Todd Grantham and the “hybrid defender”

“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.



Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

24 responses to “Todd Grantham and the “hybrid defender”

  1. sniffer

    Gosh, I wish I understood any of this. So, we’re gonna be good, right?


  2. HahiraDawg

    I love this stuff. This is one of the main reasons I’m such a fan of football as a sport generally. There are other reasons that make college football specifically so wonderful. But this is good stuff. Thanks Senator.


  3. That article makes me feel like UGA is on the leading edge of defensive evolution, and that makes me happy.


    • Billy Mumphrey

      Couldn’t have said that four years ago.


      • Jim from Duluth

        Very true. A few years ago, Richt talked occasionally about a 4-2-5 due to the variety of offenses our opponents were running. But nothing really came of it from our defensive staff at the time.

        One “interesting” part of this is tracing the 3-3-5 stack back to the Charlie Strong defense that made idiots of Donnan and Quincy Carter in the 2000 debacle at SC. (It had a 3-5-3 look that day, moving two outside defenders close to the line so they could zone blitz from a variety of angles.)



  4. hassan

    It’s great to see so much excitement and interest in what the defense is doing. It’s been a long time since there was so much positivity on that side of the ball. Individual players sure…but the coach’s thought process and scheme? Even back to Van Gorder, I don’t recall there being so much collective interest. Not really since Erk in my opinion.


  5. Kyle

    God I love defense. To be honest I was shielding my eyes from the spread offense craze going on there for a while. So glad talent is making its way back to the defensive side of the ball in CFB. Also really glad Grantham is leading that charge as a Dawg.


  6. Byte31

    The upside of cross training is flexibility if suspensions or injuries crop up, the downsides are so many such as no mastery of a position, bad for situations that require lots of knowledge and reps, like red zone defense, also severely handicaps strength training, as trainers cannot train for 1 specific position, so training becomes completely generic, learning curve compared to just learning 1 position as opposed to cross training is so steep that it often takes until the middle of the season to figure some things out. I’d rather keep it simple, train guys for 1 position, and try to be a solid 2 deep at every position. Look at Richard Samuel, jack of all trades, master of none.


    • Dawgwalker07

      I’m pretty sure Richard Samuel’s problem was being shuffled between offense and defense, not linebacker and safety or linebacker and lineman. I don’t think that’s the best comparison for your argument.


    • Joe Schmoe

      Another upside of cross-training that you fail to mention is that guys understand the entire defensive set as opposed to just their job. As I have seen many times in other fields, people who understand the context in which they are executing their job are more effective and more able to adjust on the fly because they understand the “spirit” of what the organization is trying to do rather than the “letter” of what their job description is.


  7. Scott W.

    This is going to bring in so much talent on d. As soon as kids see how high the seniors this year are taken in next year’s draft. Players that can thrive in this kind of program will be highly sought after on the next level and it will only take a short time for it to be noticed.


  8. AusDawg85

    To the naysayers of yesteryear….Kirby who?


  9. Byte31

    I think if you’ll look at red zone defense numbers, you’ll see the weaknesses of cross training is it takes valuable time away form specific situation training. 2nd half collapses led to losses in several games, due in part to non position specific strength & conditioning training. You’ll also notice the team has gotten off to slow starts, 0-2 starts last 2 seasons, cross training slowed down learning curves and played a part in starting out 0-2. Samuel’s linebacking experiences, and the context provided such as knowing how linebackers read and defend runners, couldn’t make up for lack of 1 posiution mastery, and the training and reps needed to master tailback, and it did not help him become a great tailback, I think Samuel was @3 yards a carry. Now they’re moving Samuel again, for the third straight year this time to fullback, and so far, a walk on is #1 on the dpeth chart there.


    • sniffer

      So, your not for it, is that right? A top five defense nationally is not working for you?


    • 69Dawg

      Come on Skeptic use your real damn handle.


    • CGPeltier

      Shufflling players between positions is a bit different than what Chris is talking about. It seems to me that tweeners and hybrid players are themselves a specific position. While a DC might move a guy between LB and safety, what he’s really talking about are guys who have different skills and body types playing positions they wouldn’t have played in the past. So while I think you’re right that moving a guy around constantly is bad,it looks like hybrid players/positions are good for defenses.


    • Joe Schmoe

      I would also say that the slow start could be attributed to a) playing younger players and b) only being in year 2 of the system. Also, I wouldnt say that the defense lost us the SC game.


  10. Byte31

    Red Zone defense was 116th. No, not working for me. Surprised you like that.


    • ben

      It was year 2 of the defense and we faded in the second half due to lack of depth. Take your ill conceived criticism to the AJC homie.


  11. matt

    Yea I Was the first to throw kirby under the bus but now Iam so glad he turned us down hoowoo! GO DAWGS!!!!!!!!!


  12. Trbodawg

    Yeah, cross training is bad. Wouldn’t want to have too many people knowing what they’re doing within the scheme of things. Kinda like having a cashier who can’t add or subtract, just punch pictures on a keypad… /end snark


  13. shane#1

    Hybrid defender. A man able to play more than one position. I am thinking head hunter or monster man or whatever term a coach uses for a defender that can read offenses and is given freedom to line up as he sees fit. Some of you old farts may remember Ted Hendricks that won rings with the Colts and Raiders. Madden gave him freedom to move as he saw fit. Hendricks might slide down the line or drop back over the middle or blitz. He was a thorn in a QB’s side because you never knew where he was going to be. Old Ted was too tall and too skinny to be a LB at 6’7″ and 220, but he is in the NFL hall of fame anyway. IMO, if the guy has the football IQ, Josh could be a hell of a headhunter. Polamalu moves around a lot too and he has a way of winding up in the worst possible place for the opposing QB.


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