Expected Contributors: Redshirt Senior Marcus Maye (6-0, 210), Redshirt Junior Nick Washington (6-0, 198), Redshirt Junior Marcell Harris (6-1, 207), Freshman Chauncey Gardner (5-11, 205), Freshman Quincy Lenton (5-11, 207), Freshman Jeawon Taylor (6-0, 191)
Strengths: There are good numbers at safety including Duke Dawson who could play the position but we will list with the corners and NICKEL position. Along with the numbers comes a decent amount of experience led by Maye and Washington.
Maye had an All-American year in terms of stats in 2015. It was enough for him to highly consider leaving for the NFL, but the league wants to see a little more form him. What he brings is great tackling ability and someone that is not afraid to play in the box when he has to. He plays well in space and really punishes ball carriers when he hits. He had eight passes defensed a year ago along with five forced fumbles to go along with his 82 tackles. He can make plays.
Washington finished 2015 strong and will likely start alongside Maye. He’s heady and can run a bit. In much more limited time than Maye he recovered two fumbles and forced one while finishing with 28 tackles on the season. He did start four games and has been on the field in big time situations.
Harris will nip at the heels of Washington throughout. He doesn’t have as much playing time, but physically he is a beast and can run. He did start one game in 2015 and made 22 tackles on the season.
The three freshmen will be led by Gardner to start, but he will likely get a lot of time at the NICKEL position. Gardner had a terrific spring for a true freshman that arrived early and showed that he is not afraid to stick his nose in there and play aggressively.
All three freshmen are athletic and all will likely see the field in 2016 as long as they can stay on top of the playbook.
Weaknesses: Is there a true free safety in the mix? The three returnees can all stick their head in there, but do we have a guy that can cover the middle of the field as necessary? Athletically it isn’t an issue, but we have yet to see it. Maybe Maye is that guy, but he has had issues when asked to cover man-to-man. I think Washington can be that guy, and he should get his chance to prove it.
Comparison to 2015: I was one guy that figured Keanu Neal would get drafted higher than most were saying and I was proved right on the first day of the draft. Neal was a constant play maker and tackling machine. He played the safety position like he was a linebacker and was ferocious when it came time to hit someone. We get a lot out of that from Maye, but they are going to need 2-3 guys to step in this year and compensate for the loss of Neal. Right now, we haven’t seen that much.