DB Spring Preview Part 1: Safeties

DB Spring Preview Part 1: Safeties

Cory Grimes
Coming off a 2017 season where the Canes pass defense ranked top 25 nationally in interceptions and defensive pass efficiency, and 3rd in turnovers forced, the defensive secondary showed flashes of the great Canes’ pass defenses of years past. At the same time, largely due to lapses in the secondary, the Canes struggled to get off the field at times as they ranked 75th in the nation in 3rd down defense and 105th in red zone defense. There were some serious head scratching moments (i.e. Virginia game) and far too many occasions where 1-on-1 battles were lost to inferior talent. Headed into spring practice next week, Manny Diaz knows there is a lot to work on and a ton of questions to be answered from our secondary, but he also knows he can look to this experienced group on the back end to hold it down. In Part 1 of the DB Spring Preview, let’s assess our safeties.

The safety position, by far the more seasoned of the two secondary groups, returns two senior starters in Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine. 2017 team MVP, leader in tackles (96) and Turnover Chain outings (6), Jaquan Johnson, will likely be a preseason All-American. What more can you say about the guy? But look for him to polish his coverage ability and help improve his draft stock. While he’s considered undersized by some at the next level, his tenacity and ball hawking ability is undeniable. If you turn on the film, 4 is not hard to find. He is likely right around the ball. It will be interesting to see how he is evaluated by scouts headed through 2018. More importantly for the Canes, expect for Johnson to be an extension of the coaches on the field and a mentor for this young group of DB’s this season.

Johnson’s fellow Senior and running mate at safety, Sheldrick Redwine, showed immense improvement down the stretch in his transition from corner to safety. Redwine, who logged 59 tackles and 2 picks last year, showed he does not shy away from contact. He also missed far too many tackles due to poor angles. Redwine’s lack of top end speed is glaring on film, and he struggled mightily in coverage at times. A portion of that can be chalked up to playing a new position, but keep an eye on his improvement this spring. There is no doubt Redwine came a long way in 2017, but if he doesn’t continue to progress in coverage and look more comfortable in open space, there’s enough talent on this roster for Coach Banda to find a replacement.

Juniors Robert Knowles and Romeo Finley will add experience and depth to the safety position. Both guys registered most of their time on special teams in 2017. Barring injuries or unexpected circumstances, don’t expect that to change much moving forward.

With 26 tackles and 2 sacks, Amari Carter displayed his versatility lining up all over the field in 2017. Carter’s progression is something to pay attention to this spring. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Carter push Redwine for the starting safety job. Regardless, Carter, proved he belongs on the field. Whether it’s at safety, nickel, hybrid linebacker, etc., Carter should make his presence felt this year.

Sophomore Derrick Smith will be taking reps at outside backer this spring. 6’2” and around 200 pounds, he’s not built to be a full time backer, not yet at least. However, he’ll add versatility and athleticism to the LB group. Look for him to be used in passing situations to improve coverage in the intermediate level of the defense.

Early enrollee out of West Palm Beach, Gurvan Hall, will look to find his way on the field. As he continues to bulk up and get comfortable with the system, give notice to how Hall will be deployed. He has the skillset to play safety and nickel corner. Diaz is no stranger to rotating guys in. Look for Hall to have a chance play early and often this year.

Last year, it was clear that this group was the beneficiaries of some exceptional play from the D-line. With the mass exodus across the D-line this offseason, this group of safeties is going to have to take their game to a whole new level in 2018 for this defense to to compete at a high level.

Comments (41)

We definitely need to find a way to get Amari Carter on the field more. I think he should be starting across from Jaquan. Maybe Hall can find playing time this year on special teams as a returner? Curious what you think, nice write-up.
That's not a bad thought because he clearly knows what to do with the ball in his hands. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of freshman as returners, especially punts. But that's me. However, I'd say Frierson, Pope, Dallas and JT would all get the nod before Hall at return man. That's all up for debate though. Hard to say much for certain before these guys actually strap up for us. Spring football is a week away. Gotta love it. I appreciate the comment.
Redwine will cost us a game if he takes the majority of the snaps at his spot. Possibly 2.
Disagree, he was solid for most of the games outside of Wisconsin and FSU. Not bad for a first year staring free safety, we have seen far worse in the golden years
2 of the biggest games of the year, and he had lapses in others. Hes just not athletic enough. Hes a nice player, but he is a liability.
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Disagree, he was solid for most of the games outside of Wisconsin and FSU. Not bad for a first year staring free safety, we have seen far worse in the golden years

Did u see him trying to tackle the qb in the Clemson game?
Guy seriously, Jaquan and Redwine are our starters.

I'm sure Amari Carter, Derrick Smith, Gurvan Hall will get a solid amount of reps.

I just hope Knowles and Finley are COMPLETELY limited to ST activity. Those 2 suck. And I'm thinking they both transfer out after this season.

S: Jaquan > Hall
S: Redwine > Carter > Knowles
Nickel: Bandy > Derrick Smith > Hall
Hybrid Safety/LB: Smith > Carter

I'm pretty confident that there will be situations this year that we have 3 safeties on the field. If we want to have a more base look when the offense has 3 wrs on the field, it makes a lot of sense to have Derrick Smith or even Amari Carter out there playing that hybrid s/lb role and only having 2LBs on the field (shaq and pinckney)
Redwine's improvement really stood out. At the end of the year he really played like a safety should, especially in that pitt game...he might of been the best player on defense that game. IF he improves even more than he did last yr the secondary will really be feared
Is Finley really not good?

I’m not sure we should categorize him with Knowles. That’s a pretty bad insult.
I get Knowles is not a UM caliber 2 deep guy. I think he should get more respect because he has still been important to the team. When he signed we had no numbers at the position. He knew he could've played at FIU, FAU or somewhere, but he came here to be a depth guy and help make the crib great.
Is Finley really not good?

I’m not sure we should categorize him with Knowles. That’s a pretty bad insult.
Just think of this for a second. How often have we seen Knowles get PT? Now how often have we seen Finley besides garbage time and special teams.

Papa Shaw says Finley is a striker so maybe he would look better at LB.
Derrick Smith will probably play the same role Jaquan Johnson played his sophomore year.

We need to run some 4-2-5 with 6 dbs (Smith playing hybrid nickel lber). Smith and Carter would pain on the field at the same time.