ISU defense searches for hybrid player in nickel

Dean Berhow-Goll

Hybrid players are few and far in between on Iowa State’s defense. But that is exactly the type of player defensive coordinator Wally Burnham is looking for. 

“It comes down to coverages,” Burnham said. “They are a [defensive back] that is not as physical as a strong safety, but are more athletic than an A.J. [Klein] so to speak. So when you put one of those guys out there, most of the time you can do more things coverage-wise.”

Burnham described this player as one who would be somewhere around 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2 in height and weighs about 200 pounds.

“Great feet, great hips like a [defensive back], but tough enough to take on blockers and things like that where a lot of times your safeties can’t do it because that’s what they’re not trained to do,” Burnham said of his prototypical player.

Burnham also said the difference is classifying this person is where he’s positioned on the field. If he’s in the box, he’s known as a strong-side (“Sam”) linebacker. If he’s outside of it, he’s still a safety.

Last year in Iowa State’s base 4-3 defense, Matt Tau’fo’ou played middle linebacker. Then when they rotated into the nickel defense, Tau’fo’ou switched out for those nickel-type players.

A few of those players who would rotate in were Deon Broomfield, C.J. Morgan and even Ter’Ran Benton at times.

Broomfield and Benton were listed right around the 6-foot, 195-pound range that Burnahm discussed. Morgan is listed as a linebacker, but at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, he was a little light of a linebacker, which allowed him to be more versatile.

One of the toughest parts about finding these types of players, Burnham said, was transitioning them from safety to that hybrid type.  

“That’s where you start, most of the time as a strong safety because they fit the type you’re looking for,” Burnham said. “Then you move them down close and say look, you’re going to play strong safety from this position and we’re going to do these types of things with you, but at certain times you’re going to really have to be a Sam linebacker in the box and all of those kinds of things.”

When asked if there was any player on the roster right now that fitted his prototype, Burnham said Luke Knott. 

“We work Luke Knott in there a little bit during two a days because he’s probably be that kind of player,” Burnham said.