We're breaking down the status of each position on the Clemson football team every week until kickoff.
By Matson Montilla
Position Coach: Mickey Conn
In 2017, Mickey Conn was named Clemson’s full-time safeties coach. In his tenure with the Tigers, he has coached top-tier safeties, including Tanner Muse, Nolan Turner and K’von Wallace.
Before his promotion to safeties coach, Conn was a legendary high school coach at Grayson High School. He coached a handful of players who excelled at the next level, like former Clemson running back Wayne Gallman and defensive back Ryan Carter.
In 2016, Clemson hired him as the senior defensive analyst.
Not only is he the safety coach at Clemson, but he is also the co-defensive coordinator for the Tigers this year.
Starters: Andrew Mukuba and Jalyn Phillips
Strong Safety: Andrew Mukuba
Mukuba has every skill that makes a strong safety great, and he’s only played one year of college football. The Austin, Texas native became the first defensive back since 1973 to start in the season opener for Clemson as a true freshman, and he has never looked back.
In 13 games, Mukuba had 47 tackles, seven passes deflected and one sack. Mukuba was constantly on the field, making plays while delivering big hits. There were numerous games where his defense proved imperative, like against Wake Forest, where he had two crucial passes deflected in the endzone.
His stats and crucial plays earned him the freshman ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and he was selected to the freshman All-American team as well as the third-team All-ACC team.
Free Safety: Jalyn Phillips
From his youth to his experience, Phillips is the projected free safety for Clemson. In three seasons at Clemson, Phillips has been a big rotational piece at the free safety position alongside K’Von Wallace and Nolan Turner.
The senior from Lawrenceville, Ga., will finally get his time to shine as the starter for the Tigers this season. In 37 games played, Phillips has accumulated 70 total tackles, five pass breakups and an interception.
With the right blend of hard work and work ethic, Phillips can take over the reins at free safety with ease.
Rising Star & Best of the Rest: R.J. Mickens
Although this is usually two sections, the answer remains the same for both questions. Mickens is entering his junior year at Clemson and is ready to take on more playing time with the Tigers.
In 23 games, Mickens has 39 total tackles, two interceptions and two pass breakups. Although the numbers don’t blow you away, his ability to read the ball and cause disruption in the passing lane is tremendous.
Every time he is on the field, he is always making the right plays for the team. The biggest play Mickens made in his young college career was against Boston College in 2021, where he had a diving interception that set Clemson up for a field goal to put them ahead 16-13. The Tigers went on to win the game 19-13.
The future is exciting for Mickens.
What are the expectations for the 2022-23 season?
The expectation for the Tigers’ safeties group is to be the bolster of the defensive backs. With new faces lining up at the cornerback position, the safeties will need to be the leaders of the group. With a mixture of talent and experience, it should be expected that the safeties will be making big plays in both levels of defense, passing and rushing, through physicality, instinct and IQ.