Following a fall camp battle that extended right up to the first game, true sophomore Kaevon Merriweather started the season opening against Miami (OH) at free safety. Merriweather only appeared in one more game during the season and took 2019 as a redshirt season after playing special teams in 2018. Following an early season injury that caused him to miss the next three games, he was replaced by Jack Koerner. Merriweather, a division one basketball recruit as well, has impressive physical traits that could propel him back into the lineup at a variety of positions going ahead.
The 6’2” 195 pound redshirt sophomore has great length and impressive explosiveness for a young player.
Don’t understand why he jumped pic.twitter.com/jubtnEO5FP— Kaevon Merriweather (@Kaevon02) March 8, 2018
Following his first career start, Merriweather mentioned to reporters that he was “jittery” but would perform better next time. Unfortunately for him, there was not much of a next time in 2019. What stood out in that debut was an aggressive and space-covering safety who is not afraid to stick his nose into a tackle.
Starting from the boundary deep safety position, Merriweather fills the gap and makes a sure tackle on the running back at the sticks. He does a nice job of getting his head on the inside arm of the ball carrier and ahead of the inside hip. He also wraps around the waist with both arms to pull the running back down. One thing he will learn from this is his positioning before the tackle had him making connect to the running back perpendicular to the sideline. I’d like to see him be able to get a little more down hill so the back isn’t able to squeeze out the last yard or two. Overall, a very clean and efficient first tackle.
From a similar position, this time he was not able to keep his head pinned to the inside hip. Luckily, he was able to get his arms around the back enough to force him out of bounds even though he didn’t get him to the ground. The positive here is that he recognizes the pitch, and immediately hits the seam formed by Hankins and Colbert. Once again his pursuit angle causes him to meet the running back while moving perpendicular to the sideline, but that is something that can be cleaned up fairly quickly with game reps.
High Level Play
His best play of the night ends up getting wiped out by an offensive penalty, but is still worth showing to highlight a really high level play. In a goal line situation, Merriweather is positioned on the line of scrimmage with outside leverage on the boundary tight end. At the snap, he scrapes down with the movement of the line, gets two hands on the tight end to maintain outside leverage, and then explodes to the running back as he attempts to cut outside.
His ability to go from stationary to attacking in the backfield really jumps out on this play. Once again, he maintains his discipline of using both arms to swipe and wrap the ball carrier. With a play that begins at the one yard line, there is little room for error, and why his ability to get upfield is so important. Had be been forced to chase the running back horizontally, the contact would have still allowed the running back to fall into the end zone.
Youthful Growing Pains
Growing pains are a part of the development of a young player. Attack angles have been noted in the previous three plays. On the next play, his route causes him to miss the tackle and give up unnecessary yardage. On 3rd and 4, the route combination puts Merriweather at a disadvantage to the outside breaking route. The quarterback is able to deliver a well timed and accurate pass, which is going to lead to the first down. Merriweather gets caught trying to break up the pass, but is unable to get to the ball. Because of this, he isn’t able to make a tackle and the receiver turns upfield for an additional twelve yards. Once again, this is simply an error of experience. If you are going to go for the ball, you better get the ball.
When out on the field for one of the first times, everything appears to be moving a little quicker than one would like. With Iowa bringing a boundary corner blitz, Merriweather is responsible for the receiver to that side. As the snap gets closer, you can see him bouncing his eyes (head) back and forth from the quarterback to the boundary receiver. On the pass, he does an excellent job of both maintain outside leverage, but also doing so while sifting through the traffic of blockers.
Merriweather didn’t have a significant number of snaps in man-to-man coverage, but did surrender a touchdown during that time. While his coverage is not “bad”, I expect to see him much improved the next time this situation arises. On a play like this, it is hard for us outside of the play call to know exactly what his play responsibilities were, but his initial steps seem correct. On the play action, with no receiver split to his side, he begins to step up into the box. Once he reads the tight end start to release, he holds his ground, and then begins to chase. He’s a little behind at this point, but not completely out of the play. As the ball is floating, I think Merriweather’s best option would be to cut under the receiver using his length to make a play on the ball.
Even from his chase position, he still attempts to reach for the breakup, but is off balance and not able to utilize that jumping ability.
Despite the small sample size, you can see the flashes that caused Phil Parker to insert him into the starting lineup so early in his career. Jack Koerner came in and did a fantastic job when Merriweather was out, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find his place back in the lineup in the future. With his length and willingness to tackle, Merriweather could fit several places going forward.