Position Breakdown – Safeties September 1, 2011
It was my biggest revelation in Rantoul. We don’t have any safeties with starting experience. I don’t know why I wasn’t thinking about it – probably because Supo was going to start in 2010 before the injury, and because STEVEHULL started the Texas Bowl after Trulon Henry broke a team rule. But really, both of our safeties are so green that Al Gore is pleased.
Aug. 22: Quarterbacks
Aug. 23: Running Backs
Aug. 24: Tight Ends/Fullbacks
Aug. 25: Wide Receivers
Aug. 26: Offensive Guards/Centers
Aug. 27: Offensive Tackles
Aug. 28: Defensive Ends/Bandits
Aug. 29: Defensive Tackles
Aug. 30: Linebackers
Aug. 31: Cornerbacks
Sept. 1: Safeties
Sept. 2: Kickers/Punters/Returners
Sept. 3: FOOTBALL. Football football FOOTBALL.
Starters: Steve Hull, Supo Sanni
Of the two, I think I’m the most confident in Hull at strong safety. He played really well out of the gate last year – I feel like he had 5 tackles in the first half of the Missouri game – and had he not gotten injured in the Ohio State game, I think we would have seen a lot more of him. He missed 4 games and wasn’t really healthy until the Texas Bowl, so we really didn’t get to see the progress we were hoping for.
And that progress would have been great, because with Trulon Henry moving up to Sam linebacker, Hull is the most experienced player we have back at safety. From Bobby Jackson to Kevin Mitchell, it always seems to take a safety a full year of starting experience before he’s really ready to be a playmaker. So while I’m excited about Hull as an upperclassman, I’m worried about his Adjustment Year. Things could be rocky back there.
The same could be said for Supo Sanni at free safety. He did play a fair amount in 2009 – my lasting image of Shoop is him dragging down an Ohio State receiver 8 yards out of bounds in Columbus – so he has some experience. And he was in line to start last year before the Achilles injury, so he’s not some new kid who came to Rantoul and won the job. It’s his 4th year now, which, and I’ve probably said a dozen times in these previews, is the year for everyone to make The Leap.
But that injury. I get halfway into my giggle at film of Dan Persa limping around at Northwestern practice before I realize that any “it takes more than a year to come back from that injury” statements I make also apply to Supo Sanni (of note, this will not prevent the #Persaweak hashtag from showing up in my Twitter feed this fall). There are big concerns about Sanni’s health – I’ll probably spend a full quarter just watching him on Saturday.
Backups: Patrick Nixon-Youman, Jack Ramsey, Ben Mathis
If Ben Mathis’ parents ever found this blog, I have to be their hero. Despite his walkon status and his buried-on-the-depth-chart reality, I continue to watch him wrap up textbook tackles in practice and lobby for him to get playing time. I liked what I saw in the spring; I liked what I saw in Rantoul. He’s not the fastest guy nor the most athletic. But when he’s out there running with the third string defense in a live scrimmage, I swear he makes every single tackle. Get this kid a special teams spot at a minimum, coach.
As far as the other backups, I think it’s fairly easy to see how it plays out. Jack Ramsey is the backup at free safety and Patrick Nixon-Youman is the backup at strong safety. So when Hull comes off, it’s PNY, and when Shoop comes off, it’s Ramsey.
PNY is kind of the forgotten man back there. I arrived in Rantoul for the first scrimmage and surveyed the defense and kind of had an “oh yeah, PNY” moment. With his eligibility issues when he arrived in Champaign and his awful muscle tear injury, it’s been quite a long road to get to here. He did find a nice niche last fall as a nickel (dime?) corner/safety. 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, a couple big tackles here and there. Vic Koenning means it when he says he wants to use depth to keep his defense fresh over a 12 game schedule, so expect to see a lot of PNY this fall.
And Jack Ramsey too. His long journey from high school quarterback to college receiver to cornerback (and returner) has settled at free safety. I had the chance to talk to him in Rantoul (interview is included in the podcast I posted Tuesday), and he was adamant that free safety was his spot and he was going to “ride it out” to the end. He showed great instincts in the make-up scrimmage, reading Nathan Scheelhaase’s eyes and picking off a pass. But he’s probably a year away from being a significant contributor at the position. Learning curve and whatnot.
That seems to be the theme here, doesn’t it. Learning curve. Four safeties that show potential (plus Mathis! Hi Mrs. Mathis!), but four safeties that are very, very light on experience. Hope they’re fast learners.