Army Spring Depth Chart Review: SAM Safety

Army was the first in the FBS to complete spring drills. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler will review each Black Knight position to project a starter, a backup and a player to watch. Today he'll discuss the SAM safety position.

SAM SAFETY
Starter: Shaquille Tolbert #26 So.
Back up: Luke Proulx #22 So.
Third String: Brady Earnhardt #39 Jr.


The SAM safety depth chart was also impacted by injuries like other areas of the defense. However, sophomore Shaquille Tolbert may prove more difficult to unseat after the injured players return. Tolbert had an excellent spring practice and really stepped up his game. Tolbert was used at cornerback last year. He had been a SAM safety, Rover and played some boundary cornerback in 2011 at the United States Military Academy Prep School. I always felt Tolbert would be a better safety at the FBS level. He can cover but as a cornerback in man coverage he wasn't very quick out of his backpedal. Tolbert's hitting ability and instincts are better served closer to the line of scrimmage at SAM safety or Rover with the play in front of him. He is athletic enough to cover the tight end down the field.

Sophomore Luke Proulx (5-9,180) is a strong player with fairly good speed who was stuck behind a number of more experienced running backs. He was moved to safety to get him on the field. He didn't play on defense in high school and is learning his new position. Proulx demonstrated the willingness to hit and compete this spring. He is still learning the defensive scheme and at times seemed a little tentative. It's not surprisingly if he was thinking too much about his assignments this spring due to his lack of experience playing defense. He should become more instinctive and comfortable with practice repetitions. He had a very prolific high school career with an excellent football program in Washington. As a junior and senior Proulx ran for over 3,200 yards and scored 49 touchdowns. Luke is a good athlete and has the athletic ability to help here if he can successfully make the transition.

Listed at third string is junior Brady Earnhardt (5-8, 193) who has been a bit of an enigma since joining the program. It's been difficult for the staff to settle on a position for him. In 2010 at the United States Military Academy Prep School he saw time at three positions including SAM safety. He's played as a backup fullback on the JV team the last two years. Earnhardt is a workout warrior those test results do not transition to production on the field. He was one of the top athletes tested in the National Underclassman football combines after his junior season in high school. Brady's 40-yard dash time was the fastest recorded time in the nation for all NUC events. He showed his strength with a tremendous effort of 35 bench reps at 185 pounds. Despite Earnhardt's athletic skills he runs with a rather stiff upright running style. He seems tight through his hips, not very flexible and can have trouble covering receivers.

The real competition Tolbert will face for the starting SAM spot should come from last year's starter Hayden Pierce. He started the first nine games of his career as a plebe before being injured in 2011 against Air Force. Pierce has been injury prone and unable to stay on the field since that Air Force game. Pierce has started just seven of the last 15 games. Last fall Pierce (14 tackles, 1 pass defensed) suffered through an injury-riddled campaign as he appeared in only six games. He left the opener against San Diego State with a shoulder injury very early in the game. Pierce played in the second half against Northern Illinois in pain with the injured shoulder after the Black Knights secondary struggled in the first half. He started the next three games but broke his collarbone making a diving deflection against Boston College. He didn't play again until the last game against Navy. Pierce is a very alert player and sure open field tackler. He has a smooth stride that gives him excellent range and has the speed to cover receivers. The Black Knights really missed him against Eastern Michigan's tight ends that were open all day. It's not surprising that Army allowed the fewest points to the opposition in two of the very few games Pierce started and played the entire way in 2012. Pierce needs to prove he can stay on the field to win his job back.

Senior Lyle Beloney (5-11, 197) was injured during spring practice and missed the Black and Gold game. Beloney was having a good spring before he was hurt. He had a disappointing year last fall. Beloney entered the 2012 season as the backup at SAM safety to Pierce. Lyle entered the opening game after Pierce was injured very early in the first quarter against San Diego State. He struggled in coverage, missed tackles and was slow to diagnose plays. He was benched for three games after that shaky performance. He returned against Boston College and played in five of the next six games. When used from scrimmage Beloney struggled in coverage. Physically he is one of the better athletes the team has at safety but because of his poor performances he was bypassed by other players and didn't appear in the last two games. Beloney has the physical tools for the SAM position but has failed to put it together on the field. He is a good practice player who understands his assignments. He needs to get healthy, build off this spring and carry that over from practice to Saturday afternoons.

The safety position, unlike the cornerbacks, will most likely rely on returning players. The best safety at USMAPS last fall, Tim Kamana, left the program. None of the other safeties expected to arrive should make an early impact on the rotation.

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