Returning: Afolabi Laguda, Ryan Moeller, Nick Fisher, Jaisen Sanchez, Kyle Trego, Evan Worthington
Departing: Tedric Thompson
Incoming: Isaiah Lewis
Safety is such a misnomer for this position. If you really think about it, the word safety implies that something will be safe. Well, I guess you don’t have to think that hard. A safety would be a crossing guard or a dog. That is not this group. Offenses are anything but safe in their domain.
Guard would be a good name for this bunch. Or paladin, if we wanna get real nerdy (and awesome). But safety has been established, so I’ll stick with it. In this installment of the season preview, the second to last, we’ll go over one of CU’s oldest units, and one of its most fun. Prepare to get trucked.
Last year’s safeties were a perfect combination. Tedric Thompson was everywhere on the field and had the freedom to roam. A true safety with range, Thompson played up at the line of scrimmage and as a deep free safety. He was like a cooler Troy Polamalu. This was only made possible by the anchor next to him in Afolabi Laguda. The only non-senior in the starting four of the secondary in 2016, Laguda was rock solid. Tedric could roam because ‘Fo played close to the box, stuck to his man, and always made the tackle. This great pairing allowed from experimentation when Derek McCartney went down with a torn ACL. Ryan Moeller went from a safety role to a role that fit his violent nature. He would be a permanent in-the-box safety, covering any free receivers and bending the edge against the run. And it worked like a charm. Moeller was a perfect Buff backer and added another chess piece to the mental game of football. And not a pawn, either, he was a bishop or rook or something, one of the cool pieces. The point is, last year’s group was a great mix of traits that allowed each player to be special. Is that the case this year?
Well, we don’t know. This group is veteran-laden, with tons of talent, but not much of it is proven. We have one sure thing (well, two sure things) in the back. Afolabi Laguda has now taken over the secondary. Number one on the field and in our hearts, Laguda is ready to patrol the middle of the field. An intimidating presence physically, Afolabi is now catching up to the game. This will be his third year in CU’s system, and he can play a role that suits him best. Laguda is not as rangy as Tedric or as physical on the line as Moeller, but he does everything well enough. His true strength is punishment. He recognizes plays fairly quickly, and will lay the wood to those that try to come into his zone. He can play deep or he can move up close, he can man or zone cover, and he can play the pass or run. He can do it all, but he will never be confused for Tedric in coverage. His true calling is hitting a dude really hard.
Next to him will most likely be Nick Fisher. Long time readers of the Ralphie Report know how much I love this kid’s game. He was my favorite in the Class of 2014 and now it’s going to pay off. Fisher has played nickel back before, but now he moves to a natural position for him. He was always on the thicker side, and while his acceleration and closing speed are ridiculous, his top-line speed could be taken advantage of. So he moves to safety, where he gets a 20-yard headstart on the receivers and his physical nature can be used to full advantage. He has showed great cover ability and range, and now he gets to prove his consistency. His game against Washington State was a thing of beauty and showed how valuable he could be to this team. Fisher is an unknown right now, but I bet he plays a lot like Afolabi - physical, good at many things, great at one thing. He doesn’t hit as hard, but he accelerates to the ball like he’s shot out of a cannon. A great trait for a read-and-react position like safety.
The Buff back is included in the safety preview as well. Ryan Moeller and Jim Leavitt created that position out of thin air last year, and it worked so well that they decided to keep it. Ryan Moeller is a safety - this is true. Ryan Moeller is a linebacker - this is also true. So why not combine the two? The Buff backer is essentially a nickel back with extra size. It turns the 3-4 that the Buffs use into a 3 - 3.5 - 3.5. If CU needs someone to press cover that linebacker? Buff backer. If CU needs someone to attack the tackle on the run? Buff backer. If you can get someone like Moeller in the position, it works like a charm. He is physical enough to do well against the run (as a linebacker, not a safety) and comfortable enough in coverage to do well against the pass (as a safety, not a linebacker). It takes a special type of player, and Moeller is that player. He plays football like the game it is supposed to be, with zeal and passion. He is outwardly excited to be on the field, something that I always appreciate. As a senior scholarship player next year, it will be his last go around and a long journey from the walk-on RB that he started as. Fans should all watch Moeller as much as possible, because his story and his passion are worth watching.
Behind those three are a bunch of vets with familiar names and unfamiliar games. Jaisen Sanchez has sat for a while, and he was forced out of action last year with an injury. He’s lanky and has range, but we don’t know much past that. Evan Worthington is the most physically impressive safety and was playing well as a freshman, but he had to take a year off from the team and we don’t know much about his play. His 6’2, 220 pound frame is perfect for a Buff backer. Kyle Trego was a late junior college find that is fiery and is good in coverage. He will most likely contribute on special teams. And then we hit the only underclassman on the depth chart, Isaiah Lewis. The 2016 early enrollee looks very promising, and he flies all over the field. Hopefully, he is able to redshirt, because he looks a bit like Tedric himself. The whole position group will have to play in the shadow of one of the best to ever do it at CU, but they are deep, old, and athletic. I like their odds.