PROVO — There are quite a few aspects of the BYU football team that have endured justifiable criticism this season, although one usual suspect of fan angst has escaped a lot of it.
With eight games under its belt, BYU's pass defense is ranked No. 31 nationally despite fielding a relatively young and inexperienced group of cornerbacks. The play hasn't been perfect, and the Cougars haven't exactly matched up with top passing teams, for the most part, but by-and-large a traditional gripe of BYU fans has largely been absent due to some relatively solid play.
"We still have a lot of room to improve, believe me, and they all know that, but overall I think we've made some good progress," said BYU cornerbacks coach Jenaro Gilford, speaking of his position group's play specifically. "But it's a good group that has a great attitude, generally and they're hard on themselves, too. It's a group that is focused on getting better each and every week."
It's a relatively young group, as well, with Gilford relying on a lot of freshmen to get the job done along with some notable veterans, most notably senior Michael Shelton and junior Chris Wilcox, both of whom have maintained starting nods throughout the year.
As for Wilcox, he feels he's done well improving on his ability to make plays on the ball after being noticeably picked on early in the season, perhaps due to opposing offenses being aware of his glaring weakness.
We still have a lot of room to improve, believe me, and they all know that, but overall I think we’ve made some good progress. But it’s a good group that has a great attitude, generally and they’re hard on themselves, too. It’s a group that is focused on getting better each and every week. – BYU cornerbacks coach Jenaro Gilford
"I'm definitely better on it than last year and I'm getting better every week, I feel, but I'm still not where I want to be yet," said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound corner. "I'm constantly working on my tackling and everything else. So far it's gone well and I can feel myself getting more comfortable out there with every game."
Gilford largely agrees with Wilcox's self-assessment.
"He's not where I want him to be yet and he knows that. He's not where he wants to be, either," Gilford said. "But it really is night-and-day with some of the things he's doing at there, especially with his ability to make plays on the ball."
For Wilcox, a lot of it has been attitude and understanding the work he needs to put in.
"He comes from a great family and he's always been positive despite some of the setbacks he's had. He's hard on himself, but he's also ready to improve and excited to keep improving," Gilford said. "He has the type of attitude that is fun to coach."
As mentioned, Wilcox represents a sort of outlier to an otherwise young group of freshmen, each of whom has shown a lot of promise early on. The goal for Gilford is to keep his group of players improving while keeping them in school, which isn't always an easy thing.
"We have a lot of guys who aren't members of the (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), so they have unique challenges, just like I did when I was here," Gilford said. "But they're focused and they understand what it is and understand the great opportunities they have here. If I can keep it together, man, I really like the potential we have."
Gilford speaks with a lot of pride regarding the education goals his position group is achieving, with players such as Shelton having already earned degrees with several others well on their way.
"That's the main thing I promise parents when we recruit these guys — to get them graduated and we all take that very seriously," Gilford said. "So far we're looking good, but like everything else, we have to keep working and improving every day."