2018 (early) Position Preview – Safeties

Pictured: Former BYU Safety, Kai Nacua, hurdles a Boise State player via reviewjournal.com

Safeties are aptly named, and are referred to as the last line of defense or field generals. In either the running or passing game the ability of the offense to make big plays rests heavily on the shoulders of the Safeties. They’re expected to tackle like a linebacker and cover like a corner. However, because of their location on the field, the Safety position enables a game-changer enough opportunities that some of the best defensive highlights come from the position. One does not have to go far to find electric Safety play, and names like Sean Taylor, Troy Polumalu, and Ed Reed come to mind.

Fresh on every Cougar fan’s mind was the outstanding 2015 & 2016 campaigns by former BYU Safety Kai Nacua, who electrified the BYU defense with 13 turnovers in that time, and a BYU record tying 3 INTs in a single game against Boise State in 2015, one of which went for a TD.

BYU fans have also been treated by outstanding play from former Cougar Daniel Sorensen, who is currently in the NFL tearing it up with Andy Reid’s Chiefs.

062117-ThumbPictured: Former BYU Safety, Daneil Sorenson, intercepts a pass against the Los Angeles Chargers, via chiefs.com

Other memorable former Cougar Safeties include All-MWC selections Andrew Rich and Aaron Francisco, as well as All-American Dan Hansen.

Despite the loss of Kai Nacua, the safety position actually did not see a dramatic drop-off in production, though it certainly did in highlight reel material. The top two Safeties in 2017 combined for 109 tackles, which was actually an improvement over 2016 where the top two Safeties combined for only 76 tackles. Even with turnovers, there was only a slight dip, as the Safeties in 2017 combined for 7 turnovers whereas in 2016 they combined for 8.

The difference – and this is the key difference – is that Kai Nacua was responsible for 7 out of those 8 turnovers.

Still, as a position group, there has been consistency in the back end of the defense as far as production.

After having the first two years under the tutelage of Assistant Head Coach Ed Lamb, the Safeties will now be coached by former BYU Safety, Preston Hadley, who will enter his 4th year as a coach, not including his 2 years as a graduate assistant with BYU. He spent the last 2 years as the Secondary coach (and recruiting coordinator) for Weber State, who won a conference title last year to go along with their school-record 11 wins. Last year, on their top 25 defense including the #6 defense in interceptions, 3 defensive backs on the Wildcats earned All-Conference honors, one of them the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year and an FCS All-American.

Additionally, BYU will return their most productive player from the position last year but will have to find a replacement for Micah Hannemann.

Pictured: Former BYU Safety and current BYU Safeties coach, Preston Hadley, intercepts a pass against Utah State, via heraldextra.com

Returning starters:

Zayne Anderson (SR.) Replacing Kai Nacua was no small feat, but Anderson filled the void admirably. Though he did miss the game against Wisconsin, Anderson played in all other games in 2017 and led the Safety position while coming in at #5 on the team for tackles with 61. Similarly to Nacua, Anderson led the team in turnovers with 5, though only 2 of those were INTs. His best games as a tackler were against Mississippi State and East Carolina, where he had 9 in each. His production in the turnover department was well spread out throughout the season. Anderson is a strong candidate for the player with highest expectations on the defense in 2018. A 3-star recruit out of high school, Anderson was also recruited by Utah State.

Tanner Jacobson (SR.) A former Texas Tech Raider and the younger brother of former BYU receiver McKay Jacobson, Tanner saw time in all 13 games last year as the primary backup but did see some time as a starter due to injury. Jacobson finished the year with 28 tackles – the same exact number of tackles as former starter Micah Hannemann his first year as a starting Safety after making the transition as a corner – but did not create any turnovers. His best game came against Utah, where he made 7 tackles.

Pictured: Current BYU Safety, Zayne Anderson, intercepts a pass against Portland State, via cougarclub.com

Returning Contributors:

Austin Lee (JR.) A repentant former Ute, Lee saw time in 9 games in 2017 as a rotational player, and saw his most meaningful time against Wisconsin, where he recorded 4 tackles. Out of high school Lee was also recruited by Colorado, Oregon State, and Stanford.

Isaiah Armstrong (RS JR.) Armstrong redshirted in 2017, but saw time in 6 games as a Sophomore Jr. College transfer. In limited time he recorded only 1 tackle against UMass. Armstrong had also received offers from Fresno State and Utah State.


New Faces:

Talan Alfrey (New Recruit) A 3-star recruit, Alfrey received offers from Air Force and Nevada. He reportedly plans on serving a mission before participating with the football team.

Tommy Nelson (RS FR.)


For more information about the newest recruits, I encourage you to visit:


BYU+v+Nebraska+3pLjPYUVi_7xPictured: Former BYU Safety, Micah Hannemann, tries to stay inbounds during an INT return against Nebraska, via zimbio.com

Key Loses:

Micah Hannemann



  • Gavin Fowler, Sawyer Powell, and Young Tanner, who are listed on the depth chart on loyalcougars.com, were Seniors last year.


Projected depth chart:
(compare to https://www.loyalcougars.com/football-roster/depth-chart/)

FS 1 – Zayne Anderson
FS 2 – Isaiah Armstrong

SS 1 – Tanner Jacobson
SS 2 – Austin Lee


Translation/Final thoughts: The two-deep for the Safety position is as impressive as any position group on the team. Head Coach Kalani Sitake has regularly been quoted as saying that he wants to be able to rotate players without seeing a significant drop-off in production and the Safety group, at least on paper, is a shining example of what Sitake would like to see throughout the team.

Even with a new position coach, Anderson would obviously reclaim his starting role and Jacobson has a strong resume to stake his claim on the other side of the field.

There have been rumors that Troy Warner, a 2-year starter at corner since joining the team as a Freshman, will be moved to Safety which was the original position he was recruited for out of high school.

While this move may seem unnecessary considering the talent at the two-deep, the overall depth is not there in 2018. If there is a significant injury in the position group at any point in the season, depth will become an issue. As it is, Warner may be a more athletically gifted option than Jacobson, though there has to be more confidence in Jacobson’s ability to assist against the run game than Warner, who has yet to survive an entire season without injury. Regardless of who lines up with Anderson, Warner or Jacobson, Cougar fans can go into 2018 with confidence in their Safeties.

Pictured: Former BYU Safety, Kai Nacua, intercepts a pass against Wyoming via gettyimages.com

Offensive Position Previews:

Defensive Position Previews:

See Also: