There are a bunch of guys that are all together right now. We’ve got some guys that are stronger than Kai was in some areas to make that transition. Hopefully the strong safety guys, Tanner and Micah Hannemann, are better than they were a year ago. Right now it appears that’s the case. —BYU safeties coach Ed Lamb
PROVO — When it comes to BYU’s safeties this season, much of the talk has been the departure of ball-hawking defensive back Kai Nacua, who is now in the NFL.
Cougar coaches have underscored that not just one guy will fill that void at free safety. While senior Micah Hannemann is the starter at strong safety, several players will be roaming the defensive secondary for BYU.
“The days of one player on defense playing any position are gone,” said safeties coach Ed Lamb. “There are too many snaps, too much tempo. Every position where we attempted to do that last season we ended up with an injury. We’ll see at least four safeties regularly play.”
Others that are expected to see significant time include senior Matt Hadley, Zayne Anderson and Austin Lee at free safety, and Tanner Jacobson and Kamel Greene at strong safety. Sawyer Powell and freshman Chaz Ah You are also in the mix.
As far as replacing Nacua?
“Nobody has the same mentality as Kai,” Lamb said. “He had his own set of strengths and weaknesses. Matt Hadley right now is the starter at that position and Zayne Anderson is pushing hard right behind him.
"There are a bunch of guys that are all together right now. We’ve got some guys that are stronger than Kai was in some areas to make that transition. Hopefully the strong safety guys, Tanner and Micah Hannemann, are better than they were a year ago. Right now it appears that’s the case.”
As a group, the Cougar safeties will try to compensate for the loss of Nacua, who intercepted 12 passes the past two seasons.
“You all know Kai, the player he was and the impact he made,” Hadley said. “For all of us, a great player left but however big the hole was, we’re going to have to fill it and do what we can to produce and pick up where a great safety left off.”
Nacua’s talent for picking off passes is “a lot about instinct and film study,” Hadley added. “Kai has a gift. A lot of us have learned from him. Being with him in that safety room with him the last two years, I’ve learned a lot, just listening to him and the things he said and the things he did, we’ve been able to pick up a lot.”
Lamb feels good about the safeties he has on this year's team.
“We have a bunch of guys that I love coaching,” he said. “They’re really serious about the game. It’s important to them. They’re humble. We have five guys, four guys that played significantly last year, returning.”
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki loves the depth at the position.
“You look at the safety spot and we have a lot of kids that probably haven’t gotten a shot or people know about but it’s probably the deepest group that we feel comfortable about playing,” he said. “Two guys go out, two guys come in and you don’t skip a beat with a lot of those guys. We can go three or four deep with those guys and still feel comfortable.”
“There’s a lot of guys there, similar to the running back position. Other than Micah Hannemann, the rest of them are battling it out,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “Micah has to battle. Guys like Tanner Jacobson, Austin Lee, Zayne Anderson, Sawyer Powell, Chaz Ah You — those guys are stepping up. There’s plenty of time. Right now, we’ll keep rotating them.”
“I’ve been saying it since spring — we have a lot of athletic guys in our position group,” Hadley said. “Everybody’s athletic and they can get the job done. It’s been fun. Everyone’s coming together. It’s looking good. You’ve just got to be ready for when your name’s called. Competitiveness as well. Everybody wants to play as much as they can.”
Hadley is considered one of the leaders of the safeties.
“As far as leadership goes, I’ve tried to be the leader coming into my senior year that I should be, and as someone who’s been in the program for a while,” he said.
During the offseason, the Cougar safeties have focused on the intricacies of playing that position.
“Our technique is the biggest thing,” Hadley said. “The defense we play requires a lot of technique on our part — a lot of man coverage playing 10 yards off, that’s a lot harder than people think. Playing 10 yards off and (having) someone running full speed at you is tough to do. The biggest thing right now is for all of us to work that technique and that footwork so that come game time, we’re ready.”