Conn has high praise for pair of safeties

Conn has high praise for pair of safeties

Football

Conn has high praise for pair of safeties

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Clemson has a lot of continuity returning to the backend of its secondary.

That’s why Mickey Conn’s goal coming into the spring was being able to cross-train those in his position group so they could play both strong and free, as well as the nickel.

This has allowed second-year standout Andrew Mukuba to play cornerback, nickel and some strong safety. From what Clemson’s co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach has seen from Mukuba thus far, he feels like the Austin (Texas) native has “definitely” made that next step.

“Mukuba’s a special player and he’s doing it at three different positions,” Conn said following Wednesday’s scrimmage at Memorial Stadium. “All that knowledge, all that’s gonna do is help him and help us get more speed on the field at times when we need to. He’s definitely improved a ton.”

Mukuba, who received Freshman All-American honors last season, was credited with 54 tackles (two for loss), nine pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a sack in 576 snaps over 13 games (10 starts).

That wasn’t the only player in the backend of Clemson’s secondary that figures to start, which Conn praised Wednesday. He also had some high marks for Jayln Phillips, who made six starts for the Tigers in 2021.

“JP’s been incredible,” Conn said when asked about the senior safety. “He’s stepped in and I feel like he’s got a lot more confidence. He’s a lot more seasoned right now. He’s played a lot. He started in several games. He’s really embraced his role.

“And what he did in the Cheez-It Bowl, man, he was fantastic. He had a great game. I think he had two pass breakups, had a few big hits in that game and then he’s come out this spring and really emerged as a leader for that group. He’s just eager and hungry to learn and get better. And I feel like his coverage skills have gotten a lot better too.”

Dabo Swinney mentioned Phillips as one of those guys who has stepped up this spring and really impressed him. Clemson’s head coach said Wednesday that Phillips is finally coming into his own. 

Out of the returning players in Clemson’s secondary, Mukuba and Phillips are not the only safeties impressing this spring — Conn talked up Lannden Zanders, RJ Mickens and the work of Tyler Venables off the field. That’s not even mentioning Sherrod Covil, who has exceeded expectations as an early enrollee. 

And while no starters have been named just yet, Mukuba and Phillips started the most games out of any returning members of Clemson’s secondary last season. Both of them having standout springs will only pay dividends for the Tigers going forward.

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