Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio hasn't been shy about paying compliments to his crop of talented new cornerbacks. He also hasn't been afraid to yank a black jersey from one of his veterans and hand it over to a newcomer.
Thursday, D'Onofrio continued to hammer home that message by saying he wouldn't be afraid to start a first-year player in the season opener at Boston College Sept. 1 and by taking direct aim at the work ethic of senior Brandon McGee.
"I just need Brandon to be consistent," D'Onofrio said when asked to discuss why freshman Tracy Howard took the black jersey from McGee three days ago. "I need Brandon's effort everyday to match his talent. I need him to give every ounce. Again, he's a senior and needs to perform at that level.
"We can't come out here every day and have a pep rally and strike up the band. You got to be responsible for you. I can't try to light a fire under you everyday. You got to be responsible for that fire. He's done some good things and gotten better. But the challenge is to be the same guy everyday."
McGee, the only cornerback on the roster with a college start under his belt, hardly seems worried. In fact, he seems to think the only reason he lost the job was because he missed a day because of a stomach virus.
"It's just a grind. It's camp. Things change weekly. I'm not new to this," McGee said. "I missed a day of practice because I was having some issues with my health and now I'm bouncing back, feeling better. I just keep making strides from here. It's going to take care of itself."
> Sophomore Thomas Finnie, who also lost his black jersey earlier this week to junior college transfer Ladarius Gunter, missed three consecutive days with an ankle injury before returning Thursday.
Golden seemed encouraged by the fact Finnie fought to get back on the field quickly.
"He's one of the guys you have to go to the trainer and say, 'Listen, he's going to tell you he's not hurt, but if he's limping, he's hurt,'" Golden said. "Thomas has got a great work ethic, he's tough, so hopefully he'll be ready to go."
Still, D'Onofrio said missing practice hurts and had a direct message for Finnie and McGee.
"You should be careful about how many days you miss," he said. "You don't want to go out of the huddle because you don't know who is coming in."
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> Golden said Gunter, who is the starting boundary corner, has made a big turnaround at camp.
"Ladarius started off really poorly, I mean really poorly. So much so that by day three, he was third team," Golden said. "But he did not give up, he just kept studying, kept preparing, had a great attitude. I think anybody around the program would say the last three practices he's been really, really good. So hopefully he'll continue; he'll develop some consistency."
Gunter said he's dropped a handful on interceptions throughout camp and is mad at himself over it. Gunter said along with Finnie, freshmen Antonio Crawford and Nate Dortch are working at boundary corner. He said Howard, McGee and freshmen Larry Hope and Vernon Davis are working at field corner.
> D’Onofrio believes there is good competition at defensive tackle between Curtis Porter, Darius Smith, Olsen Pierre, and Luther Robinson. “I think those guys have separated themselves,” D’Onofrio said, “and I think we need to have some other guys step up from there.”
With Corey King out, D’Onofrio said he is looking for someone to emerge from a group of Jalen Grimble, DeQuan Ivery, Jacoby Briscoe and Earl Moore. “I need some more depth to come from that group,” D’Onofrio said. "We got to be able to have six to count on."
> Defensive end isn't a spot D'Onofrio has a whole lot of confidence in right now beyond Anthony Chickillo and Shayon Green.
"Right now we've got [Kelvin] Cain, [Dwayne] Hoillett and [Tyriq] McCord behind Shayon [Green]," he said. "Shayon can also go an play in Chick's spot. We're working Jelani Hamilton, who is coming on. We've worked [Jake] O'Donnell, Ricardo [Williams] at that position. I kind of like the tackle position. But I'm trying to find more guys to count on out of that group. Some will rise out of it. When you have seven or eight at end and seven or eight at tackle, eventually it will flush out. But right now it hasn't.
"We still have players at both spots and we're looking to see who are going to be the next guys on the plane when we go to Boston College."
> D'Onofrio said he's not looking for Tracy Howard to be a leader, even though many of his teammates say he's already showing flashes of that. "Tracy is just going about his business and he's doing the job," D'Onofrio said. "All I know is he's coming out here and playing well. He studies the game, he works hard."
> If Seantrel Henderson (concussion) isn't ready to go for the season-opener, look for freshman Ereck Flowers to get a chance to start at right tackle. Offensive line coach Art Kehoe loves him.
" He's a freshman, but he's not really a freshman because he came in January," Kehoe said. "He knows the system... now he's starting to figure it out. He's being aggressive, jumping cadence more and he's finishing plays more."
> Golden wouldn't say if he's decided when if he'll announce who has won the starting quarterback competition (Aug. 13th or Aug. 19th) even though many players have said Stephen Morris is the favorite over Ryan Williams. Golden and D'Onofrio said coaches are still installing the playbook and evaluating what players can do in those plays. The team's first scrimmage is Sunday.
"They'll both get reps with the ones on Sunday and then we'll sit back as a staff Sunday night, Monday night and evaluate it," Golden said.
> Freshman receiver Robert Lockhart continues to draw praise from Golden. Lockhart caught a pair of touchdown passes in practice Wednesday.
"He's faster than we thought he would be," Golden said. "We knew he had a great vertical and ball skills, and that's what attracted us to him, but he's faster than we thought, which is a great benefit because we never had him in camp... We have to continue to learn. We're asking him to do a lot, but hopefully he'll continue to learn. He's very talented. We're excited about him."
> Golden is confident junior strongside linebacker Jimmy Gaines will be back out at practice Friday. Golden, though, said Gaines wouldn't play in Sunday's scrimmage and be transitioned into his spot next week.
"Jimmy's been getting reps, we've just been protecting him," Golden said.