A soon-to-be sophomore, cornerback Donovan Riley isn't an older statesman.
But having got his freshman growing pains out of the way, this spring is like a breath of fresh air. The confidence is higher and overall, he feels better about his play. That's a good thing in a battle this spring for playing time, with fellow true freshmen last year, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes.
"It's a lot better because it's slowing down for me," Riley said. "I can pick up the tendencies that the offense is gonna do before the snap of the play. I understand the play call, the plays in the defensive playbook, it's slowing down and I understand it to a T. It's a sense of excitement to know you can know a play and go straight to it on the field."
The pressure for the young defensive backs, including Riley, to mature and progress is a little higher this spring. The group struggled at times last year, but it's even more needed with the absence of soon-to-be senior cornerback Antone Exum, who tore his ACL in January playing pickup basketball.
"It's been tough," Riley said. "He was a vocal leader and physically. It was his presence on the field. You felt his presence and I'm just trying to fulfill that presence and take over the corner spot."
Riley's hopeful he can claim a starting spot alongside Kyle Fuller, with Exum's return for the season-opener in doubt. The spot won't likely be nailed down by anyone at the end of spring, but Riley is confident in where he stands and in his game overall, having experienced the ups and downs of last season.
"It prepared me mentally as well as physically," he said. "Mentally, I understand the playbook fully. I can read the plays when we're going over plays in our meetings. I understand it. I don't have to second-guess myself when I'm out in the field and ask questions and stuff because it comes to me naturally."