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TCU Football Position Preview: Safeties

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Niko Small and Innis Gaines lead a group of hard hitters on the back-end of TCU’s stout D.

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Stanford vs Texas Christian Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure why, but there are few things that bring me more joy than watching a TCU safety track down an unsuspecting receiver.

It all started with Marvin White’s hit on Robert Johnson in 2006. Ever since that moment, I’ve been fascinated with the way TCU makes three safeties feel like 100, and how Patterson’s defense always seems to free up at least one guy to make a big hit.

The 2018 version of TCU’s safety corps is full of pop, and big hit potential, with guys like Niko Small and Innis Gaines roaming in the secondary. Ultimately though, the versatility and depth of this group is what will make life difficult for opposing offenses all year long.

Projected Starters

Innis Gaines | Jr. | 6-2, 203

Gaines seems to have earned a starting spot over the past season, after showing out in a mostly-backup role in 2017. His versatility and athleticism is off the charts, as he’s able to come up and lay a big hit, but is also solid in coverage, as his size and speed allow him to cover multiple types of players in space.

As you see in his highlight reel from 2017, Gaines is incredibly comfortable playing close to the line, and he has a fantastic ability to miss blockers and make plays in traffic. His lone interception in 2017 came in the waning minutes of the Alamo Bowl comeback (part 2) against Stanford, helping to seal TCU’s 39-37 victory.

Niko Small | Sr. | 5-10, 183

Small has been a constant in the TCU secondary for the last two seasons, and he will be once again in 2018. The most experienced member of this safety corps, Small missed the last two games of 2017 with an injury, but comes back healthy and ready to be the field general this unit needs.

Markell Simmons | Sr. | 6-1, 197

Simmons steps into the starting role vacated by Nick Orr, after being the primary backup a season ago. He has starting experience though, filling in as a starter the last for the final two regular season games, and the Big 12 Championship game, and is a versatile safety. While it’s hard to replace a guy like Orr, Simmons is an experienced, capable player.

The Depth

Ridwan Issahaku is back with the team after being notably absent from the roster at Big 12 Media Days, and while it seems as if his starting job has been taken by Gaines, it would be a shock not to see Issahaku on the field getting significant playing time throughout the season. Issahaku tied for second on the team in tackles (66) last season, and his experience and ability will be invaluable for the Frogs this season. Vernon Scott, La’Kendrick Van Zandt, and Michael Onyemaobi offer more talented depth to this unit, with Scott in prime position to step up should someone get hurt.