The Vanderbilt Commodores’ secondary was a bit of a strength in 2015. But in 2016, the Commodores will (one way or another) have two new starters at safety: last year’s starting strong safety, Andrew Williamson, has graduated while the free safety, Oren Burks, is moving to the star position... effectively a safety/linebacker hybrid, but whether you view him as a safety or a linebacker, there are going to be two more safeties on the field.
Got it? Good, we’re confused about it too.
Ryan White, redshirt junior: White started at strong safety in the South Carolina game and projects to start there again in 2016. In 2015, White made his biggest impact on special teams as the Commodores’ punt returner; he had 150 yards on 20 total returns. On defense, he had 26 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception. At 5’9” and 190 pounds he doesn’t have prototypical size for a safety but he gets the job done.
Emmanuel Smith, junior: The older brother of linebacker Josh Smith, Emmanuel Smith notched a couple of starts as the team’s nickel back against MTSU and Houston. This year, he looks to move into the starting role at free safety. The 6’2”, 219-pound junior had 10 total tackles and a pass breakup in 2015, and gives Vanderbilt a more prototypical, rangy free safety to replace Oren Burks.
Jalen Banks, redshirt junior: The 5’11”, 204-pound redshirt junior played six games at safety and registered four tackles before his season ended due to injury. Prior to the injury, he’d been moved to running back, but he’s listed as a safety once again on the roster and figures to get a shot at contributing there in 2016.
LaDarius Wiley, junior: Wiley, a 6’1”, 205-pound junior, is a bit of a jack of all trades in the secondary; in 2015, he saw time at both cornerback and safety as well as nickel back. On the season, he had eight total tackles, a tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery. Wiley will likely reprise his role as a backup all across the defensive backfield.
Andrew Rector, sophomore: Rector made his mark in the Kentucky game as a true freshman, blocking a punt late in the game that helped seal a Commodore victory. Aside from that, he had just two tackles (both assisted) on the entire season while playing in nine games. In a deep secondary, he might struggle to move up the depth chart.
Zaire Jones: Jones, a 5’11”, 193-pound freshman out of Mississippi, enrolled in January and was a four-star recruit after flipping his commitment from Mississippi State. We’re not expecting Jones to start as a true freshman, though it wouldn’t be a huge surprise, but he’ll see the field more likely than not in his first year on campus. Expect Jones to play a backup role and see action in nickel and dime packages.
Austin Quillen: If Quillen’s team success continues, Vanderbilt can expect to win an SEC Championship; he won four straight state titles at Jenks High School in Oklahoma. While Jones will probably see the field early, Quillen might redshirt in a deep secondary. If he doesn’t, expect to see him on special teams this year more than anything else.