Season outlook: Safeties have to stay healthy for a successful 2018


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Tanner Muse should have a breakout season
Tanner Muse should have a breakout season

The countdown to kickoff continues.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney's annual golf outing is next Tuesday and the ACC Kickoff follows with a two-day event in Charlotte. As we look forward to the start of the season the TigerNet staff continues its early-season outlook. In this edition, we take a look at the safety position. Roundtable members are Senior Writer David Hood, Staff Writer Brandon Rink, and Staff Writer Nikki Hood.

Three questions: Safety

1. K’Von Wallace stepped in and started close to half of Clemson’s games last season, making some key plays along the way. Another projected starter in fellow junior Tanner Muse has logged 588 snaps over 29 games so far. Which returner’s progression is most key to success for the back-end of the secondary this season?

Rink: I expect Wallace to step in and be one of the standouts in the Clemson secondary this season, so therefore Muse stepping up, and most importantly, staying healthy, is key.

When on the field, Muse found himself around the ball last season, with the third-most tackles on the team (64) in short of 500 snaps (482). Wallace stepped in after Muse suffered a hand injury and started the final five games last season, but with Van Smith moving on and very little experience elsewhere, Muse taking his share of the load at safety will be paramount.

David Hood: The Tigers can’t afford injuries in the secondary so Muse has to stay healthy and on the field. He also has to stay out of head coach Dabo Swinney’s doghouse.

Wallace is underrated by a lot of people. He seems to have a knack for finding the ball in the air and he is solid in the run game. There aren’t a lot of worries for me about Wallace. Muse taking his game to the next level - and staying on the field - are key.

Nikki Hood: K’Von Wallace is a guy who is overlooked by many Clemson fans, and even maybe some media members, because he’s a quieter kid and just goes out and does his job...really well.

Wallace needs to continue to play with a chip on his shoulder and I don’t see that being a problem.

However, Tanner Muse needs to get healthy and stay healthy. That was a problem last season and even in the spring as he missed the spring game with a hand/wrist injury. If he can do that, he can be more than serviceable as a starter. He also needs to play smart and eliminate the bad penalties and bone-headed plays.

Clemson is going to need those two guys to be at the top of their game and play smart because let’s face it, there’s just not a lot of depth there.

2. A look at the preseason depth chart shows safety to be one of - if not the - weakest position when it comes to depth. Could safety be an Achilles’ heel for success defensively over the course of the season?

David Hood: The safety spot is a minefield for safeties coach Mickey Conn. The Tigers needed to add a safety-type in the last recruiting class but failed to do so. That makes things more than a little thin.

We’ve already seen Muse go down with injury and backup Nolan Turner has been injured. Denzel Johnson has seen some time at safety and Dabo Swinney raved about him during the spring.

Kyler McMichael is a guy that can play safety and might get a chance to show his stuff early.

Rink: Even with injuries at corner and safety, Clemson managed one of the top-5 most efficient pass defenses nationally in 2017. With some star-power and solid options elsewhere on defense, this is the position to watch.

The easy answer on keys here is one that’s largely uncontrollable: health. With the current depth chart outlook, any injury to Muse or Wallace vaults up a more under-the-radar player whose most meaningful playing time has come versus FCS opponents.

But neither Wallace nor Muse were highly-rated prospects coming in either, so a Denzel Johnson or Nolan Turner could step in and make some plays as well. That knowledge will come with more on-field action - and that’s part of what makes the safety spot filled with questions in 2018.

Nikki Hood: The safety position is by far the group that is weakest in terms of depth, but they do have some options if needed.

Denzel Johnson is a guy who was personally recruited by Dabo Swinney and it’s time that he takes the next step in his development and start playing consistently. Another name to stash away is Austin Jackson - a junior transfer from East Tennessee State. He redshirted in 2016 and could come in and play some valuable snaps.

The freshmen Kyler McMichael and Mario Goodrich are both listed as defensive backs and if they come in and can pick up the system quickly enough, they may be able to provide some much-needed depth.

However, don’t panic about the lack of depth, defensive backs coach Mike Reed doesn’t get a lot of praise, but he always has a plan and has the ‘No Fly Zone’ ready to play.

3. Safety signee and now redshirt sophomore Isaiah Simmons has moved to atop the depth chart at the strongside linebacker/nickelback position. Forecasting out this season, does he stay exclusively in that role or will he pitch in at safety some too?

Rink: In terms of putting the best 11 out there, Simmons being on the the field at SLB makes a lot of sense and that’s a position where it seems like he will stick this season.

To stick with the theme, any safety injury could change that formula, where the best defensive mix might just send him back to safety. While there are a number of returners, one of the marks of the 2018 defense will be who emerges out of competition at the second and third levels. The versatility Brent Venables has at his disposal is an asset with the pieces to have one of the best defenses in college football.

David Hood: It all depends on health. If Muse and Wallace stay healthy and the young kids show they can handle the pressure then Simmons might stick at backer.

Let the injuries pop up, however, and Simmons will be right back in the secondary.

Nikki Hood: As both Brandon and David said, this move will be dictated by injuries.

If all of the safeties stay healthy, Simmons will stay at linebacker, if not, he’ll quickly move back to safety and won’t miss a beat.

Position predictions

Breakout player:

David Hood: Tanner Muse

Rink: K’Von Wallace

Nikki Hood: Denzel Johnson

MVP:

David Hood: Tanner Muse

Rink: Wallace

Nikki Hood: K’Von Wallace

Accolades (All-Americans, All-ACC honors)

Nikki Hood: K’Von Wallace - Second-team All-ACC

Rink: Wallace - Third-team All-ACC.

David Hood: Muse - Second-team All-ACC; Wallace - Third-team All-ACC.

ACC.

Season outlook: QB
Season outlook: RB
Season outlook: WR
Season outlook: TE
Season outlook: OL
Season outlook: DE
Season outlook: DT
Season outlook: LB
Season outlook: S
Season outlook: CB

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