This is the seventh in a series of 2014 Michigan State Football previews, looking at the positions on the team in no particular order. Previously: special teams, tight ends, cornerbacks, running backs, defensive ends, wide receivers.
The previously previewed cornerbacks were one half of MSU's impressive secondary last season; quite obviously the safeties were the other half. Kurtis Drummond and Isaiah Lewis worked in tandem throughout most of the season to prevent balls from reaching their intended targets.
With Lewis's graduation, Kurtis Drummond is left as the leader of a unit that will hope to maintain the cohesion and defensive excellence of last season. Here's a look at the Michigan State safeties for this season.
Kurtis Drummond - R. Sr. - 6'1, 202 lbs.
A return All-Big Ten first teamer from last season, Drummond was second on the team with 91 tackles, and tied for the team lead in interceptions with four, including this beauty from the opening game against Western Michigan last season:
Drummond has been named a preseason All-American in several publications due in part to spectacular plays like the one above, and is ranked as the top free safety in the 2015 NFL Draft by at least one site.
Now one of three team captains, Drummond knows what an honor it is to be elected captain from a group of his peers:
"This is different because this is a team full of guys who were captains of their high school teams," he said. "It's just truly humbling to have guys like that appoint me to a position like this."
R.J. Williamson - R. Jr. - 6'0", 214 lbs.
The starter at strong safety, Williamson also started two games at the position last year when Isaiah Lewis was out with injuries early in the season. It's rarely easy when one has to replace a three-year starter like Lewis, but for what it's worth (a lot) defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi thinks Williamson is the right man for the job when he discussed the junior safety in April:
"I like RJ because RJ knows what he's doing,'' Narduzzi said. "But we have to keep him consistent, and he's got to do his job all the time.
"It's just a matter of him getting more reps with the ones. But he has all the ability, he's got everything you want to be that guy there.''
Demetrious Cox - R. Soph. - 6'1", 200 lbs.
Cox played mostly on special teams last season, seeing time in all 14 games and making six tackles total. Coming into fall camp Dantonio spoke highly of him:
"I think he has foot skills to play outside," Dantonio said of the physically gifted Cox, who is the early favorite to be the fifth defensive back in nickel packages. "He’s got great ball skills, just needs experience, and he should get that this year as the fifth guy right now and maybe the fourth. I think that guy could play anywhere, personally."
Sure enough, at today's press conference formally announced Cox's involvement at both corner and safety this season:
Dantonio says Demetrious Cox is the nickel back and first safety off the bench.— Matt Charboneau (@mattcharboneau) August 26, 2014
Look for Cox to have one of the biggest contributions off the bench this season.
Mark Meyers - R. Soph. - 6'0", 183 lbs.
Another special teamer from last season, Meyers tied for the team lead in tackles on kickoffs last season (eight). Meyers was behind Demetrious Cox at free safety when camp started, but moved over to strong safety at some point during camp and is now the backup to R.J. Williamson here.
If this video is to be believed, Meyers definitely has the reflexes for the position:
Montae Nicholson - Fr. - 6'2", 209 lbs.
One of a handful of freshmen who probably won't redshirt this season, we discussed Nicholson during the cornerbacks preview. Nicholson will begin the season as the third-string strong safety behind Williamson and Meyers. Nicholson has the size to be a good strong safety, and he has the speed as well:
As for that combination of size and speed that (R.J.) Williamson said "makes no sense,'' that might be explained by Nicholson's track accolades. He was a state track champion in three events: the 60-meter indoor, 110 hurdles (state record), 400-meter relay, and he finished fourth in the long jump.
Jalyn Powell - R. Fr. - 5'11", 210 lbs.
Powell was picked as the first safety off the board in the 2014 Spring game draft, and was the second-string strong safety heading into fall camp. In April Dantonio downplayed the results of the draft:
"The players draft the players, the coaches play the players," Dantonio said. "RJ is a very good player, Demetrius Cox is as well. Jalyn Powell has hitting ability and he's a young player. He needs to become more disciplined in what he's doing, but you're going to see him show up on the field, whether it's a lot on special teams or in and out on a lot of defensives."
At the very least Powell should see time on special teams this season.
Another preview done, more to go. The Michigan State safeties look like a dynamic position group, and I wouldn't be surprised to see all of the above players see time at the safety positions this season.