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Delaware cornerback does it all

FRISCO, Texas - On many teams, linebackers call the defensive alignments.

At the University of Delaware, it’s the defensive backs who call the adjustments. And it often involves Andrew Walters lining up all over the field, even as a hybrid middle linebacker.

“(Walters) doesn’t just play cornerback,” fellow defensive back Anthony Bratton said. “He’s a safety, plays nickel, dime, he blitzes, he’s pretty much everywhere.”

Tyrone Grant and Darryl Jones, who transferred in from Northeastern after that school dropped its program after last season, are the other senior starters in the secondary.

Walters will start in his 50th game Friday night when UD plays Eastern Washington for the NCAA Division I-AA national championship.

Bratton, who battled injuries in 2008 and 2009, started 14 games as a sophomore in 2007, the last time the Hens were in the national championship game. He has started all 14 games this season, too.

Grant, meanwhile, became a starter as a sophomore in 2008 while Jones was a starter at Northeastern his last two seasons there. He became a starter in Delaware’s fourth game, against Richmond.

“Our secondary moves everyone around,” UD coach K.C. Keeler said. “Walters is as smart a football player as I’ve ever coached. So with having those guys back there … most people will say that we have the best secondary in the country.

“That’s a strong suit of ours, and their experience is probably more important than their talent.”

The talent is important, too, especially against a team like Eastern Washington, where quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has thrown for 3,194 yards and 34 touchdowns.

The Eagles depend on the passing game. And that will probably be the case Friday now that star running back Taiwan Jones isn’t expected to play because of a broken bone in his foot.

But the UD defensive backs succeed because they are as close off the field as they are knowledgeable on the field.

“We’re together all the time,” Bratton said. “We know each other’s secrets. We’re basically brothers back there. That bond makes us that much better and that much stronger. You can look and make a call to the other DB and he already knows what you’re going to tell him. He’ll give you the signal before it comes out of your mouth … It’s a great thing to have that bond and intelligence that we have.”

But as linebacker Andrew Harrison put it: “There are no Deions back there.”

Harrison was referring to Deion Sanders’ long-known aversion to tackling, and his penchant for showboating during his NFL career.

That’s not entirely true, Grant said.

“We’re very competitive,” he said. “If I get an interception, the other guys are like, ‘I’ve got to get one, too.’”

Walters led the CAA with seven interceptions this season. Grant had five, while Bratton and Jones had two each.

They’re going to need that all of that against Eastern Washington.

Mitchell threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns in EWU’s 41-31 win over Villanova in the semifinals, and the Eagles have scored at least 28 points in nine of their last 10 games, all of which were victories.

“We can’t just think about the pass,” Walters said. “Villanova had the number one run defense in the (Colonial Athletic Association) and Eastern Washington ran all over them.”

Walters was referring to freshman Mario Brown, who rushed for 104 yards against the Wildcats. That enabled Mitchell to have his way in the passing game.

But the Hens have the best overall defense in the country, giving up just 11.5 points per game.

That’s why Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said the key to the game could be whether Delaware’s secondary can stop his team’s passing game.

“Obviously, we have to stay balanced,” Baldwin said. “If we’re having trouble throwing the football because their secondary is doing a good job, then yes, it can be a long day for us.”

The Hens’ secondary has provided a lot of long days for the opponents this season.