Only later did we realize the two safeties were far too similar to emulate a partnership like Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Adams fit the Chancellor role to perfection. The prototypical box safety that can sting you at any moment. Tremendous against the run, even better on a delayed blitz. Physicality doesn’t even begin to define these types, but don’t let them get caught in coverage too often.
I believe that part of the reason Douglas was willing to make this deal was his confidence in Maye, overlooked and underappreciated compared to Adams, playing out of position in the Thomas role from 2017-19.
You see, the well-balanced Maye isn’t as similar to Chancellor as Adams is, but he’s probably more of strong safety at heart. Taking over this role in 2020, the Florida product had a career season with 88 combined tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumbles forced and 11 passes defended.
Finding an ‘Earl Thomas’
Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh know how this game works. They didn’t necessarily need a three-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler like Thomas, although that would be nice to have, but they did need to bring in a player that fit his role in the scheme. That player is Lamarcus Joyner.
What exactly does that “free safety” position entail? Let me explain.
A normal free safety is generally more pass-minded and is sometimes described as the centerfielder in a defense. They watch the play from afar and attack wherever they may be needed.
Let’s not get caught up in semantics though, because Saleh’s defense is a little bit different than the average unit. That’s why I’d actually prefer to call it the Thomas role than the free safety position because technically some might still consider Maye the free safety in the boxscore.
Both jobs have become a sort of hybrid of their original positions. Jets safeties coach Marquand Manuel alluded to this during his press conference on June 16, 2021.
When asked about Joyner, Manual compares him to Thomas and Jimmie Ward by name, because of his necessary ability in man coverage.
A typical strong safety might be the one at the line of scrimmage covering a tight end, but in Saleh’s defense, the Thomas role is built for this job.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich also referenced Joyner’s talent in man coverage, calling the safety “unique” because of his experience playing nickel cornerback with the Las Vegas Raiders. Ulbrich also compared Joyner to the San Francisco 49ers’ veteran safety, Ward.
Joyner was at his best as a free safety with the Los Angeles Rams from 2017-18. If you combine those two seasons, the veteran managed 127 total tackles, four interceptions, one fumble forced, a sack, 12 passes defended and a touchdown.
Maye ‘Will Elevate’ the Secondary
Ulbrich didn’t sugarcoat it when asked if Maye was missed at OTAs: “Yeah we did miss him, to be completely honest.” The coordinator praised the leadership and intelligence of the safety, stating that he “definitely will elevate this group in every way.”
After describing Joyner in the Ward role, Ulbrich noted that he sees Maye more in the “versatility mode,” explaining that he can “do it all.”
Ulbrich pointed out his size and athleticism in this capacity, but also his physicality when a box safety is needed and his speed and range when deep safety duties make more sense.
In the end, I actually see Maye as much more than Chancellor or Niners’ Jaquiski Tartt. He’s blossomed into an all-around safety that can take on whatever task an offense throws at him.
At the same time, there is a notable difference in talent between Joyner and Thomas in his prime.
So Who’s Doing What?
On your average day at the office, I expect the safety responsibilities to look a little something like this.
Marcus Maye- Chancellor/Tartt Role
- Heavy attention on the run game (early downs).
- Deep safety when Joyner is pulled into man coverage (passing downs).
- Could be used off the delayed blitz when the situation arises.
Lamarcus Joyner- Thomas/Ward Role
- “Centerfielder” role when man coverage isn’t needed from the safety (early downs).
- Man coverage specialist (passing downs).
- Could be used as a nickelback in a three safety “big nickel” package.
This is more or less what I expected in previous write-ups, although I did think Maye would be utilized in man coverage against tight ends. Based on hearing the coaches speak, it seems like that’s the one area that may change for Maye in 2021.
Ulbrich and Manual both also mentioned that Ashtyn Davis should be heavily involved once healthy. Do not sleep on the 2020 third-rounder out of California.
Manual referred to Davis as a “gym rat” that wants to learn as much as possible. The safety coach said that his time on the sideline has actually helped him comprehend the game from a coaching aspect, which makes sense being that Davis was a football walk-on in college.
Expect the sophomore to be used as a jack of all trades in 2021, but as Ulbrich put it, outside of Davis it’s the “Marcus and Lamarcus show.”