TROY – The receiver gave a head fake to the outside, cut sharply inside, planted his foot in the ground and cut back out to the corner of the end zone.
The cornerback had to make up half a step as the ball was thrown. The defender lunged, his arm hitting the ball and knocking it away, saving six points.
The development of cornerback Orlando Lacey continues. Lacey, remember, was a first-team all-state performer at Class 3A Opp High School as a quarterback in 2016. When he arrived at Troy he moved to the secondary.
He was redshirted in 2017 and was primarily a special teams player and a reserve defensive back for the Trojans last year. He played in nine games and had one tackle against Louisiana.
“He’s doing good,” Trojan defensive coordinator Brandon Hall said. “We’ve got to find out who those corners are going to be. We’ve got to find four of them.”
Troy’s top four cornerbacks from 2018 are not playing this season. One graduated, two transferred and another had academic issues.
That has created opportunity for a young group of corners who collectively are gifted athletically but are unproven and inexperienced.
Lacey, now in his third preseason camp at Troy, is in that mix.
“I think the biggest thing for him is he’s got the athletic ability. I think he cares,” Hall said after Wednesday’s practice. “I think he just needs to play with more confidence, be a little more physical, a little more … aggressive. Be violent and get after people a little bit more. When he’s unsure of himself he kind of floats.”
Lacey is sounding more like a defensive back than the high school quarterback who threw for more than 3,500 yards and rushed for more than 3,300 yards in 2½ seasons at Opp. He accounted for 71 touchdowns for the Bobcats. Now he’s trying to prevent them.
“There’s a lot of things that change when we get pads on,” Lacey said Wednesday. “We can start getting our hands on people now, working on our techniques and stuff.”
He said he is adjusting to the new defense and said he’s getting “better and better every day.”
“I’m picking it up very well,” Lacey said. “The play calls are starting to get really easy.”
The tweaks that Hall brought to Troy’s defense aren’t anything compared to the adjustment from quarterback to cornerback, he said. The biggest change, he said, was learning to backpedal.
“When I first got here, I was not able to backpedal and move my hips,” he said. “But now, with the coaches I’ve had working on my footwork, I’ve gotten way better.”
With all the vacancies at his position, he knows there is opportunity for playing time this season.
“There’s open spots,” Lacey said with a smile. “We’re very close as a unit. We all love each other, but we also want each other to be on the field. We push each other every day to get out there and do our best to earn that starting position.”
Hall said Lacey is a good person who tries hard and “wants to do good.”
“I think it’s a matter of him just letting it go and not worrying about being a pleaser and worrying about what the coaches think and just going out there and playing as hard as he can,” the coach said.
Among others in the crowded cornerback room are Will Sunderland, Lavon Fletcher, Jawon McDowell, Craig Slocum and Reddy Steward. A newcomer, Monte’ McGary, has missed some time with a shoulder injury, but the transfer from Iowa Western is expected back in a couple days.
Fletcher (redshirt freshman), Steward (true freshman) and Slocum (like Lacey, a redshirt sophomore) each have been impressive at times.
“They’ve been catching my eye,” Lacey said.
Consistency, especially at cornerback, will win the job.