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Wake Forest Football 2021 Spring Football Position Overview: Safeties

The biggest question mark of the defense

Wake Forest v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Less than 30 days to the start of spring camp, and here at Blogger So Dear, we’re going to bring you a position by position look ahead to the 2021 season. Today we’re looking at the safeties, which were... let’s say inconsistent last year. For the sake of consistency, I’m including the ROVERs as safeties and will do so as the seasons go on.

Returners(8): Traveon Redd(super senior), Nasir Greer(Junior), Coby Davis(RS Junior), Chelen Garnes(Sophomore), Zion Keith(RS Sophomore), AJ Williams(RS Freshman), JJ Roberts(Freshman), Nick Andersen(Freshman)

Newcomers(2): Quincy Bryant(Freshman), Evan Slocum(Freshman).

Departures(2): Trey Rucker(transfer), Luke Masterson(position change)

It was a turbulent 2020 for this group. Nasir Greer basically played on one leg and at times at corner for three games before being shut down for a few weeks, returning against UNC, and reinjuring himself on his first couple of plays, and being out for the rest of the year. Zion Keith missed VT, Syracuse, UNC and was limited to 14 snaps against Louisville with a broken thumb. Luke Masterson missed the entirety of the UVA to UNC stretch with a foot injury. Trey Rucker was in and out with a foot injury. Coby Davis missed all but the last two games with an ankle injury. Chelen Garnes wasn’t even eligible until the bowl game as he transferred in and was due to sit the season. JJ Roberts got moved to safety the week of UNC.

Struggling with health and numbers isn’t something new to Wake Forest, but when it ravages an entire position group(think the WRs in 2019 and the LBs in 2018), it’s going to end up with the unit looking bad, playing uneven, and judgement to be cast.

Nick Andersen was one of the stories of the season after his 3 interception game and was actually the only member of the safety group to not miss at least 1 game this past season. He’s a sure tackler that racked up 63 total as a walk-on alongside 5 PBUs. Getting an actual offseason should do wonders for him. He had/has his struggles against speedier guys, but also was only a freshman with very good timing. Assuming he stays healthy, I think he’s in line to receive a fair share of snaps and push to start.

Zion Keith was one of the most fun guys to watch when healthy on the defense. He loves flying around and creating havoc which is exactly what you need from the safeties in a 4-2-5. Keith finished his 3rd year with 31 total tackles, 2 passes broken up, a fumble recovered, and an interception returned for a touchdown against Campbell. I’m assuming the emphasis for Keith will be staying healthy and making sure he stays at the level he showed last year. He has the tools and shown he is a starter-level player. If he can keep that level then this depth becomes scary good.

Traveon Redd was really a swiss army knife. They moved him around constantly and he was one of the best players on the team not just on the defense or in this group. 4th on the team in tackles at 46, an interception, and 2 PBUs. Where Redd plays is going to be an interesting one to monitor. He’s mostly been the team’s starting rover, but in the bowl game he played almost exclusively as the boundary safety(always the one on the shortest side of the field.) I don’t really hate the move if that’s the case. Wake generally operates as the boundary safety is generally the one who is more favored to end up on a blitz while the other remains as a centerfielder. Having Nasir or Andersen being that guy while someone like Redd or Keith is causing havoc seems the most optimal.

Another reason for optimism for that move is the emergence of AJ Williams. The staff seemed more than fine moving Redd around as needed and letting Williams man rover. AJ really broke out in the VT game to the tune of 9 tackles, 2 PBUs, and being one of the most important reasons why star back Khalil Herbert was kept at bay. It’s also good to note that he’s now entering his 3rd year, the year you’d expect guys to really take that next step even as he was one that recruiting services were split on(ESPN and Rivals had him as a high 2-Star/low 3-Star while 247Sports had him as a high 3 star.) Williams is one of the better athletes on the defense and this will be an important spring.

The rest is more or less of a mystery. Nasir Greer is one of the best safeties in the ACC when healthy, but we truly haven’t seen him healthy since midway through the 2019 season. While I’m confident he’ll be back healthy soon, what does he look like both physically and mentally? Coby Davis was, and probably still is, the team’s best slot corner. Davis also just can’t stay healthy after tearing his ACL in 2019 and missing most of 2020 with a high ankle sprain. Chelen Garnes has been raved about in practice but obviously not being eligible until the bowl game has prevented us from seeing him live. JJ Roberts is a really good athlete but was moved to safety late and got reps here and there while adjusting to college football.

With the incoming recruits, I see a lot of talent. Quincy Bryant at 6-foot 190 already has a college-ready build and has the inside track to getting some early playing time. He has the body and skills to be a rover, but if he can learn to play up high then he becomes just that much more valuable at that size and with that speed. I’ve been very high on Evan Slocum the entire recruiting cycle. He’s probably one of the best athletes in the class after playing high safety, running back, slot receiver, and even threw for a touchdown in one of Georgia’s toughest classifications.

Last Thoughts: When healthy, this on paper is Wake’s deepest safety rotation in a long while. Performances were definitely up and down throughout 2020 but I don’t think it’s an outlandish take to say that this unit will be much improved come 2021.

We’re pretty sure a 2-deep will include Redd, Nasir, Williams, Andersen, Zion Keith and Chelen Garnes. Can the reserves push whoever starts enough to be able to split reps and keep people fresh? Can those right on the cut or fresh onto the scene not only stay healthy enough to progress on their own, but also in the inevitable case someone gets nicked up? To be completely honest, play has never been the issue here. Breakdowns happen everywhere across every team, but for years they’ve been solid. They just can’t stay healthy and that has to be rectified, whether it’s splitting reps more or different approaches to the weight room.

My pick for an X-Factor here? AJ Williams.