One of Mickey Conn’s biggest tasks as Clemson’s new co-defensive backs coach is finding a replacement for free safety Jadar Johnson, who led the Tigers with five interceptions in 2016.
Conn, who will coach the safeties after being promoted from his former senior defensive analyst position in January, said it will be a wide-open competition in the spring for the job left vacant by Johnson.
However, Tanner Muse has the inside track on the free safety spot heading into the first day of spring practice on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be wide open, but right now, we’ll start today with Tanner and see what he can do,” Conn said on Wednesday. “You have to put a guy out there, so Tanner will be that guy, and he’s earned that with what he’s done in practice and what he’s done in games.”
Muse, a rising redshirt sophomore from Belmont, N.C., played in all 15 games last season and recorded 20 tackles in 106 snaps at safety. He also tied Chad Smith for the team lead with 10 tackles on special teams and shared Special Teams Defensive Player of the Year honors with Smith.
The highlight of his freshman season came against Syracuse in November when he returned his first career interception for a touchdown, becoming Clemson’s first freshman to earn a pick six since Wayne Simmons at Florida State in 1989.
“When Tanner Muse gets in ballgames, he makes plays,” Conn said, “and it’s just going to be a matter of him learning the defense and knowing it inside and out and eliminating those mental mistakes.”
Muse played seven snaps in the national championship victory and posted a couple of tackles, including one on special teams.
He will have to beat out players such as Isaiah Simmons, K’Von Wallace and Denzel Johnson to become the starter in 2017. But the job seems like his to lose right now.
“On the biggest stage, Tanner came in the ball game last year against Alabama and did a great job,” Conn said. “So, we just have to build on that. I feel like since he intercepted that pass and ran it back for a touchdown, his confidence level has just skyrocketed. So, we’re hoping to build off that and get him going.”
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