Darion Monroe learned to never be too comfortable.
Tulane’s starting safety for the past two seasons always knew his role could change, even if the adjustment had nothing to do with him.
So, when Tulane linebacker Jarrod Franklin tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus during spring practice, and Monroe was moved from free safety to nickel corner in certain packages, Monroe was ready to make the move. Despite starting all 25 games of his college career, the junior is spending his third fall camp at his third defensive position after starring as a prep quarterback at East St. John.
As a freshman, Monroe was pushed from cornerback to free safety when starter Devon Walker fractured his vertebrae in the second game of the 2012 season. He eventually excelled in the new spot, piling up 90 tackles, nine tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks as a key cog in one of the best defenses in Tulane history last year.
Now, Monroe will have to adjust to a new role, playing closer to the line of scrimmage, called upon to blitz more often and make plays on the perimeter.
“I’ve moved before, and I’ll probably do it again before I leave,” Monroe said. “I kind of liked the safety position, and it feels a bit more natural to me. But being down there, I’m not uncomfortable, because I started at corner for a little while, and it’s just a natural position. I just have to get back to doing it.
“It’s fun though, because it’s a high-risk, high-reward type of position. You might take a bad risk and get beat, but it’s set up to make a lot of plays out from there.”
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said he’s been pleased with Monroe’s quick adjustment and believes the additional safety experience on the field provides another dimension to the Green Wave defense. He compared it to the three-safety system employed by the New Orleans Saints last year, which helped transform the NFL’s worst defense into a group that finished fourth in yards allowed.
The fact Monroe’s skill set meshes with the needs of the position adds to Johnson’s confidence in the alteration.
“He’s a beast out there,” Johnson said. “He’s the best one I’ve seen in a long time. He reminds me so much of Ed Reed because he is so dog-gone smart. He’s a bigger kid, so he can rush the passer and he can intercept the ball while being a very, very good tackler. He’s outstanding.”
However, Monroe’s move forces Tulane into a tenuous spot at free safety, setting up a position battle between senior Brandon LeBeau and sophomore Leonard Davis. The pair has combined for just 20 total tackles and zero defensive starts.
Johnson said he’s pleased with both LeBeau’s and Davis’ performance thus far and expects the competition will boil down to whoever demonstrates a sharper understanding of the defense and fits best next to senior strong safety Sam Scofield. No front-runner has emerged at this point.
Regardless of who earns the starting nod, co-defensive coordinator Jon Sumrall said he believes Tulane’s safety-heavy approach will improve the strength, size and versatility of the Green Wave defense. He credited Monroe’s ability to disguise blitzes with adding a new layer to the various schemes and packages he and defensive coordinator Lionel Washington run.
“Honestly one of the important positions on the field is the nickel, and with (Monroe) playing there, it gives us a lift,” Scofield said. “We feel like Leonard Davis and Brandon LeBeau makes us really deep at safety, and by still having (Monroe) on the field, we don’t really lose his experience at all. And he can use it not only in the secondary but now talking to the defensive line and the linebackers. It’s going to be a huge advantage, and I really like the move.”