As Jeff said this morning, it's hard to take too much from fall camp. The goal should be to avoid injuries, learn the playbook, and establish who's on the two deeps. Since we finally have legitimate competition in camp between players that have some real, Pac-10 level talent, we're going to highlight the position battles as camp goes on.
The first battles we examine are at the safety spots.
If we're going to pigeonhole the players as either free safeties or strong safeties, the depth chart looks like this:
|Free Safety||Strong Safety|
|1st String||Chima Nwachukwu (5'11 200 Sr.)||1st String||LeAndre Daniels (6'2 206 RS So.)|
|OR||Tyree Toomer (5'11 194 RS So.)||2nd String||Casey Locker (5'11 186 RS Fr.)|
|3rd String||Jamal Atofau (5'9 180 Fr.)||3rd String||Kyle McCartney (6'0 194 RS So.)|
The first thing that jumps out is Nwachukwu and Toomer are both listed as the starter at free safety. It would seem like Nwachukwu -- a senior leader on the defense -- would've had his starting spot locked up after seeing extensive playing time over the years. Wulff is making him work for it this year.
The depth chart also shows the Cougs are young and deep at the safety position. The only upperclassman is Nwachukwu, but in this case youth and inexperience doesn't mean these guys aren't ready. Every player listed on the depth chart has talent and shouldn't be in over their head during Pac-10 play.
How the battle is shaping up
Throughout the spring, these guys came out swinging for the fences in an effort to lock up a starting spot. The defensive backfield was all over the field making plays throughout the spring. None of them backed down and all of them stepped up.
The only downside to a spring like that is the picture about who will start isn't clear. The positive is the competition will continue through the fall camp. If you believe competition is healthy for teams, this is nothing but a good thing.
During the spring, Nwachukwu and Daniels paired together, with Toomer stepping in and and playing alongside Daniels at times. For the second team, Atofau and Locker paired, with Matthews and McCartney also seeing time.
In the first practice of the fall, it looks like the pairings were shuffled up a bit. Nwachukwu and Toomer teamed to start the practice, with Daniels, Atofau, and Locker all seeing time. The battle will come down to these five for the two safety spots.
Who starts in Stillwater
If I buy the depth chart, Nwachukwu and Daniels will start at the free safety and strong safety respectively. Toomer is talented, but I feel like Nwachukwu's experience will give him the edge if they are close based on their play.
It appears, however, that the coaching staff is searching for the pair that plays best together, regardless of listed position. All five players are versatile enough to handle either safety spot, so finding out who knows the scheme and works well together will go a long way to determine the starter.
I also think that all five players could see the field depending on the situation and matchups. If we need a big, physical safety, LeAndre Daniels is our man. If we're looking for quick, coverage safeties, Toomer, Atofau, and Locker are available. There's enough talent at this spot to step in if anyone goes down (knock on wood) or plug and play based on matchups.
Keep an eye on all these guys during camp. The battle in the secondary is shaping up to be the best one in camp.