IRVING, Texas -- The defensive back position continues to evolve.
And that evolution was readily apparent at the Nike Football Training Camp in Dallas on Sunday with a group of defensive backs that impressed with their combination of size, speed and athleticism on the turf at the Dallas Cowboys facility at Valley Ranch.
"The first thing that stood out was how big and how fluid some of these guys are," said Mike Fletcher, who was the Nike camp position coach for defensive backs. "You're thinking these guys are safeties or outside linebackers and they're moving around like corners.
"I don't know what they do in the Texas or the Southwest but this was the biggest, most fluid group I've seen in years."
Big, physical receivers like 6-foot-4 Marcell Ateman (Wylie, Texas/East) are becoming the norm in college football. Thus the need for defensive backs with size, like Maurice Smith (Sugar Land, Texas/Dulles) and Kameron Miles (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite), has become a priority for college coaches.
Smith was outstanding at corner using his size (5 -foot-11, 180 pounds) and athleticism to corral receivers, while Miles (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) looked comfortable in coverage at deep safety throughout the day. Class of 2014 prospect Tony Brown (5-foot-11, 179 pounds) was another standout at camp.
"It's amazing how athletic some of these big guys are," said Fletcher, who played at Oregon (1995-99) before spending a decade in the CFL. "Traditionally they're playing 14 yards deep now they're asked to play these slot guys and they're able to do it. And they still can stop the run. The game has changed to where guys who are normally safeties are now playing cornerback or in the slot."
Smith was particularly impressive on Sunday, earning an invitation to The Opening which will be held July 5-8 in on Nike's Campus in Beaverton, Ore.
That doesn't mean the days of small, agile cornerbacks are behind us.
"The slot defensive back/nickelback spot is improving with guys like the "Honey Badger" (LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu)," Fletcher said. "It's really not the guys on the outside making plays, they're putting the best guys inside to make plays."
The defensive back MVP of the NIKE camp, Anthony Canady (Mesquite, Texas/Mesquite), is the perfect example. Canady stands 5-foot-9 but more than held his own in drills and one-on-one battles.
"He had a great day," Fletcher said. "He's a nice little corner, a real ball hawk. He's always around the ball, he looked great in SPARQ drills, position stuff and he improved in every rep in one-on-one."
Canady arrived at the camp with zero offers but he impressed with his competitiveness and coverage ability. He'll be a name to keep an eye on this summer.
"It felt great to come out and compete with some of the best around, best in the nation," said Canady, who has heard from Texas Tech and Tulsa early on.