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Position Breakdown: Safeties

Position Breakdown: Safeties

April 18, 2007

ATHENS, Ohio - The Ohio football team completed its 13th practice of the spring on Wednesday. The workout was the last padded practice before the Green & White game on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The safety position may be the deepest on the Bobcat roster with six players returning that saw significant action in 2006. Both starters are back as are three others that started at least once. Two of the Bobcats' top six tacklers in 2006 were safeties, and both players -- Todd Koenig (Nanty-Glo, Pa.) and Michael Mitchell (Ft. Thomas, Ky.) -- return in 2007.

Personnel Breakdown
Ervin Jackson • Senior
Jackson was slowed early on in 2006 by a knee injury that ended his 2005 campaign, but as the season wore on he was utilized more often, including making his first career start at Miami. Jackson made 10 stops on the season, including 1.5 for loss. Jackson has not participated in spring drills due to injury.

Steven Jackson • Sophomore
Jackson played in 12 games last year, including two starts. He missed the regular-season finale and the MAC Championship Game with an injury, but was able to come back for the GMAC Bowl. Jackson made 23 tackles as a true freshman, including 17 solo stops.

Neil Jereb • Junior
A regular on special teams, Jereb was used as a reserve in 11 games last season. He recorded five tackles, incluidng one for loss, and broke up a pass in 2006.

Todd Koenig • Senior
The returning starter at free safety, Koenig started all 11 games he played in, missing three due to injury. Koenig ranked sixth on the team iwht 49 tackles. He made 4.5 for loss and added 1.5 sacks. He also broke up three passes.

Michael Mitchell • Junior
Mitchell is the returning starter at strong safety after making eight starts in 14 games last season. He was tied for fourth on the team with 55 tackles and made 5.0 tackles for loss with one sack. He also intercepted two passes and broke up another pair of throws.

Tony Ward • Senior
Ward started all six games he played in during the 2006 season. He had 38 tackles in those six contests, and has 108 tackles in 19 career games. Ward has made 11 starts in the past two seasons.

Others in the mix: A number of players that redshirted last season will be fighting for playing time at one of the two safety spots. Kevin Culver, Ian Elmore, Kyle Endicott, Anderson Fletcher, Donovan Fletcher and Matt Zakowski will all get time this spring.

Q&A with Safeties Coach and Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Burrow
From an experience standpoint, the safety group this season is comparable to the linebackers last season. Are there any similarities in the two units?
"We've talked about it. Last year the linebackers certainly understood their roles and their leadership roles on this football team. We've talked to the safeties. They're the most experienced group and again, we've got five or six that have actually started games and played a lot of football. We're looking forward to those guys being the leaders on this football team, and they understand that."

With so many options, how hard is it going to be to balance getting everyone on the field?
"That's always an issue, but it's a good problem to have. Last year, the way it ended up I didn't think all those guys would get all those reps, but injuries dictated that a lot of guys played. These guys are going to help us on special teams. All of them are going to get a lot of reps and all of them are going to help us win a lot of football games."

How would you define the difference between the free safety and strong safety positions in this defense?
"They're basically interchangeable. As a matter of fact today at practice Michael Mitchell and Todd Koenig just played left and right safeties. As you become more familiar with our system as a safety you should have the ability to do something like that. There's not a lot of difference."

What is the number one characteristic you look for in a safety in this defense?
"It's a tough position because you have to have range because we do play enough two-deep that they have to cover half the field. They also have to be able to play some man-to-man, they have to be able to blitz and they have to roll down and be a linebacker. They're really a combination of all the positions so there's really not just one thing, but if you had to pick it one it better be playing physical."

From your standpoint are there any challenges or advantages to coaching a position and being the defensive coordinator?
"I've never been just the coordinator so I don't know the advantages or disadvantages of that. In the past until I go there, I always coached all four defensive backs, but it's certainly worked well for me to coach just the safeties. We've been fortunate to have two great corner coaches in Fred Reed and Dave Brown, so that does take some of the pressure off me of having to coach all those positions. I still like to be involved so for coaching a position is a good thing."

In addition to the Green & White game at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Ohio Athletics and the Ohio Sports Administration program is teaming up to present the second annual Bobcat Blitz which featured a full day of events surrounding the spring game. For more information, log on to www.BobcatBlitz.com.

Ohio Athletics will also hold a merchandise surplus sale at Gate 1 of Peden Stadium beginning at 12 p.m.

Information about 2007 Ohio football tickets, including the return of the Bobcat Family Pack, can be found by clicking here.

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