The safety position will draw an incomplete this spring regardless of what happens. With only three players at the position who will be competing for first-team reps and two more players arriving in the summer, this is a group that will be in strong competition well into the offseason.
But when fully together, it could also be one of the more exciting positions on the entire roster. The talent is evident but this spring in particular, the saftey group won't be at full strength. Here's a breakdown of the position and why this is a battle that will be far from settled after the 15 spring practices.
Projected Starters: Todd Harris (senior), Sage Ryan (freshman)
Ryan won't get to campus until this offseason but the talent is to great not to see the field. He has a chance to be next in line of great defensive backs for this program and his elite athletic ability will separate himself from the pack.
"I'm counting on Sage Ryan coming in and contributing right away for us," Orgeron said.
As for Harris, the senior is entering a critical season after having an up and down 2020 season coming off a significant leg injury in 2019. In his return, Harris recorded 30 tackles and an interception, while in 2018 he was able to record 31 tackles, a pick and three pass breakups as a full time starter.
Orgeron believes that there is still untapped potential in Harris and with the loss of Maurice Hampton to the transfer portal, the Tigers will rely heavily on Harris' veteran presence.
"Last year he was still coming off that injury and he wasn't the same player," Orgeron said on Off the Bench Tuesday. "The year before that (2018), he had a helluva year for us. We're expecting him to have a great spring."
Depth Chart: Jordan Toles (sophomore), Derrick Davis (freshman), Matthew Langlois (freshman)
Both safety spots will be up for grabs even beyond the spring but for a young freshman like Davis, this is a tremendous opportunity. As an early enrollee with only two other players who will be earning ample playing time over the next month, Davis will get an extended look at safety.
He'll have 15 practices to show Daronte Jones and the defensive staff what he's made of and the early reports from Orgeron are extremely positive around the Pennsylvania native.
"He's stepped up, we had a competition the other day, see the best wide receivers against the best DB's and Derrick stepped up and he won," Orgeron said. "He still should be getting ready to go to prom and here he is taking on our best players. He's stepped up a little bit."
Orgeron told reporters on Tuesday that safety is a position of unknown for the program and that push come to shove, freshmen will have to be major contributors.
“Todd Harris is playing well, Jordan Toles is back there, he hasn’t played much last year. Derrick Davis is a mid year graduate, he’s out there doing a phenomenal job,” Orgeron said. “He was the No. 2 safety in the country, Sage Ryan was the No. 1 safety. Matthew Langlois is a great player. These freshmen are gonna have to play and we may have to move a corner to safety if that doesn’t work.”
Toles saw time as a true freshman in 2020 but it's clear he needed time to develop more. He's got the length to be a quality piece for this safety group and with him being one of three safeties on the roster, he should compete for first-team reps for the next month. It does feel like he needs to make a strong first impression on Jones, who will be coaching the safety group this season.
Langlois is also an intriguing option once he gets to campus this fall. Orgeron and the staff are extremely high on his potential even though he wasn't the most sought after recruit. Long term, Langlois is a versatile enough player to be a nickel or dime linebacker during passing downs, while being an every down strong safety.
But again, because he doesn't arrive until the summer and this will be a position group that is extremely competitive well into the fall. If it all comes together the way Orgeron and Jones plan, this could be a secondary that makes real improvement in 2021.