Even with Smith gone, Tigers are set at safety

Even with Smith gone, Tigers are set at safety

Football

Even with Smith gone, Tigers are set at safety

With Van Smith now off to the NFL, Clemson’s safety positions get a little more interesting.

Does K’Von Wallace, who started the 2017 season at cornerback, move to Smith’s free safety position or does Isaiah Simmons take over there since he was the No. 2 guy on the depth chart behind Smith?

What about Tanner Muse? Does he start at strong safety?

These are the questions safeties coach Mickey Conn will have to answer this spring. The good news for Conn is there is no wrong answer.

Due to injuries early in the year to Smith, Denzel Johnson and Muse, Wallace moved back to strong safety to provide some depth, where he played all of 2016. He performed well. He even made a game-saving break up on Jalen Samuels in the end zone and then interception moments later to seal the victory in the Tigers’ win over NC State in a crucial ACC Atlantic Division showdown.

“Not only did he get a key interception to help us win the game, but he had some coverages during the course of the game that helped us out a lot,” Conn said. “He has come on the last half of the season and has been phenomenal.

“Even at the beginning of the season, when he started at strong safety against Auburn when Van was out, he did a phenomenal job. So he has been patient and kind of worked and earned his way in there with what he has done on the field.”

Simmons came on as well, using his playing time to record 48 tackles and break up five passes which was third on the team.

“Isaiah Simmons is just an unbelievable player,” Conn said. “Trying to get all of those guys the amount of reps that they need and playing time has been a challenge for me because they all deserve to play and they are all doing really, really well.”

Conn even said backup Nolan Turner has been phenomenal on special teams, especially on kickoff coverage and deserves to play as well.

“It has been a good group to coach,” said Conn, who just finished his first year as a position coach on Dabo Swinney’s staff.

As for Johnson, Conn says the redshirt junior is really starting to blossom and understands the defense.

“He is incredibly athletic,” the Clemson coach said. “He is also a very physical player and as he continues to learn and grow in the defense and get better, he is going to see more playing time as well.”

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