Citadel defensive coordinator Maurice Drayton has no returning starters in his cornerback group, and Drayton -- himself a former Citadel cornerback -- says that's both good news and bad.
"The good news is we don't have to break old habits," said Drayton, who coaches the Bulldogs' corners along with his duties as defensive coordinator. "The bad news is, they don't have that experience with the little nuances, the things people try to do to you on the field. They have to learn that through growing pains."
Drayton hopes those growing pains will come more in practice than in games -- in the Bulldogs' first two games, they face quarterbacks who are a candidate for the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy (Coastal Carolina's Alex Ross) and last year's winner of the actual Heisman Trophy (Florida State's Jameis Winston.)
Walker Smith, a fifth-year senior, and sophomore Cody Richardson will be the first-time starters against Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
Smith, 5-9 and 190 pounds, was a special-teams mainstay last year, blocking a punt that led to a touchdown against Old Dominion. Richardson (5-11, 185) played in 12 games with 11 tackles and one fumble recovery.
"Walk is our mainstay, a consummate technician," Drayton said. "He's fundamentally sound, studies film and understands his limitations and capabilities."
Redshirt freshman DeVonta Delaney (6-1, 185) might be the most athletically gifted of the corners.
"He's a long, rangy young man, so it's hard for him to keep his body and his transitions low," Drayton said. "But when the ball is in the air, he does an excellent job."
Two other redshirt freshmen, Ben Roberts (5-9, 175) and Tyus Carter (5-10, 175) should also be in the rotation.
The Bulldogs have a bit more experience at safety, where junior Nick Willis and senior Julian Baxter both started a year ago. Willis (6-2, 200) was third on the team with 61 tackles last year, while Baxter (6-0, 200) had 45 tackles.
"Both guys are buying into the different tempo we want," said safeties coach Joel Taylor, also the defensive pass-game coordinator. "They are both trying to be more physical players and better mental players, as well."
A couple of true freshmen, Josh Massey (5-11, 190) and Kailik Williams (5-11, 190) have made a quick impression in fall camp and could see the field, Taylor said.
"When you talk to Massey, he's a little more mature than what you might expect from an 18-year-old," Taylor said. "He's super smart, a coach-friendly guy. You tell him one time, and he knows what to do. He will put his nose in there and that's one thing I love. If you put your face in there, I can work with you."
. On special teams, sophomore Eric Goins will begin the season as place-kicker, with junior Austin Jordan handling kickoffs and sophomore Will Vanvick the punter.
"The good thing is, they are all athletic kids," said special teams coordinator Blake Harrell. "That gives us some flexibility there and some things we can do there to be a little creative."