Post-Spring Review: Safeties
With spring in the books, we're taking a look at every position group from the spring and where they stand going into the 2021 season.
Previous Installments: Special Teams
That continues today with the safety position, one which looks to be well-stocked for the future. If the season started today, there would be five players who many would feel comfortable about starting, including two tenured starters and a few class of 2019 recruits.
The Likely Starters
Elijah Hicks and Daniel Scott
Hicks and Scott both came in with the transition class of 2017, and they've taken different paths to get to get to the position that they're in. Hicks has started games every year that he's been at Cal, with 34 starts over the 42 games played. 30 of those starts came at cornerback, with the last four coming at safety during the 2020 season.
Scott didn't start right away in Berkeley, coming in during the summer of 2017 as opposed to the mid-year entry of Hicks in January of that year. The St. Francis (Pasadena) product didn't start his first game until 2019, in the Redbox Bowl, as the 2019 season marked his first major playing time.
In both safeties, you have tenured players with range, both who do well with contact. Scott led the Bears in tackles in their opener against UCLA in 2020 (with 11), while Hicks has routinely graded high on Pro Football Focus in run defense.
The Third Years
Three guys from the high school class of 2019 make up the next group, and all three could start if the Bears decide to use some of the three safety looks they played with in 2020. Craig Woodson, Miles Williams and Raymond Woodie III all look to be rotation players, if not part time starters in 2021.
Woodson did start in 2020, and showed some of the tools that had his teammates raving about him through the year, with a blocked punt on the first possession of the season and a handful of tackles throughout the year. Williams dealt with injuries in 2019, but worked his way onto a couple of special teams in 2020, and had the play of the spring game, a leaping interception of Zach Johnson on the goal line. Woodie, the transfer from Florida State, can play multiple spots in the defensive backfield and was especially impressive in run support in the spring game.
Having all three of these guys available should help the Bears both on special teams and in case of injury, as all three have the athleticism and cover skills to play in the slot if need be. It's a good problem for the Bears to have.
The two other scholarship players (as of right now) at safety are Dejuan Butler and Hunter Barth, and the common link between the two is their willingness to hit. Butler came from Antioch, having played some outside linebacker in addition to corner, while Barth played both safety and cornerback in high school at Queen Creek. Butler was moved to safety last year because of his run support ability, while Barth stood out in the spring game with his size and a big (legal) hit on WR Ben Skinner. Both have a chance to earn time on special teams this year as well.
The position as a whole has some depth built up, as the Bears get farther away from the Jaylinn Hawkins/Ashtyn Davis duo that defined the first three years of Justin Wilcox's tenure. Some of that young talent amassed in the last three recruiting classes will have to produce soon, and the spring showed that they could be capable of doing so.