LARAMIE -- Jay Sawvel knows depth is an issue in his secondary.

Sure, there's a plethora of safeties. Esaias Gandy has proven to be one of the best in the Mountain West. Braden Smith stepped in last fall. Rome Weber is now back in the fold after opting out of the 2020 season.

The cornerback position has skill and veterans, too. But there's only two. Is it realistic to think Azizi Hearn and CJ Coldon make it through a 12-game schedule without a few bumps and bruises along the way?

That makes the nickelback position all that much more important for the Cowboys' and their second-year defensive coordinator. And he thinks he has a pair of guys that can make plays at that spot -- or even on an outside island with a receiver.

"We're really pleased with those two guys," Sawvel said of Keyon Blankenbaker and Keonte Glinton. "There's going to be times when we're going to play both of them together as we get to the fall."

Blankenbaker, all 5-foot-10, 185 pounds of him, has been one of the Cowboys' best defenders against the pass over the past two seasons. Despite his size, he doesn't shy away from contact either. He can latch onto big tight ends, follow running backs out of the backfield or split out wide. Same can be said for Glinton, who was forced into action last fall when Blankenbaker was sidelined for two of Wyoming's six games with a leg injury.

 

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Glinton, a Bakersfield, Calif., product, appeared in just two games in 2019. Last season, he played in all six, recording 13 tackles and a pass breakup. Blankenbaker finished with eight tackles and also knocked down a pair of throws from opposing quarterbacks.

Sawvel admitted that he didn't know the identity -- or capabilities of the defense -- in the Cowboys' opening-night tilt in Reno against the high-powered Wolf Pack. He takes the blame for the 420-yard clinic through the air that Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year Carson Strong put on his secondary in a 37-34 overtime loss.

"When we went to Nevada last year, Keonte was our third cornerback," Sawvel said. "He wasn't even repping at nickel just because we had to have another guy ready to play corner."

That could be an issue again. Behind Coldon and Hearn are a pair of freshmen in Cameron Stone and Xavier Carter. Those two saw limited action during their first season in Laramie.

That, Sawvel, is one reason the Cowboys' like the possibilities with both Glinton and Blankenbaker on the field at the same time. It's a nice insurance policy, but Sawvel said he'd like to see someone emerge in camp, whether that's in the spring or fall.

"The goal would be for the third cornerback to not come out of the nickel group, but for one of those other guys to step up and be the three and the four corner to where we don't have to dip into different positions to make that work," he said. "But, if we have to, we will."

 

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