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JMU Football Revamps Secondary Via Spring Portal

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

When D’Angelo Ponds entered the transfer portal, JMU’s secondary became a glaring concern. Head coach Bob Chesney and JMU’s staff quickly worked to fill the position group’s holes, with 50% of the team’s spring transfer portal haul being defensive backs.

As of June 5, JMU added 10 players via the spring transfer portal window. Five of them are defensive backs. Clearly, Chesney saw a need for improvement at the position.

The Dukes added three FCS/D2 transfers – Ja’Kai Young from Gardner-Webb, Jordan Taylor from Tusculum (D2), and Ray Williams from Howard. They also added two FBS transfers in Chris Shearin from UConn and Rayquan Adkins from Cincinnati.

Likely roles

On paper, Young, Williams, and Shearin appear most likely to earn immediate playing time.

Young earned All-Conference honors in 2023, recording 41 tackles and a pair of interceptions. With Ponds leaving, Young has a clear path to playing time. He’s a solid athlete who makes sense as a potential starting cornerback. JMU’s cornerback room lacks proven returners, outside of junior Chauncey Logan.

Shearin was highly productive at UConn when healthy, recording 82 tackles and four interceptions over the last two seasons. He’s a solid player with multiple seasons of FBS experience.

Like Shearin and Young, Williams comes to JMU with a proven history of college football success. He was a key player for Howard when healthy, recording 47 tackles last season. He showed up against FBS foes, posting eight tackles against Northwestern and snagging an interception against Eastern Michigan.

All three of those players come to JMU in their final year of eligibility, which means they’re likely under the impression they’re going to see the field.

Taylor has track speed – literally, he competed for Tusculum in both football and track and field – but his contributions may be most evident on special teams. He’s capable of cracking the secondary rotation, but likely has his work cut out for him against increased competition and given the other proven transfer additions.

Adkins could start in his first year with JMU, but with three years of eligibility left and minimal playing time at Cincinnati, he’s likely a competitive depth piece in 2024 with a realistic goal of starting in 2025.

Could one of those five players, who all have experience playing corner, move to safety? The Dukes now seemingly have abundant cornerback depth but a lack of experience at safety.

Of the five players, Williams looks like the most natural fit moving to safety. He tracks the ball well and tackles well, and some of his best highlights come when he’s reading a quarterback’s eyes in zone coverage.

Potential starting unit

Let’s take a stab at the potential starting secondary for JMU, given a few different possible defensive looks.

Four-defensive backs:

CB – Chauncey Logan
CB – Chris Shearin
S – Jacob Thomas
S – Ray Williams

Five defensive backs:

CB – Chauncey Logan
CB – Chris Shearin
CB/Rover – Ja’Kai Young
S – Jacob Thomas
S – Ray Williams

At safety, redshirt freshman Evan Spivey and true freshmen Chase Regan and KJ Flowe should be in the mix for starting roles. There should be ample defensive back competition during fall camp, with the position group being arguably the most intriguing entering the season.

JMU’s defense was one of the best statistically across all of college football last season, but the secondary was the one clear weakness. JMU allowed 14 passing plays of 40 or more yards in 2023, tied for 120th nationally. The Dukes struggled at stopping explosive pass plays last fall, and the secondary will need to take a step forward for JMU to reach the College Football Playoff.

Fortunately for JMU fans, Chesney revamped the secondary through the spring portal session. A group seemingly devoid of competitive depth a month ago has become one of the most competitive on the entire roster entering fall camp.

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