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Lester shifts gears for Bulls; Ex-WR fortifies defensive backfield

The team needed some defensive backs. Cortney Lester was recruited as a wide receiver but after redshirting his freshman year he was happy to make the switch from offense to defense. In fact, he feels the switch actually gives him an advantage.

"The transition is not really that hard, because I played both ways in high school," said Lester, who played at Everglades near his hometown of Miramar, Fla. "To be honest, I think that I have some type of advantage because I can look at receivers' breaking points. I can look at how they're lined up and know beforehand what they're going to do before the play is snapped."

The willingness of Lester to change positions, even with his high school background, was welcomed by Bulls head coach Jeff Quinn, who faced replacing his entire secondary this season after graduating some of the best defenders to come through the program.

"One of the first things I needed to address after the season completed when [the secondary graduated] was who is going to go back there and really help us play at the same level," Quinn said. "I thought Cortney was our best answer. He has really done a nice job for us in terms of making the transition. He's a team player. You can't be happier about a young man who says, 'You know what coach, I'm going to do whatever it takes to help this team. And if it means I've got to go from wide receiver to corner, I'm willing to do that.' "

The Bulls defense graduated four seniors, three of whom went on to sign NFL deals (Josh Thomas, Davonte Shannon and Domonic Cook). However, Lester is confident the unit is about more than individual names.

"How I look at it is that it's not really about replacing them, it's just more like taking up their roles," Lester said. "Because this defense is not really based on players, it's based on concepts and how we pick up things. So we're looking for smart football players to fill those roles."

Skill and energy are also key components for Quinn and characteristics he sees in Lester.

"Cortney is a great competitor," Quinn said. "In this business you just look for a kid who plays with a lot of effort and a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. Cortney does that. And he's been blessed with some skill."

The skill will be put to the test in the season opener Sept. 3 at Pitt as the Panthers' new head coach, Todd Graham, has been preaching offense all offseason. But Quinn is pleased with the way his defense has progressed through camp, and, while there is plenty of room for improvement, he likes the way the young players are starting to develop.

"[The secondary has] been tested in a number of different practices to see where they're at," Quinn said. "Have we arrived? No. Can I tell you specifically today that those guys are going to step right in and play at the same level of consistency that that group did a year ago? No. But that's what this is about. That's why you sign up for this duty. That's why you develop players all year 'round and you spend a great deal of time studying film and getting them ready.

"Hopefully they'll be physically, mentally, emotionally ready to play a great team like Pitt."