Louisville has had, arguably, the best safety duo in the country over the last two years. Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor teamed up to make a ton of plays while allowing Vance Bedford to be as aggressive as he wanted to be because he had two insurance policies back deep. Pryor was picked in the first round of this year's draft while Smith is making a case to make the roster with the Tennessee Titans after going undrafted. Losing that much experience was always going to be a factor entering the season, but the change in philosophy looks to have caused some issues with the younger players looking to fill the holes.
It's no secret that I'm Gerod Holliman's biggest fan. The high-level prospect has waited his turn behind the two aforementioned stars and he has really taken to his new role as a leader of the defense. He has been oft-injured during his time here and a fully healthy season will be needed of him. Holliman had 4 interceptions in the first two days of open practice and he took the time after each play to help coach up the younger players. Grantham had two safeties drafted from his 2012 defense. With Pryor walking across the stage a handful of months ago, I'm sure Holliman is liking his chances to star in this defense and do the same.
Terrell Floyd was moved to safety over the summer and it looks like the goal was to get the best four players on the field at once in the secondary. Floyd has been termed a safety/nickelback and he has played both spots in practice. He is a good candidate to move to safety because he is a very good tackler. He finished last season with 40 solo tackles and at 202 pounds, he definitely has the mass to handle tight ends and running backs.
Floyd has been playing at free safety in the base defense with James Sample replacing him there in the nickel package. Sample has shown that he has the ability to play the position well, but the question is can he pick up the system in such a short time. Sample sees the field very well and showcased that ability very well, but with seeing the play develop he also jumped a lot of routes that crossed his face. When that happened there was always a guy running behind him for an easy play. Knowing your role is something that comes with time. Hopefully Sample can pick things up over the next two weeks.
If there is a young guy that will not sit quietly on the bench it is Chucky Williams. Williams plays the game similarly to Pryor. He just flies around the field hitting people. Williams had an interception in the spring game as well as the open scrimmage and he had big hits in both games. Aggression can make up for a lot on the football field. Williams is always around the ball because he plays like his hair is on fire. Before Sample began to practice with the veterans, Williams got plenty of first team reps. At the very least, the concerns over depth at safety have been quieted a little with his play.
Richard Benjamin has moved all over the place position-wise over the last year. He's found his home at safety now and he has worked next to Williams on the second team. Benjamin still looked like he was adjusting during the open scrimmage, at one point not even attempting to play a jump ball to DeVante Parker. Finding a comfortable spot for him might be something the coaches have to look into in the spring. I don't really think Benjamin will see significant minutes this year, however. Terrance Ross is coming off a torn ACL suffered around this time last year. He looked great before his injury last year but hasn't stood out a year later. I haven't seen him with my own eyes in practice, but he hasn't been getting reps with the first or second team. I like the upside of all of the young guys, but it will take them actually getting game minutes to see where they stand.
AROUND THE ACC
Harris led the nation in interceptions last year and he also added 80 tackles from his free safety spot. Surprisingly, he returned for his senior season even though he was likely to be drafted. Virginia landed big time safety Quin Blanding and top defensive tackle Andrew Brown this recruiting cycle and both should help improve the defense as a whole. Harris could be in line to have another All-American year.
I'm solely going with Cash here over Jalen Ramsey to piss off #FSUTwitter. Really though, Cash had an outstanding year that earned him second team All-American honors. Playing strong safety, he ended the season with 121 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 4 interceptions. Outstanding numbers for any defensive back. Cash transferred from Ohio State and has been excellent for a defense lacking a ton of talent.
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Ramsey didn't have the numbers that Kendall Fuller had, but it could be argued that he was the ACC Rookie Of The Year last season. Ramsey played all over the field for the Seminoles, finishing with numbers in every defensive category. Unless you count blocked kicks, I guess. Ramsey will likely be replacing LaMarcus Joyner at strong safety this year and I expect him to improve the position, which is saying a lot.
Eskridge led Syracuse in tackles and interceptions last year as a sophomore. The Orange aren't expected to make a huge jump forward this year, but Eskridge is a big bright spot on the team. It should be noted that he was a teammate of both Charles Gaines and John Miller in high school.