Jordan Mays entered his final round of spring practices at Air Force expecting to return as a backup safety. He did not figure he'd be lining up as a starting cornerback.
Injuries to projected starters Justin DeCoud and Gavin McHenry have left the Falcons scrambling at cornerback, sliding Mays over from free safety and rotating freshman Roland Ladipo and sophomore Kalon Baker into the spot on the other side of the field.
"At first I was kind of down about it, I didn't know where I'd be depth-wise at corner," Mays said. "But I came out and did pretty good on my one-on-ones. I played corner in high school so stuff sort of started sparking back and I started running with it and I was comfortable with it."
The injuries have been inopportune for DeCoud and McHenry, obviously, as both wanted to solidify starting spots. But it has also been unfortunate for the team, as pass defense was a weakness last year and there are some changes in store under new secondary coach and defensive coordinator Steve Russ.
"Coverage-wise there is some new stuff," Russ said. "There's definitely some things we're switching up a bit. The bottom line is for all of our players, whether they played last year or not, they've all got to get better. There's no doubt about that. And when they're not practicing, they're not getting better. That's the thing that we're really preaching is just because you're a year older doesn't mean you're automatically better. You've still got to go out there and earn it and get better at what we do and how we do it."
If Air Force, as expected, jams more receivers at the line, Mays may be an ideal fit at the spot. Several inches taller than the team's other corners at 6-foot-1, he's also thicker at 195 pounds.
"I'm a little bit bigger," Mays said. "I'm not going to let them push me around."
Switching a player like Mays this late in his career obviously brings plenty of question marks, but he said all defensive backs are expected to be able to help in coverage, so the transition hasn't been all that drastic.
"He has some natural ability out there at corner," Calhoun said of Mays.
As for Ladipo, who played a bit as a freshman this past season, Calhoun is excited about his potential. He pointed out a deep ball intended for Jalen Robinette that Ladipo was able to knock away in Thursday's practice as a key play.
"He's done some good things," Calhoun said of Ladipo. "He's competitive. He has good quickness. He's alert and he's got great field awareness.
"Those two guys have done a pretty solid job at corner."
By August, DeCoud figures to be recovered from his knee injury. McHenry should be back from an injured hamstring and shoulder. At that point, they'll be competing at a spot much deeper than it was a few weeks ago.
"It's going to be fun in August," DeCoud said. "Of course you want the starting spot, of course I do. But we have a lot of corners and defensive backs who are all pretty much the same. I'm not really going to be mad if I don't get a starting spot. The thing is I just want us all to have a chance to better the team. I'm not a one-man show, I don't have to be the best corner; I just want to be the corner who can help out the team the most."