Similar to the running backs, the safeties have to replace one of the best players ever for BYU at its position this year. Kai Nacua has moved on to trying to make a name for himself in the NFL, but there a lot of players ready to step up. Kai was an incredible ball hawk who was able to punch the opponent in the mouth at any moment with a game changing interception. His skill and reliability will be missed, but replacing stars is nothing new for college football.
Unlike the cornerbacks, the safeties have a lot of juniors and seniors in the mix in 2017. The two groups are similar though in that there is really only one sure starter and after that, a lot of guys competing for time. Many should get time as Ed Lamb has said he is comfortable playing up to eight safeties this year.
Micah Hannemann (Sr.)
Micah is that one sure starter for the safeties this year. Hannemann has had a wild ride throughout his career, playing a variety of positions in the secondary. In 2015, he played cornerback until switching back to his natural position in 2016. That is where he remains his year.
Coach Jernaro Gilford had this to say about Hannemann:
Hannemann is a great athlete and carries himself on the football field with great confidence and calmness. He can certainly take the reins as the leader of the defensive backs. He is also expected to see a lot of time returning kicks as well.
Tanner Jacobson (Jr.)
Tanner played in every game last year and should see real playing time in 2017. Jacobson has gone back between fee and strong safety throughout camp according to Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune.
As a true freshman, Jacobson started four and played in every game for Texas Tech in 2013. Last year was his first year to play since transferring to BYU. He told The Salt Lake Tribune in the offseason that he has the confidence his team can compete despite the tough schedule early.
"I think we can match up with anybody across the country," he said. "From my experience, we have a lot of size and we have a lot of speed. That is basically what you look for that determines the athleticism you have. I would say we match up really, really well. We are very comparable."
Kamel Greene (Sr.)
Fun fact, Kamel and presumptive starting running back Squally Canada both played at Washington State before transferring to BYU in 2015. Because Kamel walked on at WSU, he was eligible to play for BYU last year.
He saw most of his time on special teams in 2016, but is expected to see a good amount of playing time at safety in 2017. Kamel is not particularly large at 5'11" 185 lbs, but makes up for it with speed. He ran track in high school and runs a sub 4.5 40.
Kamel will at the very least provide some athleticism on the depth chart for the safeties, something BYU often needs.
Matt Hadley (Sr.)
Brother to BYU great Spencer, Matt enters his senior year with significant experience. As a junior, he played in every game and 11 games as a sophomore. He was used a running back during the offseason but it seems that he has settled in to the free safety spot.
There is not a presumptive starter for the free safety spot entering fall camp, but Hadley is expected to have the leg up. Matt has a high football IQ and is very disciplined on the field. This allows him to have the patience needed to make plays.
Hadley will also return kicks as he did last year.
Chaz Ah You (Fr.)
The biggest recruit for the 2017 class has a chance to be a starter alongside Hannemann. Chaz is a local product from Timpview high and had offers from big time schools such as Michigan, Oregon and Washington.
Ah You announced his commitment via a HELICOPTER, so the expectations have been set rather high. We wrote a full article on his commitment earlier this year. Chaz is quick and excels in zone coverage, a great match for free safety.
Chaz has the talent to make plays at the d-1 level but the transition from high school is much easier said than done. Expect to see his playing time increase throughout the season.
Zayne Anderson (Jr.)
Zayne is fast and at 6'2" 200lbs, he has great size for a safety. Anderson played in every game last year but a lot of his time was on kickoff coverage. He is hoping to change that in 2017 as he competes for time on defense.
Anderson played in 27 games throughout high school and grabbed 6 interceptions.
Austin Lee (Jr.)
Austin originally committed to the University of Utah, but left the team before the season started in 2016. He announced his transfer to BYU later that fall. He played quarterback, wide receiver and safety in high school.
On film, he has a quick first step and great hands which make for a great safety. He was rated the #1 safety in Utah coming out of high school. Like Chaz, he has the talent to make plays at the d-1 level but his production remains to be seen.
The safeties and corners in 2017 both have a reliable 3-deep. That is pretty rare for BYU and is a nice change. A big difference between the two groups is experience; the safeties have a lot more. Regardless, each unit has a significant amount of athleticism and play making ability that should make for a fun 2017.
Remember, BYU had 31 takeaways last year, among the best in the nation. They did lose Kai Nacua, but might be able to match last years production given their depth and offseason preparation.