Despite the return of Van Smith, the safety position had some significant changes this year during spring practice. The departure of senior Jadar Johnson to the NFL meant Clemson had a starting safety spot open. But rather than directly replacing Johnson, the coaching staff has decided to move guys around.
Van Smith will take over Johnson’s strong safety spot this year while Tanner Muse seems set to be the starting free safety. The change is interesting because Smith did a very good job at free safety last year, but it seems like the coaches want his steady play to be a little bit more focused on the strong side of the field and thus a bit more involved in the run game. Smith, along with Kendall Joseph at LB, will be the two leaders of this defense.
Tanner Muse will be able to use his fantastic physical abilities at free safety on the weakside. The move of Smith to SS and putting Muse at FS will also let Muse learn on the go a little more. By being responsible for the weakside, and thus more passing game responsibilities, it will be easier for Muse to gain experience and confidence. While he’s been with the team for several years, being a starter is a bit different. It also helps that he’s a freak of nature physically.
Behind these two guys Clemson has Isaiah Simmons, Nolan Turner, and Baylon Spector. Simmons is likely to be the first guy off the bench for the Tigers. After that we have Turner and true freshman Spector. The chances of Spector redshirting will likely depend on how confident the staff is in Turner. If they feel Turner will not be a liability as a backup then Spector is probably going to redshirt. In 2016 Clemson used 5 safeties, but Korrin Wiggins spent a lot of time at nickel.
Speaking of Korrin Wiggins, let’s talk about his departure. It certainly came as a shock to most fans that Wiggins decided to leave Clemson. And from his comments it was even a bigger surprise that he seemed to be usurped by younger players. Though 2016 was rough for Wiggins as he came back from his knee injury, he looked pretty good in the spring game. Several pundits mentioned that he looked a lot like his old self in terms of mobility. It is unfortunate that he’ll be leaving, but Clemson does have the talent to replace him, just not the experience.
Coming out of spring practice Clemson seems to be well positioned at safety, but if either Smith or Muse gets hurt then things could get interesting in a hurry. One possible move would be to bring K’Von Wallace back to the safety position, a position he has some experience with. That move may depend on how things shake out during fall camp in August.