Key Position Battles: Safety Depth

Cornerbacks are guaranteed to be young, but part of the reason for that is that we find out with Darius Curry moving to safety as well that the safety position is very veteran with four seniors likely to form the two deep.

We already looked at the cornerback position where there are three young players in sophomores A.J. Green and Madre Harper along with red-shirt freshman Radarius Williams along with graduate transfer from Clemson in Adrian Baker, so there must be a comfort level at the corner because two veterans at that position are now at safety. Everybody knows Ramon Richards moved there at the start of the spring and had been playing so much nickel back during last season. Now Darius Curry, a senior that at 6-1, 205 pounds had served very efficiently as a corner playing to the boundary (short side of the field) and as a big match-up to big receivers in the red zone is now full-time at safety. 

"I don't know if you knew that," defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said to me when I was interviewing him on Triple Play Sports Radio. "He had been splitting (at the end of spring) and I pulled him in and said that's not fair to anybody, and you'l never get better at one position if we have you playing two. He's got experience and the experience he has is he knows route combinations. He knows the high-lows, he knows the curl-flats, the hitch and the seven cuts, the double-ins. He's got that experience and you know sometimes Duff (Tim Duffie) and Hammer (Dan Hammerschmidt) meet together because this is combined and if one route is shown you go there and the other guy goes there. Darius has that experience."

That helps a lot because safeties coach Dan Hammerschmidt explains that Curry will play the strong safety position and work with Richards, so the two former corners will work at the same spot. It really helps with the depth issue as you need four or five safeties at least. Now that has allowed them to move veteran Jerrel Morrow to the free to back up Preseason All-Big 12 safety Tre' Flowers.

"We flipped Jerel Morrow from strong to free and he’d never played free safety before. He’s a strong kid, he’s a tough kid and he is fast and a good tackler," Hammerschmidt discussed. "We always thought he was a good man cover guy. Press coverage is kind of his deal, but there’s less adjustments and less receivers in the backfield and you don’t have to move your eyes as much at free safety. You are more focused on the line of scrimmage and the backfield. I think it took a little of the thinking away from him and he looked really good in the spring game. I’m hoping that he can give Tre’ Flowers 20 or 30 snaps and that would be great. He’s a senior and he would be a huge piece if he can play like he did in the spring game."

Meanwhile, Hammerschmidt has very effectively explained why Richards works so well at safety. His past at quarterback has caused him to be a curious observer in the secondary. It is much better to be curious as a safety than as an on an island in man coverage cornerback.

"He has a feel for the game but he likes to look around and peek," explained Hammerschmidt. "That is an issue at corner especially when you are in man coverage. There is such a thing as man eyes and zone eyes. Ramon likes to play with zone eyes which means he likes to look into the backfield and see the quarterback. He makes great plays when he does that. He has so much range. He has made Mason Rudolph have to play different with him being at safety. I think it has actually made Mason better because he has had to look guys off and look left when he is throwing right. Some NFL guys can’t do that but Mason has because if you look one side then Ramon is going to cover some 40-yards of ground and he’ll go from number to number and get to the ball. We noticed he played better in nickel packages, so we just said let’s get him out there with his eyes on the quarterback more often. It’s a great move and I think that is where he will play at the next level."

That makes four veterans at safety and there is still a younger player in sophomore Za'Carrius Green and some true freshmen such as Malcolm Rodriguez and Trey Sterling. 

"It used to be that we had to have a lot of young players help us out. We might have to have a little of that," Spencer said. 

The difference is is bygone days you might have to have a young player start like Richards did in the fourth game of his freshman season. Those days are gone and now young players have to help on the third line of the depth chart and that is a much better place for them to mark as a starting point in college football. That is how far it has come for Spencer and the entire defensive staff.

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