As the calendar month turns to August, the reality of football season dawns on the horizon. Along with it comes the hope of the unknown, the beauty of not knowing who can step forward and potentially make themselves a key part of their team.
With so many replaceable parts for Boston College this season, it's interesting to look down the roster and wonder aloud who will play key roles. Despite the obvious departures of Chase Rettig, Andre Williams, and Alex Amidon, the Eagles will have a tough time replacing players at offensive tackle and linebacker. Their defensive line will have new players stepping forward. And as is the case so often, the rebuilding process begins anew almost as soon as the last one ended.
This year will be especially tough to pinpoint who will step forward for the Eagles. Many of the players are transfers from other schools, a type of rebuild on the fly that band-aids over the youth and inexperience of the new recruits. Rather than forcing the young guys into action with bad habits developed in high school, Steve Addazio has the luxury of fielding a team with a number of players who are more mature. But at the same time, almost everyone is learning a new system, even if they transferred to Chestnut Hill. Everything is an unknown.
For that reason, this year especially seems tough to really look at anyone and say, "breakout stud." But let's look at some of the candidates for Breakout Star of the Year for Boston College. These guys might start the season unknown or unheralded, but by the team the season's over, we might know exactly who they are:
Bryce Jones, Jr., CB
Jones is following a path similar to fellow returning corner Manny Asprilla. He played as a true freshman, worked his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore. Last season, we watched Asprilla develop into the focal point of the cornerback position for the Eagles. He became the top corner on Saturdays, and while there were still some holes in his game, he became the solid player Boston College needed to make plays against certain opponents at certain junctures.
Jones has the potential to be that type of player. Slightly bigger than Asprilla, he has the added benefit of playing one year less under the Frank Spaziani 15-yard cushion coverage. Jones has speed, running a 4.58 40 yard dash before coming to BC, and he has the knowledge and awareness of a quarterback. A dual-threat QB in high school, he has a solid ability to read a QB's movements and anticipate a throw. Recording 62 tackles last year, he had a semi-breakout game in the bowl game loss to Arizona when he recorded 13. He has a very quick first step that allows him to get into backfields on corner blitzes, and he can get square on short yardage plays over the middle. As of last year, the secondary receiver was never really a great deep, downfield threat by any team, which put Jones in coverage on slants and outlet passes. After recording two interceptions in his first two games, he garnered ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors against Wake Forest.
Jones does have a major hole to develop if he wants to be a top-tier corner, though. Any time quarterbacks wanted to go downfield on him, he fell over his feet. He couldn't turn and run with receivers particularly great, and that left him exposed at several junctures. While Asprilla doesn't have the speed to get downfield, Jones couldn't turn and make plays with his back to the quarterback. Top echelon corners are able to do that. But since a dual-threat QB never really has to look downfield, he never really learned how to cover downfield until coming to college.
Corners typically make the jump between their sophomore and junior seasons. It's upsetting to see Jones having to do this a year younger than if he'd redshirted. With a redshirt freshman year, this would only be his second season, and he'd be entering it with a much higher ceiling. But his abilities and vision can compensate in the short term, especially against some of the spread offenses poking out in the college game. What'll be exciting to see this year is if he can match his physical abilities with his quarterback awareness.
Jones is going to face competition from Ty-Meer Brown, a fifth year transfer student from Connecticut. The former Huskies DB has a little bit more size, meaning he'll probably be better at jamming wideouts at the line. So if Jones is going to remain in the starting lineup, he'll either need to learn how to jam receivers at the line or at least be able to get down the sidelines against them without drawing penalties. If he can do that, BC is poised to have two potential lockdown corners on game day.