The defensive unit is expected to be the strength of the University of Memphis football team, with the defensive backs looked upon as the backbone.
Historically a slow starting bunch that finishes strong, this year the defense likely will have to get off to a great start, if the team is going to handle its first two opponents – Mississippi State and Navy – on the road.
That gets us back to the defensive backs, who will be anchored by Quindell Johnson, the most decorated player on the team regarding pre-season watchlists. Last year, he made the American Athletic Conference (AAC) All-Conference Second Team.
“I am challenging myself and enjoying my last fall camp,” said Johnson, a fifth-year senior. “I am working on what I need to work on and lead at the same time. I am challenging myself more to be the best that I can be.”
If Johnson meets his goals, the rewards likely will include being drafted into the NFL.
“It would be a blessing. … going to the next level and adding my name and giving back to this university for what they have done for me,” said Johnson.
As for the pressure, Johnson said, “It is business as usual. All the accolades, I just got to go out there and be me. I have to continue to be the leader I have been over the last few years and lead this defense.”
Pre-season rankings have Memphis slotted to finish fifth in the conference. Johnson, who has been around long enough to have played on the Tigers’ Cotton Bowl, yearns for post-season glory for himself and the team.
Charles Clark, the defensive backs coach, said the “biggest thing” that makes Johnson so good is that “he has a passion for the game. He loves it, he studies it and he breathes it each and every day. That is the number one thing.”
Starting and expected to star along with Johnson in the defensive backfield is Rodney Owens. Johnson led Tigers in tackling (105) last season and Owens was second (78). Both are hoping that more tackles are made up front in the upcoming campaign.
“We just believe in one another,” said Owens. “We push each other and when one is not doing their best, we are going to uplift our brothers and be as open and as honest as we can be. …
“This year we have to focus on fighting through all adversity. When adversity hits, we don’t have time to mope around and be sad. We can’t be pointing fingers. We have to keep working and fighting and pull things out.”
Defensive lineman Wardarius Ducksworth is expected to lead that unit. Alongside him will be former Whitehaven High School standout Cormontae Hamilton, who transferred to Memphis after three seasons at Ohio State, will play his first season on the defensive line. He is 6’2” and weighs 265 pounds.
“He is doing great. He is a specimen of a player,” said Kyle Pope, defensive line coach, referring to Hamilton. “I knew he was a really good player. He has come here and opened my eyes a lot.”
Head coach Ryan Silverfield said Hamilton has been phenomenal.
“I wasn’t sure what I was getting when I got him. I have been so pleased with Hamilton. He is hard working and does everything the right way. He is going to be a fantastic football player here.”
(The Tigers travel to Starkville, Mississippi on September 3 for a 6 p.m. kickoff against the Bulldogs on ESPNU.)