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Zeitler: Cornerback position shows impressive growth as season intensifies


Central Michigan defensive back Kyron McKinnie-Harper breaks up a potential Eastern Michigan touchdown Oct. 5 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

If you had told me in September that we’d see the Central Michigan defense employ any type of formation this year that isolated the cornerbacks in one-on-one coverage, my reaction would’ve been to laugh and ask, “So how badly did CMU lose?”

But the Chippewas have done exactly that in the latter half of the season; as a result, they are 8-4 overall, 6-2 in Mid-American Conference play, winners of six of their last seven games and MAC West champions.

Following CMU’s lopsided 61-0 loss at the hands of No. 17 Wisconsin on Sept. 7, I wrote a column that ripped the cornerback group pretty hard for their lackluster play through two games.

The Chippewas gave up 400 yards passing against the Badgers that day, including 363 to starter Jack Coan, who completed 26 of his 33 passes and threw for three touchdowns.

Even in CMU’s 45-24 victory over Albany on Aug. 29, the Great Danes were able to get separation from coverage regardless of who was playing corner for the Chippewas.

But as the season has progressed, the cornerback play has improved dramatically.

The trio of sophomore Darius Bracy, redshirt freshman Montrae Braswell and true freshman Kyron McKinnie-Harper asserted themselves as starting cornerback material as conference play worked up to full speed. 

Since then, the confidence in the cornerbacks has only increased as Bracy, Braswell, and McKinnie-Harper continue to pass the eye test and pile up the stats.

McKinnie Harper leads the cornerback group in total tackles with 31 on the season. The 6-foot-1 freshman has forced two fumbles this year as well, along with an impressive nine pass break ups -- tied only with Braswell for the most on the team. Braswell tallied an interception against Northern Illinois on Nov. 2 and has made 27 tackles this season. 

Bracy has been limited at times in the season; he’s missed three games to a lingering undisclosed injury. Nonetheless, he’s amassed 24 total tackles in his time on the field in addition to three pass break ups.

Throughout the Chippewas’ run to clinch the MAC West title, the cornerbacks have played an instrumental role in CMU’s 6-1 record since losing at Western Michigan; at this point in the season, the coaching staff gameplans with the mindset that they can trust the corners to match up in man-to-man coverage with no help over the top.

In the 49-7 blowout win over Toledo, there were times where I saw the Chippewas go to a Cover Zero look, where every defensive back goes man-to-man with a potential target and sticks with him throughout the play with no safety playing center field to ward off deep balls.

Rockets quarterback Carter Bradley managed only 121 yards passing on the afternoon, and the defensive backs knocked away four pass attempts -- McKinnie-Harper had one while safeties Da’Quaun Jamison and Alonzo McCoy combined for the other three. 

At the beginning of the season, the cornerbacks were the weakest aspect of the CMU football team. It’s a major credit to Bracy, Braswell and McKinnie-Harper along with defensive backs coach David Rowe that the corner position has transformed into one of this team’s strong points.