Photo courtesy of Tony Walsh/Georgia athletics
The next transfer portal addition to dive into for Arkansas is none other than Latavious Brini. He made his decision to come to Fayetteville on Jan. 23.
A national champion with Georgia last season, Brini is as a graduate transfer. Brini was a solid piece for the Bulldogs last season, but it wasn’t always so.
Brini played high school ball for Mater Academy Charter, located in Hialeah, Fla. Committing to Georgia in February 2017, he was just outside the top 500 prospects, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. His freshman and sophomore years brought little playing time.
Only logging one tackle and an interception over the two seasons, there was doubt that he might emerge. His junior season seemed to spark some hope — Georgia’s bitter rival. During the 2020 COVID-19 season, Brini recorded nine tackles and one pass deflection.
His breakthrough season however, happened on the road to a national championship. He racked up 38 total tackles with 23 of them being solo stops. He also added eight pass deflections to his name in 2021.
Eventually splitting time with fellow senior William Poole III, Brini was moved down the depth chart. With Poole announcing his return to Georgia, Brini sought more opportunity. What better opportunity is there than an SEC team that just lost two starters at safety?
That’s when defensive coordinator Barry Odom came calling. Those aforementioned losses are nickel Greg Brooks Jr. and field safety Joe Foucha. Both players are joining the new regime in Baton Rouge as a homecoming.
To avoid that story, here’s a look at how Brini fits next to Jalen Catalon and co. next season:
Dynamic Size at Safety
It’s not every day that a team gets a 6-foot-2, 210-pound player on the back end. That size is exactly what Brini brings to the nickel spot. Playing outside safety at Georgia, he was heavily relied on for his play diagnosis.
While not a huge help against the run, he became a force in the screen game. Encompassing great play recognition, Brini has a nose for swing and screen passes. Coming downhill, sometimes his size and speed alone was enough to eliminate blocking receivers and backs.
Often times, he would simply overpower wide receivers attempting to block him. If that wasn’t enough, Brini has quick hands to deal with the bigger blocking forces. While his block-shedding technique could use some tweaking, Brini’s physical gifts are a great start.
His quality SEC-size allowed him to live on the outside and cause havoc in the middle. He isn’t just built like a truck, but he can hit like one as well. Missouri wide receiver J.J Hester can attest to that.
Not a head-hunter like Catalon, Brini’s physicality alone brings fear to offenses. A safety at his size with the field range he has is very special. Expect that aspect of his game to show up in Odom’s run-and-hit defense quite early.
Can he Cover?
Brini isn’t just a guy who plays downhill. He is solid in coverage as well. It is especially evident in the red zone.
The film that comes to mind is when Georgia played Clemson to open the 2021 season. Brini was manned up on Clemson’s Frank Ladson for back-to-back plays near the goal line. The first pass toward Ladson was poked away at the back of the end zone. The second pass was a poor decision, but allowed Brini to eliminate the back corner.
What both plays had in common was Brini’s ability to stay in stride with Ladson. Once Brini found his way underneath Ladson on both occasions, it was over. Having a shortened field is what allows his large range to show.
Being the outside safety, there were moments where he had to cover outside the hashes. The instances where Brini fought underneath a receiver came outside the red zone too. When throws were forced to the sideline, he found a way to always get his body in the way.
That is also how he found his only career interception in 2019. Considering he was on the outside so often, there wasn’t much opportunity over the middle. When matched up between the hashes, it forced him to change his style.
The change in style was exactly what offensive players on screens see — a big body moving at great speed on a mission to hit. On paper, his entire repertoire fits the Odom system incredibly well. The question will be how he meshes with the fellow safeties.
Can Brini Plug Right in at Nickel?
The short answer to this question is a definite yes. After losing two of the more experienced players in the room, Brini fills the role.
Going into next season, the safety room still has an abundance of youth. That youth will need the maturity and championship mindset brought by Brini. It also takes some of the pressure off Catalon.
Catalon is the lone expected starter, so the other safety spots are key. Guys like Myles Slusher and Jayden Johnson will be vying for the third safety spot.
The current battle taking place for nickel back is between Brini and senior Simeon Blair. While both players bring great experience and knowledge to the defense, only one can start. Brini’s ability to cover the entire field in a heartbeat fits Odom’s nickel spot perfectly.
He has the speed to close downhill and in coverage. The only box left to check is his ability to tackle. While not always getting low to shed blocks, Brini goes low to make tackles.
Many of his recorded tackles were below the waist, especially in the backfield. As long as Brini can channel every aspect of his game, he will be dangerous.
Combining all the ingredients, the Arkansas safety group could be near the top of the SEC next season. Such a statement would have seemed like a joke before Brini’s arrival.