I touched on this the other day – the withering away of the traditional role of the strongside linebacker in the age of the spread offense – and Josh Kendall has more on the subject in today’s Macon Telegraph.
First, Rennie Curran noticed.
Midway through the 2007 season, Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran started getting a little lonely.
More and more, Curran noticed, he was one of only two linebackers on the field rather than the traditional three. The strongside linebacker, called the Sam linebacker by the Bulldogs, was nowhere to be found, unless Curran looked to the sideline.
There was a reason for that.
… Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Willie Martinez noticed the trend before Curran did and began to plan for it.
“In our league, more and more people are spreading out (on offense), and I think it’s happening pretty much around the nation,” Richt said. “The more (offenses) spread, the less (defenses) play their Sam linebacker. You could play Sam and play a certain team and play maybe 15 snaps or something. And then if you have two Sams who are ready to play, you are splitting time like that.”
When offenses spread out their formation, defenses have to replace the Sam linebacker with a defensive back, a player who is expected to be faster and better in pass coverage. With a linebacker in the game against a spread offense, Martinez said, quarterbacks and offensive coordinators know the defense will be playing zone defense, giving the offense an advantage.
“They know a linebacker is not going to play man (coverage),” Martinez said. “He’s going to play zone.” [Emphasis added.]
So much for Tebow’s shoulder. It looks like there was another reason he hung on to the ball and took those six sacks.
The end result is that, while the strongside position won’t be completely eliminated in Georgia’s defensive scheme, what the coaches look for in a Sam linebacker will be different.
… Dent and Dewberry shouldn’t worry that their preferred position will be phased out, Richt said, but they should understand it is changing. From now on, the head coach said, Georgia’s strongside linebackers will have to be able to either play defensive end in passing situations or play more than one linebacker spot to ensure themselves playing time.
“You are going to see us more and more where that guy is a jack of all trades,” Martinez said. “No doubt, it’s a special kind of guy. You want the strength, you want the power, you want the size, but at the same time, you don’t want that guy out there in space, trying to defend the spread.”