In a run-heavy offense like Cal Poly’s triple option — one where three receivers in the game at the same time is a rarity — backup Ryan Taylor wasn’t seeing much of the field.
The redshirt sophomore was once thought to be a quarterback candidate by former Mustangs head football coach Rich Ellerson, but now, in his second spring under Tim Walsh, Taylor — a 6-foot-3 Oakmont High grad — is moving from receiver to safety.
“Coach came to me and said, ‘How do you feel about the secondary?’ ” Taylor said. “Basically, I was like, ‘Well, if that’s where I’m going to get on the field the fastest, I’d love to go there.’ ”
With the Mustangs’ top three cornerbacks hurting midway through spring drills and the ensuing shuffling to fill the holes, there is a lot more playing time to go around back there.
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Neither projected starters Asa Jackson and Bijon Samoodi nor third-string cornerback Brandon Williamson took part in Saturday’s practice, which culminated with a 30-play scrimmage at the Cal Poly Sports Complex in front of close to 100 high school coaches in attendance for a coaching clinic.
Quarterback Andre Broadous, challenging Tony Smith for the number one spot, got his chance to run with the first team and made some big plays, but the practice seemed more marked by the absences on defense.
Jackson was missing after undergoing surgery to repair a broken wrist, which he reported as successful to defensive coordinator Greg Lupfer. Williamson was at practice with his arm in a sling after breaking his collarbone last week. Samoodi, who’s been out with a hamstring injury but aims to return to practice Monday, sat out, too.
In addition to the injuries, junior safety Greg Francis, a part-time starter the past two seasons, is no longer on the team. Also, walk-on cornerback Kwaku Farkye, a former San Luis Obispo High standout, left the team to focus on academics.
Along with Taylor, junior receiver John Yessner and sophomore running back Bismark Navarro were also moved from offense to the defensive backfield.
Northern Arizona transfer Nico Molino was the lone active corner from the original spring depth chart, and safeties Angel Morales and Darryl Williams received repetitions opposite him Saturday.
“Really, when Asa got hurt, Brandon was hurt, and Bijon was already down with a hamstring,” Lupfer said, “we really had no other options but to try to move some guys.
“Angel Morales ran out there the other practice when Asa Jackson got hurt and played corner. I didn’t tell him to do it. He just did it, and I noticed, ‘Hey, he’s not a bad little corner.’ ”
The situation has made for some unexpected personnel groupings, but in a spring where position battles are heated at the weakside linebacker spot and all along the defensive line, the mix is positive from an evaluation standpoint.
“The more guys that can play with the first team, you can find out exactly how they do it with these guys, how they’re playing against first-team speed,” Walsh said, “and that gives them the opportunity.”
Getting comfortable with first-team speed is a key for Broadous.
In his first taste of it during games last season, the 6-foot sophomore was mistake prone. Despite being touted as the better running threat, he never pushed Smith hard enough to get playing time.
Smith started all 11 games, and in the one game he was forced out with a leg injury — a 35-23 loss at Montana — Broadous got a quick hook after two fumbled snaps.
“I’m getting comfortable with the first team,” Broadous said. “I think they’re getting comfortable with my style of play. So it’s getting better and better every day.
“From there to now, I’m a lot more comfortable. I know the stuff more, so I’m not thinking as much. You get to just show off athleticism, and I know what to do instead of just thinking about it.”
Broadous moved the offense 40 yards on the scrimmage’s first drive, breaking a long run on an option keeper and completing a 15-yard pass to fullback Jordan Yocum.
Smith had no luck moving the ball with the second team, and his possession ended with a lost fumble on a lateral pass. Third-stringer Doug Shumway came in to break two long runs, but his drive also ended with a turnover.
With eight more practice sessions left over the next two weeks, including the Green vs. Gold Spring Game at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on April 24, Smith will get more opportunities with the first team.
Walsh said he will continue to split first-team snaps between Smith and Broadous throughout the spring.
“You saw some of the magic (Broadous) can do,” Walsh said. “On broken plays, he can make us look like we’re good coaches because of this feet. He needs to become a more consistent payer.
“Tony doesn’t need the flash, but he has to be good at what he’s good at. That’s making the proper decisions, throwing the football and those things.”