'Going to be everywhere': Mukuba a chess piece on back end of Clemson's defense

'Going to be everywhere': Mukuba a chess piece on back end of Clemson's defense

Football

'Going to be everywhere': Mukuba a chess piece on back end of Clemson's defense

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As well as Andrew Mukuba performed last season as a first-year safety for Clemson, that doesn’t mean he’s exclusive to that position.

In fact, he has been anything but this spring.

Mukuba has quickly made a strong case as the most versatile defensive back on the Tigers’ roster. He’s repped at both free and strong safety, nickel and corner through Clemson’s first 12 spring practices. Those reps have been pretty evenly distributed among each position, he said.

“I’m an athlete,” Mukuba said. “Wherever they need me at, I feel like I can go out there and get the job done.”

That’s what he did last season primarily at strong safety, where Mukuba quickly rose up the depth chart after enrolling last January. He started his first collegiate game in the season opener against Georgia and got nine more starts, finishing with 54 tackles and a team-high nine pass breakups en route to freshman All-America honors.

But Mukuba is used to being moved around. He divvied up his time at nearly every position in the secondary as one of the country’s top defensive back prospects at Early College High in Austin, Texas. Where he lined up was based largely on the type of offense the opposition ran along with its personnel, which Mukuba said has also been the case at Clemson this spring.

“It just depends on what kind of day it is and what we’re working on,” Mukuba said.

Mukuba said Clemson is also working on installing a speed package under first-year defensive coordinator Wesley Goodwin, which is when he usually moves to nickel. In that package, Mukuba said, R.J. Mickens takes over at strong safety while Barrett Carter, the Tigers’ uber-athletic sophomore linebacker, acts as a sixth defensive back.

“Mukuba’s a special player, and he’s doing it at three different positions and picking up on it,” said co-defensive coordinator Mickey Conn, who also coaches the safeties. “All that knowledge is going to do is help him and help us to get more speed on the field at times when we need to.”

Mukuba said there’s something to like about every position. There’s a sense of comfort lining up at strong safety having played there almost exclusively for a season. Of the two corner spots, he admitted he enjoys playing inside more because his skill set can be utilized in a variety of ways at nickel, though he said he also likes the competitiveness of being on an island on the outside.

“I feel like I should get a couple of reps at corner just to go out there and showcase what I can do at corner, but you’re definitely going to see me at nickel a lot covering the slot, blitzing and in the box a little bit getting more action there,” Mukuba said. “But I’m going to be at safety a lot, too. So I’m going to kind of be everywhere, so just look out for that.”

Conn isn’t the only coach that’s seen Mukuba take his game to another level this spring. Head coach Dabo Swinney said Mukuba has “come a long way” both mentally and physically since he arrived on Clemson’s campus 15 months ago, which is part of the reason why the coaching staff feels comfortable enough to use the youngster like a chess piece on the back end of the defense.

Part of the maturation process for Mukuba involves not dwelling on what he’s already accomplished at Clemson, which included being an all-ACC selection last season, too. Mukuba said he’s already moved on from those accolades. He’s already got his sights set on another award.

“That would be a dream come true for sure getting that Jim Thorpe Award,” Mukuba said. “That’s the best defensive back in college football, so I feel like why not reach for that?”

For now, Mukuba said his primary focus is to build on what he did last year in order to best help the Tigers, wherever that may be.

“I really just like playing football,” Mukuba said. “Wherever the team needs me and wherever I feel comfortable at, that’s really where I feel like I can do my best.”

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