2013 Position Previews: Safety

Sarah Glenn

Finally, we get to the position on the defense manned by Ahmad Dixon, the man who, when questioned about Baylor's ability to win the Big 12 this season, so famously replied with a question of his own about God's ability to save a hooker. This has been a long time coming.

I'm not going to lie to you-- I think this is the most important position on our entire defense.  Other aspects are certainly important, as well, as we've discussed, but none has the potential to blow up in our face like this one.  And as we've found out in recent years, when your safeties aren't very good, it affects absolutely everything you do.  You can hide bad corners with good safeties, small DTs with stunts and blitzes, and even bad linebackers with zone coverages.  It's really hard to hide bad safeties, and if you don't trust them over the top, you do things like push your corners way off the ball so no receivers get by them and drop your linebackers further into coverage, creating space in the middle.

Now, I'm not saying we have bad safeties, necessarily.  The talent is certainly there, especially with our senior starter, for an above-average group or better.  But we're relying heavily on that same senior starter to play a position he hasn't for the last two full seasons, and there will be growing pains.  The hope is that by the meat of our schedule, he's re-acclimated to the spot that was his destiny.  But moving him was a risk, and with risk comes the potential that things blow up.

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
6 Ahmad Dixon
SR 6-0/205 S
32 Collin Simpson
SR 5-8/195 S
26 Cody Wetsel
JR 5-10/195 S
13 Terrell Burt
SO
5-10/185 S
14 Anthony Webb
SO
6-0/190 S
21 Patrick Levels
RS-FR 5-8/190 S
28 Orion Stewart
RS-FR 6-2/185 S
26 Taion Sells
FR 5-9/180 S
12 Alfred Pullom
FR 6-1/185 S

I'm talking, of course, about Ahmad Dixon, the most-outspoken member of probably our entire team.  Forced by circumstance into the nickelback position in each of the last two years, we've now decided to flip-flop Dixon and former safety Sam Holl, moving Dixon back in the secondary and Holl up.  I'm already on record saying that it's a good idea, at the very least; you're giving both players a chance to better utilize their skills in positions that may be more natural fits.  Whether a good theory gives way to good practice is yet to be seen.

One thing that I find slightly funny from this chart is the prevailing archetypes of the cover and deep safeties in Bennett's system.  Looking at the heights and weights, it can be reasonably inferred that Bennett likes two different types of player.  One is slightly bigger, in the mold of Dixon, while the other is smaller, like his co-starter in sophomore Terrell Burt.  You can divide pretty much everyone on the chart into one group or the other fairly easily: Simpson, Wetsel, Levels, and Sells go one way with Webb, Stewart, and Pullom the other.  That Webb backs up Burt throws a wrench into things a bit.

Looking at the players more specifically--

Ahmad Dixon -- SR -- #6 -- 6-0, 205 pounds

I can't write much about Dixon that you don't already know.  He came to Baylor after a relatively tumultuous recruiting process that saw him committed to Texas, then Baylor, then Tennessee, then Baylor again.  Had this blog existed at the time, it might have melted down.  He then played as a true freshman in 2010 as a safety before moving to the nickelback position in Bennett's first year, 2011.  He played that position again last year, enjoying something of a breakout season and becoming the undisputed leader of Baylor's defense.

Tackles Def Int Fumbles
Year School Conf Class Pos Solo Ast Tot Loss Sk Int Yds Avg TD PD FR Yds TD FF
*2010 Baylor Big 12 FR DB 12 4 16 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
*2011 Baylor Big 12 SO DB 56 33 89 5.5 0.0 1 55 55.0 1 4 1 4 0 0
*2012 Baylor Big 12 JR DB 66 36 102 5.5 1.0 2 17 8.5 0 5 0 0 0 0
Career Baylor 134 73 207 11.0 1.0 3 72 24.0 1 9 1 4 0 1

For my money, how Dixon handles the switch back to safety is the single greatest question facing our defense this year.  So much of what we do will depend on his performance at the back end that he simply must play well for our expectations of defensive improvement to come to fruition.  He's certainly got the speed to man the position, running a 4.395 40 in the spring, but the questions about his play have never involved athletic ability so much as decisionmaking.  He has to avoid taking bad angles, getting caught looking into the backfield, and guessing on routes where has has primary responsibility.  All of those things come with time, and thankfully, he has plenty of that at the beginning of the season.

Collin Simpson -- SR -- #32 -- 5-8, 195 pounds

Cody Wetsel -- JR -- #26 -- 5-10, 190 pounds

Our pair of walk-ons at the safety position.  I know almost nothing about either of them.  Neither has received significant playing time, and both appear to be behind several younger players.

Terrell Burt -- SO -- #13 -- 5-10, 185 pounds

As difficult as it would have been to foresee at the beginning of last season with guys like Javonte Magee hanging around, Terrell Burt was the only true freshman to play in all 13 of Baylor's games.  He played mostly on special teams throughout the season, a use that would seem strange for a true freshman considering the eligibility crunch but that makes more sense when you realize that senior starter Mike Hicks was out for a significant length of time and we needed Burt to fill that spot, as well.  Now he's going into his sophomore season penciled in as the starter at cover safety, where he will be called upon almost entirely in pass defense to assist our corners and against slot receivers.

Tackles Def Int Fumbles
Year School Conf Class Pos Solo Ast Tot Loss Sk Int Yds Avg TD PD FR Yds TD FF
*2012 Baylor Big 12 FR DB 2 3 5 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Baylor 2 3 5 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Anthony Webb -- SO -- #14 -- 6-0, 190 pounds

Webb's journey has been an interesting one so far at Baylor.  He was recruited as a WR/DB who some thought might actually play RB, then spent all of last season playing on special teams.  He has no statistics yet to his name, but he's apparently impressed enough this spring and fall to be the backup to Burt at cover safety.  He ran a 4.48 40 in the spring, laser-timed, of course.  Burt has received nearly all of the reps with the first team as far as I know, while Webb has played against the first team offense with the second defense.  I'm intrigued by his potential, to be sure.

Patrick Levels -- RS-FR -- #21 -- 5-8, 190 pounds

Orion Stewart -- RS-FR -- #28 -- 6-2, 185 pounds

I'm including these two guys together for a few reasons: both are redshirt freshman who sat out last season to preserve eligibility, both are now playing safety after a bit of mystery surrounding their original destination when they got here, and both were late additions to our 2012 class that had people wondering.

Unlike Levels, however, Stewart seems to be in line for significant playing time this coming year.  When Dixon missed the second scrimmage on Saturday for his grandmother's funeral, it was Stewart who played with the first team alongside Burt and acquitted himself well.  He's definitely one to watch this coming season, especially if the Dixon switch doesn't go as planned, and we need him more than we expected to.  The people I've heard talk about him rave about his size and athletic ability.

Taion Sells -- FR -- #26 -- 5-9, 180 pounds

Alfred Pullom -- FR -- #12 -- 6-1, 185 pounds

These two freshmen, barring injury, should redshirt this season as Levels and Stewart did before them.  They'll get their chance next year to show what they can do.  Both have been impressive playing with the third-team defense thus far, but in a crowded field of safeties, neither seems likely to burn the redshirt this year.  I've heard good things about Pullom, in particular, and he may challenge Stewart next year for the spot vacated by Dixon.

-----

I hope people don't think I'm being overdramatic by saying that this spot is my biggest concern on the team; I certainly don't mean to be.  But it is my biggest concern for the reasons I've stated: while Dixon is supremely talented and could be the greatest safety we've had in a generation by the time the season ends, he's probably not that now or anywhere close.  Still, as I said, the plan to switch him is a good one that I support wholeheartedly, and we can't go back now.  Dixon and Burt are the starters.

As far as next year goes, I like the combination of youth and experience we'll have returning.  Burt should have a full year as starter under his belt with another junior, Webb, and a sophomore, Stewart, returning as well.  Fighting them for playing time will be three other talented underclassmen.  This is about as good as a chart can look for the future while also aiming to be good right now, I think.

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