CU Shuffling the Deck at the safety positions – Cause For Concern?

Mel Tucker & Co. picked up six junior college transfers this off-season … but none were safeties.

Nick Fisher started every game last season at the free safety position, and was on the field for 48 games in his CU career.

Evan Worthington started nine games at strong safety in 2018, started 23 games as a Buff, and was the only CU player invited to the NFL Combine this spring.

Counting the one game started by journeyman senior Kyle Trego, and 22 of the 24 starts at safety at Colorado last season are gone.

All this was known, of course, before spring practices started on March 18th.

Two potential replacements for Fisher and Worthington, sophomore Hassan Hypolite and junior Aaron Maddox, are limited this spring due to injuries, which has led to some shuffling of the deck by the new coaching staff.

Is it possible that the starting safeties for the Buffs this fall will be a converted wide receiver and a former cornerback? … Or a converted linebacker?

Junior Derrion Rakestraw, who came to Colorado as a wide receiver in 2016, has been lining up alongside sophomore Isaiah Lewis as the No. 1 safeties during the first third of CU’s spring practices.

Rakestraw is in his second spring with the safeties, and feels he is prepared to take the field as a starter.

“I feel like I’m really comfortable with it now,” Rakestraw told CUBuffs.com. “I was getting comfortable last season and thought I made some plays, but this spring I feel like I’m there. It’s good to come out here and know what to do. It’s not as much thinking, it’s more just playing football.”

Rather than see his background at another position as a disadvantage, Rakestraw sees his days as a wide receiver as an positive going forward.

“Playing wide receiver definitely helps,” Rakestraw said.  “I can read a receiver’s stems, I know the route concepts, I can recognize formations, things like that. I understand what the receiver is doing and that definitely helps.”

So far, anyway, Rakestraw has done little to discourage coaches from moving him off of the first unit.

“Derrion’s worked extremely hard through the last 11 weeks,” said defensive coordinator/safeties coach Tyson Summers. “He had a good fourth-quarter (conditioning) program, he finished well and is doing a good job of instilling his leadership into the safeties. You can tell he is starting to feel more comfortable doing that with the defense and he’s one of our more confident guys with our calls and what we’re doing and how we’re adapting to the offense. I’ve been really proud of him to this point.”

Another newcomer to the safety position is junior cornerback Trey Udoffia. Last season, Udoffia was on the field at cornerback for 340 snaps over nine games, including three starts. Now, with the safety positions up for grabs, Udoffia is making the move to safety.

“When (defensive coordinator and safeties) coach (Tyson) Summers first got here, I said, ‘Hey, I know that a lot of safeties left and it is an open position so I would love to move over,'” Udoffia told BuffStampede.com. “At first Coach Summers didn’t say anything but then some safeties got hurt and he agreed to move me over and that’s where I’m at now.”

Udoffia wasn’t unhappy at cornerback, but says the move to safety is permanent.

“I’m not saying I didn’t like playing cornerback, but I just feel a lot more comfortable playing safety,” he said. “It feels a lot more natural for me. I like playing where I can see the field and I also like that I am going to be able to come down and make some hits on the runs. I feel like my ball skills in the air are really good so now I can break on the ball mid-air, I can see it coming, instead of having my back to the ball. Last year I got a little too big (for cornerback) but now I’m feeling really good and they even want me to put 10 pounds on in the weight room.”

Then there is the versatile outside linebacker Davion Taylor. The junior college transfer will be a senior this fall, a year after finishing third on the team in tackles in 2018. Taylor led the team in tackles for loss, with 11, was second on the team in third down stops (11), and second in quarterback pressures (also 11).

Now, with the new defense being installed by defensive coordinator Tyson Summers, Taylor’s position may be as much safety as it is outside linebacker.

“He’s a guy that’s got tremendous speed, he’s got good size, very athletic and he’s a guy that can do a lot of different things for us,” head coach Mel Tucker said. “Position versatility is how I would describe him, so I’m excited about what he can do.”

So … excited or concerned?

If the season were to start today, the Buffs may have Isaiah Lewis, a sophomore who was on the field for all of seven plays as a red-shirt freshman (one tackle) at one safety position, playing alongside a former wide receiver in Derrion Rakestraw at the other safety position.

And at the hybrid outside linebacker/safety slot? Davion Taylor.

Principal backups at safety?

Converted cornerback Trey Udoffia, junior Aaron Maddox (15 tackles in 2018), sophomore Hassan Hypolite (on the field for three plays last year), and red-shirt freshmen L.J. Wallace and Ray Robinson.

Not a great deal of proven talent or experience.

That being said, it’s not as if the University of Colorado hasn’t had its share of exceptional secondary coaches. Charles Clark, ShaDon Brown and Ashley Ambrose have mentored this group over the past few seasons, and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers is also the safeties coach.

Oh, and both Mike MacIntyre and Mel Tucker spent much of their careers coaching the defensive backfield.

So, if any school can do more with less, it’s probably the University of Colorado.

And Trey Udoffia, who has been coached by all of the above, likes his new defensive coordinator/safeties coach, Tyson Summers:

“He is an aggressive coach that cares and that is my favorite type of coach, a coach that is going to be straight-up with you and not sugarcoat things. That is exactly how he is,” Udoffia said of Summers. “He’ll yell at you, but he is yelling at you so you can get better, not because he hates you or anything like that. I like him a lot.”

The safeties at CU may in good hands … but it also a unit which will be under the microscope this fall …

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