GREENVILLE, S.C. -- With the start of Furman's 2013 season two weeks away, the Paladins' focus and preparation for opening foe Gardner-Webb will intensify with each passing day, and a share of that attention no doubt emanates from the Paladin secondary, which returns three starters.
A year ago the Paladins yielded 228.0 passing yards per game to the opposition and recorded only six interceptions — figures third year head coach Bruce Fowler will certainly look for his squad to improve on this fall as part of an overall goal of producing more turnovers. Last year Furman ranked last among SoCon schools in turnovers gained (13).
And while generating opponent miscues is an objective that falls under the charge of an entire defensive unit, interceptions are, by and large, a product of a squad's secondary.
"A lot times turnovers come due the fundamentals you play and the level of confidence, aggressiveness, and speed you play with --- being in the right place and doing what you are supposed to do. The other is making plays when you have the opportunities, like catching the ball. We had several times last year when we were in position and balls went through our hands or off our hands. We've got to get better in both areas," said Fowler following his squad's Wednesday practice.
"It's harder than it used to be (intercepting passes). Passing games are more sophisticated and efficient, people get the ball out quicker than they did 15-20 years ago, quarterbacks are taught how to move around better, and teams practice on the passing a lot more than they used to. It's a challenge and one we embrace."
The Paladins sport a pair of experienced cornerbacks in Austin Williams (5-10, 175, R-Sr.) and Reggie Thomas (5-11, 180, So.), who combined for 14 starts in 2012. Behind them, however, is no experience — a reality that hits home in many areas on a squad that sports a combined total of 44 redshirt and true freshmen.
"Austin (24 tackles in '12) and Reggie (23 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 sacks in '12) played a lot last year. Austin finished up the season really strong and has been impressive in the preseason, and Reggie was learning as he played last season but made some solid progress. He and Jamarri Milliken (5-11, 186, R-Fr.) are battling it out right now."
The development of depth at cornerback has been slowed due to injuries to a trio of players, including Rodney Anderson (5-10, 182, R-So.), Donovan Franks (5-11, 184, Fr.), and Jairus Hollman (6-1, 185, So.), thus leaving it to Connor Wilson (5-9, 193, R-Fr.) and Richard Hayes (5-11, 178, Fr.) to garner practice reps.
The story is much the same at the two safety slots, where the Paladins boast a pair of veteran peformers in Greg Worthy (6-1, 215, R-Sr.) and Marcus McMorris (6-0, 200, R-Jr.) but nothing in the way of experience behind them.
Worthy is Furman's most experienced defensive player with 26 starts over the last three seasons. He's collected 209 tackles and three interceptions in his career and is a leader much in demand.
McMorris, meanwhile, has seen significant action over the last two campaigns, playing in 21 games and totaling 48 tackles. Last year he returned a fumble a school record 95 yards for a touchdown against Elon and registered a 52-yard interception return for a score versus Western Carolina.
"Greg and Marcus are experienced and have played a lot. Both of them are good players who will improve even more playing together. Behind them we have Thomas Brown (6-1, 200, R-Fr.) and Hunter Tremaine (5-10, 202, R-Fr.) and a bunch of freshmen. We like what we've seen so far from them, especially Richard Hayes and Reeves Rogers (6-0, 195, Fr.), but we'll have to see on depth there."
Notes: Furman's Saturday scrimmage is set for 9:15 a.m. in Paladin Stadium. The team will hold its annual "Mast General Store FanFest" Saturday atternoon at Timmons Arena. Admission to the event, scheduled from 4:00-6:00 p.m., is free and will be streamed in Paladin HD through www.furmanpaladins.com. Fans can pick up the official 2013 Furman schedule poster, get autographs, and have pictures taken with head coach Bruce Fowler and their favorite players. The Furman Cheerleaders and squad mascot Sir Paladin will be present, and door prizes, t-shirt giveaways, and other fan favors are also planned.