UAB 2023 position preview: Cornerbacks

Published Jul. 18, 2023, 7:00 a.m.
By Evan Dudley
Shutting down opposing passing attacks has become a standard of the UAB football team and the new coaching staff has their work cut out for them.
The Blazers return 10 total starters -- five on offense and four on defense -- and redshirt junior Mac McWilliams will ferry a new crop of cornerbacks as they uphold a lofty standard in the secondary.
Starling Thomas V, CD Daniels and Devodric Bynum departed following lengthy and impressive careers on the Southside and were joined by transfer portal entries Xavier Lanier and Codey Martin. Daniels and Bynum were highly-productive role players and Thomas started three consecutive seasons while racking up 101 tackles, 30 pass breakups and two interceptions.
Outlook: Aside from the offensive line, the cornerback unit lost the most experience among position groups but does return the talent of one of its two McWilliams brothers. The Blazers dominated the skies the past few seasons but need to sharpen the learning curve for a youthful group of pass defenders.
Mac McWilliams experienced a run of bad luck the past two years in the injury department, ending each season prematurely, but is one of UAB’s best players when on the field. He was named to the CUSA All-Freshman team, returning after a five-game absence to clinch the Blazers’ win over No. 13 BYU in the 2021 Independence Bowl, and had 19 tackles, 10 pass breakups and a 78-yard pick-6 before missing the final six games of last season.
Past the aforementioned McWilliams, there is a step drop-off in FBS-level experience with Colby Dempsey being the only other returner to have played a game – appearing in 21 games and producing 14 tackles. Trey Miles, T’sai McDaniel, Nasir Bashir, Austin Mitchell and Sam Young have yet to appear in a game.
UAB added two transfers from the portal, AD Diamond (Auburn) and BJ Mayes (Incarnate Word), but only the latter has any extensive playing experience, albeit on the FCS level. Mayes appeared in 20 games over two seasons, collecting 53 tackles, 14 pass breakups and an interception, while Diamond did not see the field during his time on the Plains.
Rounding out the cornerback room are true freshmen Ricky Lee III and Jaylyn Ferguson, the former of which participated in spring practice.
Battle to WATCH: McWilliams has a lock on his spot in the pecking order but the cornerback slot opposite of him is open to returners and newcomers alike. Dempsey has been with the program for three seasons, earning his first action in the secondary last year, and will have to fend off Mayes, Diamond and Lee.
Keep an Eye on: Lee. The true freshman arrived on the Southside for spring practice and was praised for his development as much as any other newcomer. Along with fellow true freshman Everett Roussaw, Lee helped lead Cedar Grove (Ga.) to the 2019 and 2021 Class 3A titles.

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