Our post-spring series continues today on defense with the safeties.
• Projected starters: FS Nickoe Whitley, Jr.; SS Louis Watson, Sr.
• Backups: Dee Arrington, So.; Jay Hughes, So.; Kendrick Market, R-Fr.
• The skinny: MSU lost a couple of good ones in Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner, the former having been drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the sixth round. But one could say that the depth this fall is improved, although it's young depth.
The starters have plenty of experience, although Whitley was severely limited in spring due to the ruptured Achilles' tendon he suffered late last season. Assuming he's fully healthy by September, expect him to pick up where he left off in 2011. One of the hardest-hitting players in the SEC, Whitley recorded 34 tackles, 2.0 tackles-for-loss and four interceptions in nine games.
He's a known commodity. Watson kind of is, but he spent his first few years at cornerback before seeing time at safety last year. It looks like he'll stay at safety, and while he never impressed me a whole lot at cornerback – playing behind Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield, of course, limited his opportunities – I saw a lot that I liked of Watson this spring. He had a good awareness of how plays were developing and was around the ball a lot.
Whitley's being sidelined allowed guys like Arrington, Hughes and Market to get more snaps in the spring. Those first two got in several games last season – including special teams work – and combined for 20 tackles. Market is a promising talent.
As safeties coach Tony Hughes (Jay's dad) pointed out, the safeties have to make a lot of calls and be adept at "mental gymnastics," so that'll be the big test for the younger players. Tony Hughes feels the group gained confidence through the spring.
Eyes will be watching this group closely. According to Jay Hughes, his dad told the safeties before the spring that "the safety position was going to be probably the position everybody was going to worry about, because we lost Charles and Wade." It's up to guys like Hughes to alleviate those concerns.