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Miami Hurricanes 2023 Position Preview: Safety

Kamren Kinchens could become Miami’s first two-time AP All-American since Ed Reed, and James Williams is a specimen five star, but who else will emerge?

NCAA Football: Miami at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes Safety position can be defined by two key components: 1) they have arguably most formidable duo in the nation with Kamren Kinchens and James Williams, but 2) they are incredibly thin up high.

On the one hand, Kinchens and Williams bring a dynamic duo with complementary skillsets as they were number one and two on the Canes roster in tackles, and also accounted for half the of the team’s interceptions. On the other hand, Williams is not used as a traditional safety and the remaining players at the position on the roster have experience predominantly as rotational player/special teams (combined four tackles in 2022), or are freshman.

While the idea of Kinchens and Williams commanding the lion’s share of the safety reps, Williams is playing more of a Swiss army knife role and a clear-cut third safety has not fully emerged during the offseason. It is likely to be Markeith Williams, who got the starting nod in the Canes latest scrimmage, but he played just four games last season. After that, Brian Balom is listed on the depth chart but he has even less experience as he mostly played special teams. Then, it’s true freshman Jaden Harris and redshirt freshman, Kaleb Spencer, who have virtually no experience. Linebacker, Keontra Smith, has some experience at safety so could transition to that role if needed.

Miami brings on a new defensive coordinator, Lance Guidry, who will look to remediate the woes of last year where opposing offenses had a tendency to get past the defense by breaking open big plays. It will be the safeties’ duty to keep the plays in front of them and the former Marshall coach will be of assistance in keeping offenses off-guard with versatile players and schemes. Last year, Guidry led Marshall to a top 10 nationally ranked defense.

On top of Guidry, Miami retains secondary coach, Jahmile Addae. Addae took some slack last year due to the aforementioned issues with the secondary but he has been forming a strong unit as evidenced by rookies Tyrique Stevenson and DJ Ivey both making their way onto 53-man rosters earlier this week. Addae could thrive with another year working with Williams and Kinchens but really needs to shore up the cornerback position.

Meet the 2023 Safety Class:

Kamren Kinchens (#5): 6’0”, 205 (2022 Stats - 12 Games Played, 59 tackles, 6 INTs, 1 TD, All-ACC First Team, AP All-American Honors) In his sophomore season, Kinchens absolutely thrived and proved he was capable of doing anything at free safety. He is graded as the best returning safety by PFF and already being projected as a first round pick for 2024 in his first draft-eligible season. Kinchens came in as a low-grade four star (320th overall recruit in the nation) and impacted the team in a number of ways by doing everything needed to be a leader on and off the field.

For All-American honors, Miami has only had two AP All-Americans since 2005 (Kinchens and Jose Borregales). But Kinchens could become the first two-time AP All-American since Ed Reed.

His impact was a bright spot in 2022 and will be again in 2023 as the lead safety. In 2022, Kinchens had a 99-yard touchdown interception, recorded nearly half of the team’s interceptions, led the team in tackles, and also forced and recovered a fumble. With Guidry’s tutelage, Kinchens will be used deeper but could also play in the box to keep offenses offguard, which should allow Kinchens to thrive by showing off his versatility.

There are high expectations for the defensive team leader on top of the first round potential and All-American watchlists, but he is also a candidate for the Lott Impact Trophy, which is awarded to the defensive player with the biggest on-and-off-the field impact. Not only can Kinchens be a force on the field, but he is involved off the field and has the makings to be a consummate pro.

James Williams (#20): 6’5” 215 (2022 Stats - 11 Games Played, 58 tackles, 1 INT, 6 PDs) The former five-star recruit has a daunting frame for any opposing player and the athleticism to match it up. Due to his pterodactyl-type body, there are some expectations that Williams will line up more in the box and play a linebacker type role. That is a fair assumption as he played 287 snaps in the box last season, compared to 234 at free safety, but he also played over 100 snaps covering corners. That is, Williams’ length was a welcomed addition to the strong safety position as evidenced by six pass deflections. His presence also complements Kinchens rangy free safety play.

Williams also has the traits to be an early round selection and it is not out of the realm of possibility that Kinchens and Williams comprise the first two safeties selected in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Markeith Williams (#15): 6’2”, 175 (2022 Stats - 4 Games Played, 3 tackles) Markeith is a bit small for the safety position and inexperienced as a rotational player, but has proved impressive during the offseason with tackles in space and some high pointing skills in coverage. He is also a former four star recruit and is a ballhawk with more physicality for his size. Learning under Kinchens and Williams will teach him well and hopefully is able to breakthrough this season with some of his traits as the third safety.

Brian Balom (#27): 6’0”, 200 (2022 Stats - 11 Games Played, mostly special teams, one tackle) Balom brings a positive energy as a worker on Greentree practice fields. The former three-star was largely featured on special teams but could get more high leverage opportunities as a team leader, similar to the way Ryan Ragone worked his way to a bigger role.

Jaden Harris (#19): 6’0”, 195 (2022 Stats - 2 Games Played) The three-star redshirt freshman could carve out a role in 2023 after easing his way onto the roster last year.

Kaleb Spencer (#21): 6’2”, 200 (First Year) The three-star recruit from Virginia will be slowly worked in and likely will redshirt. He has versatility on defense and could monitor the linebacker role as well.

Way-Too-Early Projected Depth Chart:

Safety 1: Kamren Kinchens | Brian Balom | Jaden Harris
Safety 2: James Williams | Markeith Williams | Keontra Smith (if necessary)
Redshirt: Kaleb Spencer