Andrew Mukuba shined during his freshman campaign.
Andrew Mukuba shined during his freshman campaign.

Conn looking for versatility from his safeties


by - Senior Writer -

Mickey Conn wants to make sure his group of safeties not only play better next fall, but he wants to make sure that each and every one of his players can play both the strong and free safety spots.

Conn won’t have to look very far to see a difference in his group of safeties when spring practice starts next week. Nolan Turner graduated and Joseph Charleston transferred, leaving Conn with a talented but in many ways still unproven group to work with.

Freshman Kylon Griffin won’t arrive until the fall, so Conn will have senior Jalyn Phillips, redshirt junior Lannden Zanders, junior RJ Mickens, junior Tyler Venables, sophomore Andrew Mukuba, and freshman Sherrod Covil to work with this spring.

It’s not a stretch to think that Mukuba will start at strong safety with Phillips at the free spot, but Conn wants to make sure that the players and spots are interchangeable.

“The biggest thing is I want to be able to teach them to play both safeties,” Conn said when he was interviewed as part of Clemson’s national signing day radio show. “Just be able to be multiple, move them around, learn those spots and be ready to go and help,” Conn said of his safeties. “The more they can do, the better.”

Mukuba was a pleasant surprise during his freshman season, starting ten games. He became the first true freshman defensive back to start a season opener for Clemson since the NCAA instituted permanent freshman eligibility in 1972, and he started more games (10) in the defensive backfield than any Clemson true freshman in the modern era in 2021. He finished with 54 tackles (two for loss), a sack, nine pass breakups and a fumble recovery in 576 snaps over 13 games.

With Turner missing several starts with injury, Phillips started six games and recorded 47 tackles (1.0 for loss), three pass breakups and a forced fumble over 357 defensive snaps in 12 games.

Tyler Venables played 262 snaps over 12 games last season and Mickens recorded 337 snaps (and two interceptions) while playing in all 13 games a year ago.

One player to watch is Zanders. Zanders made nine starts in 2020 but missed most of this past season after undergoing shoulder surgery following Clemson’s season-opening loss to Georgia.

Conn said he wants the rest of his group to be like Turner.

“For me, it’s been really tough to play the boundary safety and the field safety, but the ones that can do it like Nolan Turner, I can move them around,” Conn said. “RJ Mickens is a guy that can play both of them. So my goal is for each of them to learn at least two positions whether it’s both safeties or a nickel and a dime or a safety or even a corner. Mukuba is a guy that can go out there and play on the corner.”

Conn also might take a look at his son Brodey, who is walking on to the team after playing last season at Daniel. Brodey originally committed to play baseball at TCU but decided to stay home and will also try and walk on to Monte Lee’s baseball team.

“Glad that he’s got the opportunity, and we’re glad we don’t have to drive to Texas every weekend to watch him play baseball,” Mickey said. “We’re really excited about him being a Tiger.”

Conn will also see what his son can do at the safety spot.

“Right now, our plan is just to get him over here and see what he can do,” he said. “See where he can win a spot and play, but he’s going to try to do both.”

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