Rebel Coach Tony Hughes is technically the assistant defensive backs coach to Chris Rippon, who is the defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator.
Both coaches work with the entire secondary, but for simplicity's sake, Coach Hughes discussed the Rebel safeties with us.
"Overall, our safeties have responded very well to the new system and the staff," Hughes noted. "I feel they have made a lot of progress in their assignments and technique work now that we have somewhat settled on our candidates. We shuffled some kids around early in the spring – and we may do some more shuffling, but once we got a little settled I thought the guys started responding to what we were teaching them.
"We have several players with game experience. They have been in SEC games and know the speed of the game on this level. That means a lot. To have been out there in front of huge crowds performing before is important. We won't see any stage fright with most of them. They have done everything we have asked of them and, performance-wise, I'd say they have done well."
At free safety, veteran junior Charles Clark – who has two letters under his belt – is the leader.
"Charles is a competitor. He has lots of experience, which is big for us. He's smart and knows what's going on. He knows his responsibilities," said Tony. "We are trying to get him to be more vocal because he will be making the calls and checks in the secondary, but that will come. He has responded well to everything we've thrown at him and he is competing on every snap."
At this writing, sophomore Kareem Moore, redshirt freshman Mico McSwain and senior Thad Rhodes are also vying for playing time at free safety.
"We moved Kareem from strong safety to free safety midway through spring so we could gauge more of what he is capable of doing," Hughes stated. "We think it's good to move him around a little to see what he can do. Kareem is a great kid with a great attitude. He's getting more and more comfortable, but he needs to continue working on the mental side of the game. When he gets everything down pat and is able to turn loose a little more, I think we will see excellent potential realized.
"Mico was moved over to defense from wide receiver a couple of days into spring training. We certainly understand his athleticism, but we are teaching him the basics of safety play right now. We'll figure out more about him in early August. We just know he's an exceptional athlete and we want him on the field somewhere.
"Thad is a hard-working kid who has a good understanding of what we are doing. He has a passion for the game and does everything that is asked of him. We need for him to work on his speed and quickness in the offseason, but I can see him moving into the two-deep if he does those things. A little more speed and quickness would enable him to be in position to make more plays. I can also see him being an excellent contributor on special teams."
At strong safety, redshirt frosh Jamarca Sanford, who started spring drills at corner, was moved to LB and then to strong safety, seems to have found a home.
"This position is wide open, but right now Jamarca is doing very well. He has made tremendous strides this spring once we found the right position for him," Tony noted. "He's the most improved player in the secondary, in my opinion. Jamarca has speed, quickness and tenacity. He's a sure, physical tackler. We are all excited about him. He has a definite chance to be the starter in fall."
Junior B. Brown is also in the mix for starting status. Sophomore Edwin Gelin and senior Bryant Thomas, who was moved from CB to S in spring are also doing good things in spring camp.
"B. is coachable and dependable. He's very willing to learn. He's also unselfish. We have moved him around a little trying to get him situated and he's accepted everything with a smile," Hughes assessed. "He will start to develop more consistency from here on out. B. is one of our better players – we will be counting on him in fall.
"Edwin is another kid we have experimented with in hopes of finding him a home. Consequently, he's been inconsistent in his playmaking, but he has made strides to improve. He's working hard on the mental aspects of the game and on his speed and quickness.
"Bryant should help us somewhere. We moved him from corner and have tried him at both safety slots. He's not a bad corner, but in our attempt to get more speed on the field, we moved him up a position. He has improved this spring. He should be a contributor in fall on the depth chart and on special teams."
S - Hughes believes spring went well
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