“Hybrid defender” is a term Chris Brown uses in this Grantland piece. And no, he doesn’t mention Georgia’s defensive coordinator by name. But there’s a certain association between the two, nevertheless.
In response, Jimmy Johnson’s edict — that speed on offense must be matched with even more speed on offense — has been adopted by defensive coaches at every level of football. Those hybrid offensive players are being met with hybrid defenders.
Fittingly, one of the present-day models of Jimmy Johnson’s philosophy is in Dallas. DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys’ standout defensive end/linebacker hybrid, is the latest in a long line of ‘tweener ends/linebackers who are as likely to rush the passer as they are to drop into coverage…
DeMarcus Ware. Isn’t that the guy…? Yeah, that’s him. Sure, there’s some name-dropping going on in recruiting with that, but it’s also what Grantham is honestly hunting for. Brown again:
Instead of taking high school safeties and making them linebackers, coaches are taking athletes who can hit and play pass coverage, and simply letting them make plays. That means everything from blitzing the quarterback or stuffing a running back in the backfield to running step-for-step with a tight end or slot receiver. NFL coaches have begun referring to this as their “big nickel” package, which is a bit misleading because “nickel” is a term invented to describe some smaller part of a team’s overall defensive game plan. The reality is that just as NFL offenses rarely line up with two true running backs, NFL defenses rarely line up with three true linebackers. Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu were the two best safeties of the last decade or so, but their successors — in body type, athleticism, and playmaking ability — may not play safety at all. Regardless of the position at which he’s listed, he’ll likely be a linebacker in a safety’s body.
I read that and the first name that popped into my head was Josh Harvey-Clemons.
Harvey-Clemons, rated by many the top football prospect in Georgia last year, thinks he can make safety a permanent home.
“I feel like I can play safety. I really like safety,” he said on Thursday. “Especially learning from Shawn Williams and (Bacarri) Rambo, taking what they’re showing me, and what they’re teaching me, I can really do good things here at safety. But if it’s meant for me to play linebacker, I’m ready for that too.”
He hasn’t done any research on whether anyone that tall has ever played safety.
“It makes it a lot harder for quarterbacks if you’ve got a 6-5 safety back there,” he said.
The Valdosta native is also being taught the so-called “star” position.” It’s basically a nickel back who guards the flats and zones.
And when Chris writes this…
Defensive coaches are absolutely not inventing new defenses to feature these players. You see a few unique sets, like the 3-3-5 stack or TCU’s 4-2-5, but most coaches are simply introducing these hybrid players and their multifarious skills into existing schemes.
If a coach runs a 4-3 “under” — four defensive linemen, three linebackers shifted into an “under” look — he stays with the same playbook but swaps out a defensive end for an “elephant” hybrid end/linebacker or a SAM linebacker for a hybrid-safety type. With those changes, what was once staid and predictable becomes more difficult to scheme around. There’s less certainty about who’s rushing and who’s staying in coverage. These athletic hybrid defenders are allowing old defensive coordinators to maintain the basic systems they know while learning a few new tricks in the meantime.
… I’m immediately drawn back into the way Grantham emphasizes getting his eleven best players on the field at a given time over scheme. But it’s not a simple “Jimmies and Joes” vs. “Xs and Os” dichotomy in play there. For want of a better word, his approach is a hybrid. He wants the personnel flexibility to combat the varied offensive sets and attacks he faces each week.
Read Chris’ piece in its entirety and let me know if it hits you the same way.