The second safety spot needs to be filled, and relative to the inexperience at inside linebacker, a lot of changes with how the traditionally conservative defense plays may also be in store. The defensive backfield has a lot more playmaking ability than it's had in years past, and defensive coordinator Jaime Hill will work to present his best defensive alignment.
Rich in the Middle
The defensive backfield will be led by Andrew Rich (6-3, 223 Sr.), who burst onto the scene last season as a dominating presence across the middle of field. This year he'll reprise his role or maybe tweak it if coaches can't find an adequate option to man the critical free safety spot.
The defense will certainly be best served with Rich playing closer to the line instead of back in coverage, so finding a reliable option other than Rich at free safety will be one of the more critical ventures for Coach Hill this fall. Regardless of where he plays, Rich should have a huge impact yet again this season.
Free Safety Options
The defense came out of spring with Steven Thomas (5-11, 176 Jr.) seeing the majority of reps with the ones at the free safety spot. Thomas is well seasoned within the program, and with free safety being a position in which trust and reliability are at a premium, coaches may opt to start him.
Travis Uale (6-2, 195 Jr.) is another option who saw a lot of reps at both free safety and strong safety during spring practices due to Rich sitting out due to injury. Strong safety looks to be his primary position, but he could be tried out quite a bit at free safety this month.
There has been a lot of talk about moving one of the experienced cornerbacks, such as Brandon Bradley (6-0, 200 Sr.), to man the free safety spot considering how strong the cornerback position looks to be this year. Any switch of a cornerback to safety will certainly be watched and noted carefully by the TBS staff.
Other options include two true freshmen in Kori Gaines (5-9, 170) and Jordan Johnson (5-10, 180). While both players are certainly capable athletically, it's well known that free safety - along with Mike linebacker - is the toughest position to learn, and subsequently the position least likely to be manned by a true freshman. Anything can happen, however, and one of the two could very well prove to be the best option coaches have at free safety by the end of fall practice.
Other options include senior Landon Jaussi (6-5, 210 Sr.), Landon Fowler (5-11, 184 So.) and some others who will have a prime opportunity this fall to establish themselves.
Jray Galea'i (6-0, 193 Fr.) looks to compete at the strong safety position, as coaches didn't give him any reps at free safety during spring. Galea'i will be competing for a spot on the two-deep roster this fall.
Strong and Deep
Along with Bradley, coaches will return cornerback Brian Logan (5-6, 176 Sr.), who burst onto the scene as a junior college transfer to give one of the best field corner performances fans have seen. This year he looks to be even better in proving that stature isn't everything when it comes to playing as an effective cornerback.
Bradley, meanwhile, is coming off an equally impressive performance in 2009 as the starting boundary cornerback. Barring Bradley being moved to free safety, those two will be the starting cornerbacks in 2010.
Backing up both positions will be some very good talent and ability in Corby Eason (5-8, 174 Jr.) and Robbie Buckner (5-10, 175 So.). Both players have some good experience and have shown very well in practices, and their talents may pave the way for coaches to switch one of them to safety.
Lee Aguirre (5-9, 204 Sr.) was mentioned by head coach Bronco Mendenhall to be someone who will redshirt this season.
Jordan Johnson may be played at cornerback rather than safety starting out, and will be a newcomer of note at either spot. The other newcomer who looks to be playing either position is junior college transfer DeQuan Everett (6-2, 205 Jr.), who could certainly prove to have an immediate impact as is common for junior college transfers.
Overall, fans can expect the coaches to tweak the coverages a bit in the secondary given the relative uncertainty at inside linebacker and the fact that the defensive backs are the strength of the defense. We'll note what changes we can as Coach Hill looks to field his best defense for the season opener against Washington.