Safeties Coach Kim Dameron doesn't have many complaints about the effort and results of his players in spring training.
It helps matters that his troops are being led by one of the more dynamic players on the team – senior Free Safety Kendrick Lewis.
"We have a small group and we have a very strong and vocal leader in Kendrick," said Dameron. "That's usually a good combination, especially when your main guy is backing the vocalization up by making a lot of plays."
Across the board, the players who will be counted on have some experience and, beyond ability, there may not be a more key ingredient to success.
"We have several guys back there who know what they are doing and know what it takes on this level," Dameron stated. "That always helps in spring training. They came into spring in great shape and knowing what they needed to do to hone their skills and they have given the effort to do that."
At free safety, Lewis has been as active and productive as any player on the team.
"I was very pleased with Kendrick's retention from last year. It's been a very seamless transition for him from last year to this year. Being able to start off without having much rust has helped him advance that much quicker," said Kim. "Kendrick is able to react quicker and as a result he's making more plays. He's been very physical in his tackling too. He's put some big hits on some ballcarriers this spring and that's always good to see."
Junior Fon Ingram is next in line. Fon, you will recall, played some last year and showed a nose for the ball on occasion.
"Fon has gotten better this spring. He's made some plays on the ball and seems to be getting more comfortable. He has gotten better fundamentally and is a part of our dime package at times. Right now, Fon would be the third safety if we played tomorrow, due to his experience, but ideally we'd like a true backup at SS, which we think Derrick Herman can be," explained Kim. "How well Derrick adjusts and learns will determine that. I'll have to figure that out in the fall. I'm not sure how that will work right now but Fon is the third guy right this minute."
RS freshman Jared Mitchell has also made strides.
"Jared still has to keep working, but he made progress due to putting on some weight in the offseason, which helped him become more physical, and by learning the position better. He's still young. We believe he has good potential," Dameron said.
Redshirt freshman walkon Griffin Littlefield and junior walkon Bruce Williams round out the candidates at free safety.
"Griffin was here last year and understands the concepts of what we are trying to do," said Kim. "Bruce is in the learning stage. He's tall and rangy but he's got a lot of work to do to grasp what we are doing."
At strong safety, junior Johnny Brown showed the kind of improvement Dameron was looking for in spring. Replacing Jamarca Sanford, who started most of his career at SS, was a concern, but Brown's spring performance has alleviated some of that issue.
"Johnny has gotten a lot better. He's understanding things better now and is developing a feel for what we are trying to get accomplished due to that added knowledge," Dameron added. "Kendrick and Johnny have been real easy to coach and their progress has allowed me to concentrate on trying to get the backups up to speed."
Brown's backup is sophomore Derrick Herman, who was moved from corner this spring and seems to have a knack for the strong safety position.
"Derrick is new to the position, but he's taking to the position. I am very pleased with where he is right now considering he's brand new at the safety slot," Kim said. "Derrick is a pretty physical kid and he's bright. He's got good quickness and can break on the ball quickly. He has to become a better tackler, but that will come with work because he does not shy away from contact."
Junior George Helow, a special teams standout last season, is penciled in as the third strong safety, but he pulled a hamstring the first day of spring training and has not returned to action.
Hargrave walkon Nick Lanciault is behind Herman and Helow and senior walkon Hubert Davis is next in line.
Overview: While most knew Johnny Brown had the ability to be a starter on the SEC level, they were waiting on his consistency to develop. That took a major jump in spring which, coupled with the stellar play of Kendrick Lewis, makes the starting unit at the safety slots potentially very strong. Fon Ingram is a proven backup and Derrick Herman, moved from CB in the spring to safety, showed the kind of potential Dameron was hoping for. There should be no major issues at free and strong safety next year. In fact, it could very well be more dynamic with Lewis comfortable enough to go for more big plays in 2009.
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