Filling His Shoes: Safety Valve

Aug. 20, 2010

FILLING HIS SHOES: This is the second installment in a five-part series called, "Filling His Shoes." I will take a look at five key players the Bears lost - middle linebacker Joe Pawelek, free safety Jordan Lake, defensive end/tackle Jason Lamb, center J.D. Walton and wide receiver David Gettis - and the players that will try to replace them.

Baylor Bear Insider

Even though he's made 14 consecutive starts at cornerback and ranked among the team leaders last year with 42 tackles and five pass break-ups, Baylor's Tim Atchison doesn't even hesitate or flinch when asked about his natural position.

"I feel a lot more comfortable at safety, and I feel like the transition from corner has helped me with a lot of little things like my footwork," said the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Atchison, who made the move from cornerback to free safety in the spring. "I just feel like back there, I can make plays. I've got a lot of range, so I can cover a lot of ground and I can come up and make some tackles close to the line of scrimmage."

A fifth-year senior who graduated on Saturday, Atchison has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of three-time All-Big 12 pick Jordan Lake at free safety.

"Since I've been here, I've been competing with him, and I don't' feel like I'm intimidated at all," said Atchison, a former all-state pick at Copperas Cove, Texas, and Defensive Player of the Year on the 2005 Waco Tribune-Herald Super Centex team.

"Jordan Lake was a player," said sophomore Mike Hicks, who's listed No. 2 on the depth chart. "You've just got to do what you've got to do. Right now, we're just trying to see. We've got me and Tim and then (freshman) Sam Holl that came in, he's going to be a player, too. They're going to put the best on the field and hope for the best."

For the three previous seasons, there was no guesswork in the free safety position. The hard-hitting Lake started every game and finished his career with 324 tackles, nine forced fumbles, six interceptions and 20 pass breakups.

"He was just a blue-collar type of guy," Atchison said of Lake. "He was one of those guys that just worked hard both in the film room and out on the field. That's definitely something I learned from him."

"I had always heard that he was kind of the heart and soul of the defense," said Hicks, who was a two-way starter at nearby China Spring High School, setting school records as a receiver and doubling as a physical linebacker.

"Hicks is just a street fighter, a tough guy that knows how to play the game," Briles said.

With Atchison being held out for most of the fall camp with a back injury, Hicks has filled in with the No. 1 defense after mostly playing the nickel-back position last year in special defensive packages against more pass-oriented teams.

"I feel like it's helped out a lot," said Hicks, who had 29 tackles and two pass breakups last year as a true freshman. "Last year, I feel like you kind of had to think about what the coverage was or what the signal was, all the small things. But now that I have a year under my belt, you know where to line up, you know the plays, you know the calls. It's like second-nature now."

One thing that's helped Hicks is the fact that he's put on 20 pounds since coming to Baylor last summer. Instead of a frail 5-10, 175-pound defensive back, he's now a well-chiseled 195.

"You can't play D-I safety at 175 pounds," he said. "I feel like the workouts during the summer and the running and all that have gotten us to where we need to be for the season."

Stuck behind Lake for his first two years at Baylor, Atchison was switched to cornerback halfway through his redshirt sophomore season and became one of the most consistent performers in the secondary. Over the last two years, he's had 73 tackles, eight pass breakups and one interception.

But his move to free safety in the spring felt like he was back home again.

"I felt like I could see a lot more, so that in itself made things better," he said.

While Lake would just as soon run through a receiver as break up a pass, Atchison figures to be more of a roving centerfielder at the position.

"We'll see, because he hasn't played it. So I don't know," Briles said. "But we like his range, his versatility, and I think he has a good personality for that position as well."

The Bears will work out at 10:15 each of the next two mornings before having a closed scrimmage Friday night at Floyd Casey Stadium. After Thursday, all practices will be closed to the public.



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