The Safeties

Ole Miss Safeties Coach Chris Vaughn demanded the best of his guys in spring training. Most of the time he got it, but he wants more. Read Part III of our series with the assistant football coaches on how spring training went inside.

Safety Coach Chris Vaughn, who moved to safeties from cornerbacks when Keith Burns came on board in January, sets high standards for his players.

In other words, he's a tough grader.

With that being stated, Vaughn gives no quarter in his evaluations from spring training.

"On a scale of 1-10, I would say the safeties, as a group, gave me about a 7 in effort," said Vaughn. "That's not bad, because I demand a lot, but we want a 10.

"In this league, you can't take snaps off. It's every snap, every time, every day – in practice and in games. Nothing else is good enough. They are starting to get that in their heads and that's critical to me."

Vaughn saw strides in the safeties – again, as a group – this spring in certain aspects of their play.

"They are starting to understand the concepts of coverages and the importance of doing the little things correctly," he continued. "They are also starting to see the urgency of good communication, an area we have emphasized over and over and will continue to emphasize.

"They are also starting to figure out how critical it is to be disciplined with their footwork and to stay focused at all times. You can't drift away mentally and be successful. As a whole, the group is starting to grasp all these things. It's all about consistency – every snap. They got better at that. We are not where we want to be, but we got better."

Damien Jackson
Associated Press
At free safety, Damien Jackson led the pack, despite getting a shoulder stinger in the second scrimmage last Saturday.

"Damien is a hitter, a striker, and he did a good job while he was out there. Late in spring, we put him in a red jersey to limit his contact, but he continued to progress throughout. Damien has always been a good player in run support, but what we have worked on this spring is improving his pass coverage," Chris stated. "We have worked hard on his understanding of the coverage concepts and techniques so he could get his hands on more balls in the air. He's done better.

"Damien is a tall kid and it's been important for him to learn to keep his weight down so he could sink his hips and change directions more effectively. He's playing lower now and it's helped him, but he has to remain focused on that and work at playing lower this summer."

Frank Crawford got some extra reps when Jackson went down and it helped his cause.

"Frank made progress, good strides," said Vaughn. "I need him to be more disciplined with his eyes, but he has great instincts. The problem with that is that he has to become more disciplined and hold back sometimes. He tries to make someone else's play sometimes and that can get him burned by leaving his own responsibility. We have stressed to him to do what he's supposed to do and the plays will come to him.

"He's been a hot and cold tackler. He needs to work on his run support and that means he'll need to get stronger and gain some weight this offseason, but I like him in pass coverage situations, provided he's disciplined."

Jarius Williams rounds out the free safety candidates.

"Jarius started off spring at cornerback, but we needed someone else at free safety," Chris added. "He's done some good things, but he needs more development. There is a chance he can help on special teams though."

At strong safety, Brishen Mathews is currently ahead of JUCO transfer Ivan Nicholas and Josh Shipp. Tyriek Gracia has been injured (broken arm) all spring.

"Brishen has come a long way from last fall, he just needs to continue to mature," said Vaughn. "He has worked himself into a situation where I have confidence in him, but I want to see more out of him in August in terms of having a sense of urgency. He's starting to understand that 10 snaps means 10 great efforts and nothing less. He needs to keep working in that direction. He also needs a big summer in the weight room. I'd like to see him stronger.

"Ivan is in a transition period where he is learning coverages and learning the speed of the game at this level. It's a lot faster here than in JUCO and he's trying to adjust. Ivan is a great kid who works hard, he just needs to keep learning and as he learns he will play faster. He needs a real good summer studying film and understanding the defense.

"Josh is a great kid who played at South Panola, one of the best high school programs in the country, and at NWCC. He's physical. We're still evaluating where he may fit in – maybe some on special teams. We'll see."

Bottom Line: Thin, thin, thin – paper thin – with finished products. Jackson is the closest, but Mathews, Crawford and Nicholas all have specific areas where they are a little behind ideal and they have to, as Houston Nutt says, "keep coming."

Next Up: The Cornerbacks.

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