The safety spot enjoyed one of the most successful seasons in school history last season, as the tandem of Gerod Holliman and James Sample were one of the best in the nation, combining for 18 interceptions. With both declaring early for the NFL Draft and now earning professional paychecks, the Cardinals will feature a completely rebuilt unit in 2015.
While that is usually reason for a coach to panic, through solid recruiting and transfers, the Cardinals new look safeties are expected to be quite stingy once again.
After spending a season watching from the sideline while sitting out the NCAA mandated year following his transfer from Georgia, 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior is primed to become one constant disruption to opposing offenses. Rated as a five-star outside linebacker as a high school senior, his length and abilities will allow him to utilized in multiple ways this fall.
While Harvey-Clemons has one spot locked up, sophomore Zykiesis Canon and Chucky Williams are “battling,” per defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, for the other spot.
“Both of them show up and do things well. We're still continuing to work those guys and develop them, and evaluate where they are,” said Grantham. “I think the biggest thing back there, between those two guys, and with (Jermaine) Reve, is they work well together. When they're not in there, they are still watching the play, which allows them to get a mental rep. We'll continue to work those guys, interchangeably, and see which guy falls in the spot.”
Both appeared in nine games last year, primarily on special teams. Williams also saw time as a reserve safety, while Canon, who moved to safety during spring practice, was limited action as a reserve cornerback.
Despite the significant losses at safety from last season's 9-4 squad, the new group is poised to continue the trend of a difficult Cardinals secondary.
Josh Harvey-Clemons, junior
Coaches, teammates and fans alike have looked forward to seeing the Georgia transfer in action for the Cardinals since the moment he transferred. One of the top overall prospects in the nation while at Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes, Harvey-Clemons started 11 games for the Bulldogs in 2013.
Now eligible to play, Harvey-Clemons is being used in multiple roles for the Cardinals defense which should allow him to become one of the team's many difference-makers.
“I can come off the edge like a pass-rusher, I can be in the box like a linebacker, or I can play against the slot receiver,” he said. “I feel like it helps us as a whole defense to be able to where everybody is versatile, like Keith Brown is the same way. There's a couple other guys coach is trying that with and just makes our defense a lot better.”
Zykesis Canon, sophomore
Canon made the switch from cornerback to safety during spring practice and has made impressive progress since.
The 6-foot, 195-pound athlete, who totaled four tackles last season, has been a notable presence on the field during the team's recent scrimmages. He snagged multiple interceptions last weekend, leading Grantham to say that “he's shown that he can make some plays.”
- Williams missed the early stages of fall camp with a minor injury.
- Sophomore Terrence Ross will also compete for time and made a number of solid plays during the open practice period.
- Fellow sophomore Richard Benjamin, who played in one game last year, will also provide depth.
- The Cardinals also have a pair of talented freshmen in Khane Pass and Dee Smith. Both have displayed the ability to compete with the veterans and both could see the field this fall.
- Of Louisville's 26 interceptions in 2014, players who accounted for 21 of them are now playing in the NFL.
- Watch for a video preview on the safety position, as well as a feature on Harvey-Clemons.
- The Cardinal Authority position series continues on Saturday.