Getting physical at safety

The complete safety needs the rare combination of coverage skills and physical ability - one who can handle pass coverage and run-support. Incoming freshman Nate Gerry and D.J. Singleton might have both qualities.

The safety positions are key to the overall success of the Nebraska defense. If you think back to Bo Pelini and the year he was a defensive coordinator (2003), you have to credit some of his success to the emergence of Josh Bullocks.

When he came back to Nebraska as a head coach, he once against had solid safety play in players like Eric Hagg and Dejon Gomes.

Six years later, Nebraska is looking for those complete players at the safety spot again.

GONE:


Justin Blatchford – More of a role player on defense, Blatchford registered most of his time on the field playing special teams for Nebraska.

Courtney Osborne – Played sparingly last year as a reserve safety due in large part to battling injuries. Made his biggest impact while playing on special teams.

P.J. Smith (Starter) – Smith was the third leading tackler on the Nebraska defense last year, helping propel the Blackshirts to one of the best passing defenses in the nation.

Daimion Stafford (Starter) – Stafford was second on the team in tackles, finishing fourth all-time among two year players at Nebraska, as well had the most interceptions in conference play.

LOST TOTAL PRODUCTION:


Nebraska loses four of their top six safeties, including two of the top three tackles. In total, the four seniors had 53 game appearances as well as 28 starts. The four combined for 206 total tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss. Stafford also led the team with four interceptions and Smith was second with three.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE


Nebraska comes back with not a lot of experience, but a lot of potential at the safety spots. Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson appear to be the heir apparent starters, with the word being both are playing the best they have since coming to Lincoln. Walk-on safety Wil Richards has been a key contributor on special teams and looks to be in the mix at both of the two safety positions this fall.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:



Corey Cooper, JR (Starter) – Cooper has been a player who's worked multiple spots over his career: safety, corner, nickel, dime, but he appears set to move back to most his natural spot in safety.

Harvey Jackson, JR (Starter) – Jackson might be the most overlooked player on the Nebraska roster and could be the biggest surprise of this season. Jackson looks to fill the shoes left by Smith from last year.

Wil Richards, SR – Richards is the kind of player tyou could see being more of a packages player in the secondary next year for Nebraska, if Cooper rolls into nickel or dime again, as well as a continued standout on special teams.

Charles Jackson, SO – There might not be a player on the defense with more upside than Jackson. After playing as a true freshman in the nickel, Jackson moves back to safety and should also be considered in the nickel and dime packages.

Next UP:

Nathan Gerry, FR – People are fired up about Gerry ultimately because of how put together he is. However, if history repeats itself the discovery will be A D-1 defense is complicated tough for freshmen to pick up.
D.J. Singleton, FR – Singleton is that player that is a safety by size and athleticism, but really plays the spot more like a linebacker. The former four-star product missed his window out of high school, got qualified, and did participate during spring practices in Lincoln.

There are a lot of people looking ahead to who Nebraska brought in to join their team at the safety spot in the 2013 class. There are some good reasons for that based on numbers, size, and speed with Gerry, Singleton and even Drake Martinez. But you can't forget about who Nebraska returns.

Cooper and Jackson should be the players who are penciled in at the two top safety spots for the fall and with good reason.

If you go back and look at the two starting safeties last year and compare them physically to Cooper and Jackson, it's like looking into a mirror.

And while the production numbers for the safeties last year will be tough to beat, there were definitely moments on the field the play out of the safeties wasn't very consistent.

Nebraska missed a lot of tackles, pass break-ups, interceptions, and also committed some silly penalties in the secondary that need to be fixed.

What Cooper and Jackson don't have a lot of is game experience. They were spot players that found their way onto the field in packages, late in games when there wasn't any doubt, or on special teams. It's going to come down to consistency, which was lacking last year.

Richards is a player Nebraska can depend on to be solid on special teams and role into coverage for certain packages. He's likely not going to be able to unseat either of Cooper or Jackson, but that's not to say that he won't have an impact for the Nebraska defense this fall.

Jackson on the other hand is a player to watch. As I said earlier, there might not be a player with more potential on the football field. The transition to safety should be a simple one for the former four-star corner. Nebraska might be losing a potential lock-down cornerback, but they are getting a ball-hawk at the safety spot who isn't scared to come downhill and hit people supporting the run.

Gerry and Singleton have promise, and as BigRedReport.com said before, should both see the field. However, the early edge between the two is given to Singleton for two reasons. One, the caliber of football he played in New Jersey was better than the caliber Gerry saw in South Dakota. Two, he's got 15 practices under his belt.

Both of the incoming freshmen look the part. Both have tremendous athletic and physical skills that should help them get onto the field. But the gap from South Dakota high school football to Nebraska is significant. Gerry figures into the special teams picture more than on defense, while Singleton should be found both in the secondary and on special teams.

*** BRR Publisher Josh Harvey contributed to this report ***

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Bryan Munson has worked with Big Red Report for 11 years covering recruiting and football and has covered Nebraska recruiting for 13 years.
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