanding the defense. Caviaan Rachal, Damian Raymond and Ian Edwards are the guys I’m hoping will step up to be that third, fourth and fifth guy, and we have the transfer from Baylor, Justin Barnes, who will get an opportunity,” he said. “They’re battling for playing time.”
Rachal, a senior from Natchitoches Central who began his Demon days as a walk-on, said his early experiences have helped position him to assist Raymond (a redshirt freshman NCHS product) and Edwards (a redshirt freshman from Denton, Tex.-Guyer) and Barnes, a sophomore.
“It was a steep learning curve, but I jumped right on the train with Coach Lockett, and the coaches rallied around me to help me get better. Now I have a chance to help the corners who are younger and not as experienced, to show them the ropes and hopefully set an example, and raise my level of play,” said Rachal, who has played primarily in nickel and dime packages and on special teams in past seasons.
“Everybody is getting better every single day, listening and being coachable, working hard,” he said.
NSU worked in shorts and helmets Wednesday morning after two days of “pounding” in shoulder pads, said head coach Jay Thomas. The Demons will practice Thursday and Friday mornings at 8:30 before staging the major scrimmage of preseason Saturday morning in Turpin Stadium.