Safeties -

Safeties Coach Kim Dameron was pleased with "everything" in regard to the progress his guys made in spring, but he's ready to see them take the next step in August - playing faster. He feels that will take place when they fully understand everything about the new system and it become second nature to them.

(Eighth in a series discussing spring training with the assistant football coaches.)

Kim Dameron has some veteran players returning at free and strong safety, the two positions he coaches on the Ole Miss football team. Names like Jamarca Sanford, Kendrick Lewis and Johnny Brown are familiar to all Rebel football fans.

But even though they are experienced, it does not mean they know all there is to know.

"I have been pleased with their attention as far as trying to learn the new defense and their effort has gotten better from the first of spring until the end, but they had to learn to play faster," Dameron explained. "A lot of that comes with knowledge of learning what we are doing, but some of it is understanding how hard you have to play to win in this league. We don't want to just play in this league, we want to win it.

"As a group, they have come together and meshed well. They get along and help each other, which is good to see. They are a fun group to coach."

According to Kim, all safeties have to learn both the free and strong safety positions and they are somewhat interchangeable in the defensive system. So instead of going down the depth chart at each position, he just assessed each safety candidate in order, starting with senior Sanford, the winner of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award the night before the spring game..

"Jamarca has shown he is a good, sound fundamental tackler. He is the best we have against the run and he has gotten better in pass coverages," Kim continued. "There are always things to improve, but Jamarca is an intelligent football player and he has done a great job of picking up a leadership role and has been the most vocal of my guys. I'm very pleased with him and feel - if he will continue working as hard as he has and progressing at the same rate – he will be a fine player for us in the fall."

Next would be sophomore Johnny Brown, who has been in a tight battle with junior Kendrick Lewis. Lewis, you will recall, began last season as the starter but was beaten out by Brown later in the year. Both have had solid springs, Dameron stated.

"Johnny is young, but he played a lot last year. He has learned a lot this spring and I have been pleased with his ability to pick the defense up. He is a very talented player. He has good size and he can run. His coverage skills are also getting better. I have been very pleased in Johnny's efforts in learning to play harder. Like any young player, he sometimes forgets how hard he has to play each and every snap, but he is starting to grasp it," Kim stated. "Kendrick also played a lot last year and is probably our best safety when the ball is in the air. He has good ball skills, but he probably should have because he is a converted receiver.

"We have worked extremely hard with Kendrick on improving his tackling ability and most of that is improving his fundamentals and his angles. It has nothing to do with want-to or not liking contact. He is a physical kid who just needs work on the fundamentals of tackling and progress in that phase of his game. He is also vocal and communicates well on the field. I've been pleased with the way he's picked up the defense."

Jamarca, Johnny and Kendrick have gotten most of the number one snaps this spring.

"Jamarca is pretty much my top guy who can play to the boundary but he plays mostly to the field. The other group is playing both positions, so I have moved them around. Sometimes it's been Jamarca and Johnny, sometimes it's Jamarca and Kendrick," he explained.

Senior Terrell Jackson has also figured in that equation but not quite as much as the other three.

"Terrell can play to the field or to the boundary. He needs to continue to work on his knowledge of the defense and on being consistent with his assignments. He has gotten better at tackling and he has good hands when he is around the ball," said Kim. "Basically, those are my top four guys for now.

"It is important they all understand both positions and they all are compatible with the other three, no matter what combination we call for. They have to be interchangeable and be able to mix and match without any drop off in production. We also use one of our safeties in our dime packages most of the time. We will use three safeties and three corners in those situations usually, so it is extremely important they are all schooled in everything we do at both safety slots."

Sophomore Fon Ingram started out the spring as a corner but was switched to safety toward the end.

"We felt he was better suited for safety. He made some nice plays during the spring and seemed to have a knack for being around the ball," Kim noted.

Freshman Jared Mitchell has also impressed Kim, but he's like to redshirt the Hargrave transfer if he can.

"Jared has done a real good job for a newcomer, but I'd love to redshirt him so he can get bigger, faster and stronger and learn the defense better before we throw him in there. A redshirt year will do him wonders," Dameron noted. "He is bright, he comes to work every day and he's got a got a lot of potential. Once he fills out physically, he will be good."

Sophomore Colby Arceneaux is next in line and is also pleasing his mentor.

"Colby has good intelligence and likes to mix it up. He's a good tackler in the box. He just has to improve his ability to make tackles in the open field and work on his coverage ability. He gets outmatched sometimes from a speed standpoint, but he makes up for a lot of it because he is smart and can play both positions."

Redshirt freshman Kenny Daniels rounds out the group.

"Kenny is a walkon who has some athletic ability. He's a tall, rangy kid. He just has to continue to get stronger and learn. We'll see down the road if he develops into a player," Kim assessed.

Overall, Dameron said he feels the safeties have performed to a "C" level thus far, but he expects more in the fall.

"We're hitting about 70% right now of what we can do. We do good things at times, but we have to become more consistent in getting lined up quickly, knowing exactly what we are doing and understanding what offenses can do to us," he closed. "We have to go from being guys just out there running around playing to guys who understand everything we are trying to accomplish – situation football. It's all a matter of consistency and not being a hit or miss unit.

"We have guys who are good when they understand what we are doing and execute their assignments. Time – I think – will take care of the consistency angle."

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