Safeties Coach Kim Dameron has seen his two positions – strong and free – mature naturally the past two years and that trend seems to be continuing.
His first year, the "old head" was Jamarca Sanford flanked by relative newbie Kendrick Lewis with Johnny Brown rotated in as the third safety. Last year, Lewis was the leader of the pack with Brown next to him and Fon Ingram as the third man.
This year, Brown is the veteran hand with Fon being his starting running buddy and JUCO transfer Damien Jackson shaping up, after a very good spring, to be the third spoke in the safety wheel. Brown and Ingram are both rising seniors and have acted accordingly in spring.
"I have been pleased by Johnny and Fon stepping right back in and picking up right where they left off in the fall," said Dameron. "Johnny has really come through trying to take over that leadership we lost with Kendrick leaving. Fon is not quite as outgoing as Johnny but he has led in his own way.
"I have been very pleased with both of them."
Kim, taking a cautious approach, has been happy with the way Jackson has woven himself into the fabric of the safety picture.
"We really don't have a 1-2-3-4 depth chart at strong and free. We have our starters than then 3-4-5-6-7-whatever safeties. Our guys are interchangeable and can play either," he explained. "Damien is my third guy right now, just as Fon was last year and Johnny was the year before. Certainly, Johnny is a little more of a strong safety type with run support and Fon is more of a free safety guy by guarding deep.
"Damien, we have found this spring, can do both pretty well. He's physical in run support and instinctive in coverages. He was a qualifier out of high school but didn't get recruited to a level he felt he could play, so he went the JUCO route. He's a smart guy who understands football and is a good student. They did a very good job with him at Gulf Coast CC as well – they taught him some defense there. They do things similar to what we do so Damien understands the concepts, he just had to learn a new language and calls.
"He got comfortable enough to get physical and he adjusted pretty well to the speed of the game, even though this kind of speed on this level and change of direction usually takes a while to adjust to. He was playing too high and cutting off the wrong foot, things you can get away with on a lower level but not here. Once he got that down, he turned loose and got more assertive and more physical. "
Redshirt freshman Frank Crawford is currently the number four safety if the Rebs had a game tomorrow.
"Frank's ball skills and playmaking ability on the football is what makes him the fourth guy," noted Kim. "He's still got to get stronger, bigger and more physical and he has to become a better tackler, but those things will come."
Redshirt freshman Terrell Grant, moved over from wideout late last season, is the fifth man on the safety totem pole at this writing.
"Terrell has a big body and can run, but he's never played safety before," Dameron assessed. "Everything is brand new to him, but he's a very willing student. He comes in and watches film on his own and constantly wants to learn. I have been very impressed with his work ethic and believe he will be a really good safety in time. He wants to get better and do things the right way."
Redshirt freshman, yet another one, Dele Junaid is the sixth man at this point in time.
"Dele is more physical than Frank and Terrell, but at this point he does not have the range and ball skills they do, even though I have seen him made plays on some passes this spring," noted Kim. "Right now, he's not quite there with speed and range. He may get big enough to move to linebacker, but right now, he's a safety."
Senior special teams ace George Helow is next in line, followed by redshirt freshman Nick Lanciault, who will probably get some special teams duty too, sophomore Griffin Littlefield and walkon Tyrik Garcia, who was just recently moved from linebacker.
"George is very good on special teams and we hope Nick can evolve into another Helow kind of quickly for his immediate future. Griffin is a smart kid who helps us on the scout team, but is kind of limited in his ability compared to some of the others," Dameron stated. "Tyrik is a pretty decent athlete who can run pretty well and will hit you, but I've only had him a week and I don't have much evaluation on him at this stage of the game."
Overall, Kim is pleased where the safeties are, as a group, as the Rebs head to the offseason program on the next step in the journey to the 2010 season.
"I've got a good group. I feel I have three, maybe four, ready and Terrell is as gifted athletically as any of them," he closed. "Everything Terrell is doing is correctable. We feel good where we are coming out of spring training."
The safeties were productive during spring training, as anticipated. Brown and Ingram have been there and done that. What was not known was the kind of impact Jackson was going to have on the group, which has turned out to be more than was expected and a very big plus. As it stands right now, the Rebel safeties can be a formidable group in 2010.