Football

Louisville safety Gerod Holliman shows knack for interceptions

Louisville safety Gerod Holliman picked up yardage after intercepting a pass against Boston College on Nov. 8.
Louisville safety Gerod Holliman picked up yardage after intercepting a pass against Boston College on Nov. 8. The Associated Press

Entering every football game in 2014, his first as a full-time starter, Louisville safety Gerod Holliman had two goals.

The first, of course, was to come away with a win. The second? To come away with at least one takeaway that day.

“Oh, that’s one of my biggest goals in the game, at least get one,” Holliman said. “I take pride in that.”

Holliman, a 6-foot, 218-pound safety, proved to be quite good at that. In fact, he even overshot that goal.

In 2014, Holliman led the nation with 14 interceptions — more than one per game — on the way to winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the nation.

Holliman said that when he gets on a roll like that, it becomes an addictive feeling.

“Especially when I get one early in the game,” Holliman said. “My goal then is to go ahead and get another one.”

After a season like that, it’s hard to blame the redshirt sophomore — who turns 21 in May — for declaring for the NFL Draft.

“Most of my interceptions came off different coverages,” Holliman said. “Through watching film and talking to the coaches and knowing what other teams like to do, (it) really helped me get in position to make a lot of plays.”

Holliman said the Cardinals ran a lot of Cover 4, in which four defensive backs are each responsible for a deep quarter of the field, but they also mixed a lot of single-high coverage, which allowed him to patrol the deep third of the field — a coverage more NFL teams, including the Chiefs, have been using in recent years.

“You’ve just got to know that you’re the last line of defense and nothing can get behind you,” Holliman said.

Holliman still has much to prove, however, as he is projected by many sites to be a fourth-to-sixth round pick. Some of that has to do with his athleticism, as his 40-yard dash time (4.65), vertical (27 inches) and broad jump (97 inches) certainly didn’t wow anyone.

Neither, by the way, did his tackling. Holliman finished the season with 44 tackles, but admits he needs to improve his technique on the angles he takes.

“That’s an area where I want to improve,” Holliman said. “A lot of teams have asked me about it. It’s something where I just have to improve my angles to the ball because I’m not afraid to tackle.”

In fact, Holliman insists he likes to deliver the big blow.

“It’s a great feeling when I do it because a lot of people are tepid on my tackle ability,” Holliman said. “I want to let people know I can tackle.”

But while that will remain a question, Holliman’s ballhawking ability and ball skills will go a long way toward helping him get drafted, because, well, you don’t just luck in 14 interceptions. It’s a preposterously high number, as only 10 FBS players have been able to record 10 or more in a season over the last 20 years.

And his 17 passes defensed — an average of 1.3 per game, tied for 14th-most in the country — isn’t shabby, either.

No wonder Holliman has spoken with many teams, including the Chiefs.

“They wanted to know what I knew about defenses and (do) a little background check,” Holliman said.

Holliman wants teams to know that while they may have questions about him, they shouldn’t doubt his ability.

For instance, while he says he spent most of his time in zone at Louisville, if his next team needs him to play some man coverage, well, he’s confident in his ability to adapt — and continue his knack for making big plays.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” Holliman said. “So if the coach wants me to play man-to-man … that’s something I’m confident I can do. Whatever it takes.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

Inside the 2015 NFL Draft: free safeties

From now until the draft begins on April 30, The Star will take a look at each position.

What the Chiefs look for: Free safeties have to be instinctive and make tackles in space. The ideal ballhawk also has above-average range, loose hips and ball skills. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton doesn’t like to split his safeties up into specific roles — he favors versatility — so a reliable tackler or intimidating hitter at free safety would be nice to help out a run defense that was far too leaky last season.

Chiefs’ needs: Ron Parker moved to his natural position of safety once Eric Berry’s season ended and thrived in the role, recording 84 solo tackles and 12 pass deflections. Both were career highs, and the Chiefs rewarded him with a five-year contract this offseason. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has already said that Parker, 27, will likely play safety this season, and while the Chiefs added Tyvon Branch via free agency and also return Daniel Sorensen, it could certainly be worth it to add another developmental prospect at the position.

Sleeper: Dechane Durante of Northern Illinois was overshadowed in 2013 by first-round pick and fellow defensive back Jimmie Ward, but in 2014, he finished third on the Huskies in tackles with 87 and led them in interceptions with four. His athleticism, range and ball skills make him an intriguing late-round prospect and a potential fit as a single-high safety with the Chiefs.

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