Safety Position Still on the Mend

Strong safety Andrew Rich is slowly working his way back into practice after having surgery on both his shoulder and ankle, and will look to step into a starting role upon his return. Meanwhile, a front-runner at free safety has yet to emerge.

When Andrew Rich was not able to practice, he used the extra time to help instruct the younger players.

"I've been doing whatever I can to help the guys while trying to get myself back into shape," said Rich. "We've been doing a lot of film-room sessions like one-on-one sessions. I'll get up on the board and ask the guys questions. We'll have a lot of sessions where we'll have some of the older guys in there and teach. You can tell the newer guys that are now in there are just heads and shoulders above us when many of us came in here years ago. It's been a good thing to see."

With the shoe on the other foot, Rich has learned firsthand the difficulties that coaches go through.

"I have a lot of respect for the coaches when it comes to teaching," said Rich with a laugh. "That's something that really opened up my eyes with our coaches. Sometimes as a player you get impatient with yourself or with another player. I have a lot of respect for Coach Mendenhall and our other coaches because they have a lot of patience with us. Sometimes things just don't click as quickly as expected."

Helping Rich take on the role of an instructor has been the fact that he's worked on understanding the entire defense more.

"One thing I tried to do in the offseason was learn all the positions," said Rich. "That way when a linebacker or a lineman came up to me with a question, I would have an answer. I've learned so much because a lot of times I didn't know at all times what they're supposed to do or exact responsibilities, so I've tried to become that leader and player Coach asks us to be and it's been a humbling experience. It's funny because when you think you know everything, you don't."

It's a welcomed site to number 22 practicing in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills now that he's put his player shoes back on and is participating out on the practice field in a limited role.

"It's good to be out here and it's good to be moving around a little bit," said Rich. "I'm just taking it one step at a time and it's good to be out here competing again.

"I've been doing a lot of individual position drills and a lot of non-contact drills. Right now I'm just trying to get myself back to playing shape. It's amazing how fast you lose it when you can't do anything for a couple of months."

Rich was limited those couple of months because of multiple injuries.

"I had surgery on my shoulder and on my ankle," he said. "It was two operations in three months. I got it at both ends, and so I couldn't do upper or lower workouts. Percentage-wise, I would say I'm at around 75 percent. When you don't lift upper or lower body you lose a lot of strength and flexibility, but I'm getting there with the help of the coaches and the trainers. Coach Omer and the trainers have been working with me a lot and I'm getting better every day."

At the free safety position, Coach Hill continues to work Steven Thomas and others. Thomas has received a bulk of the spring reps and has performed well at times. With that being said, the position isn't even been close to being settled.

"No, nothing has been decided yet and guys are still working hard and working for a spot," said Rich. "We probably won't know who will fill the position until the first game of the season."

Two key positions in the 3-4-4 defense are the Mike linebacker and the free safety. Those playing those two positions have to be two of the more vocal cerebral players on the defense. Being smart at the free safety position is just as important as being athletic, which is why former free safety Scotty Johnson, who had physical limitations, enjoyed a lot of success playing the position.

"Yeah, those two positions are very important in our defense," Rich said. "Those are the two positions that definitely are the mouthpieces of the defense. They are critical positions and we lost two players in Scott Johnson and Matt Bauman who were great at what they did at those positions. Right now we've got guys who are trying to follow those same on-the-field examples learned by following those guys."

Despite the inexperience and depth issues at the safety positions, there hasn't been much talk in defensive back meetings of possibly moving a corner such as Brandon Bradley or Lee Aguirre to the safety position this year.

"No we haven't really talked about that," said Rich with a smile. "I kind of already take reps at both since you just never really know what position you're going to play. Since I've been here at BYU I started at all different positions, even at corner. Right now there are a few guys just getting familiar with a variety of different positions because you never know what can happen. Someone might get injured and you might be asked to play a different position in the secondary. We have guys getting better every day."

If the need for a starting cornerback to quickly switch to safety arose, the mechanism for doing so is already in place. In the recent past, cornerbacks have been moved to safety and vice versa.

"In our team room we have both the corners and the safeties, so they hear all of the same things the safeties hear and learn," Rich said. "If something ever happened where a cornerback had to be moved to the safety spot, it could. It's really just Coach's choice, but we all sit in the same room together. The safeties know the corner positions, and the corners know the safety position, but we haven't discussed moving any of our corners to safety. We haven't discussed that at all."

Matt Bauman was a recipient of the prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, and both Bauman and Johnson were ESPN Academic All-American and Academic All-MWC honorees. Last year, Johnson took over at the free safety position for another NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient in Kellen Fowler. When a final decision of who will take over Bauman's and Johnson's starting spots is made, it is almost certain that the players' cerebral qualities will be one of the deciding factors.

"I think first and foremost, getting someone in there that just loves to play the game is important," said Rich. "I think from that, everything else will follow. If you look at guys we've had at that position in the past, we had guys that were really smart, intelligent and had a desire to get better every day.

"The one who gets that spot is going to be someone who comes in as a leader, is confident and knows what they're saying. I think someone with those things will be the one who gets the job. Right now we have guys that are on their way to achieving that. I don't think it will be any issue in the end. We've got some guys that are great players coming up."

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