Yesterday we talked about the Bednarik Award and liked a linebacker's shot to win the hardware.
Obviously Manti Te'o headlines that list of linebackers who have a shot to take home the award, as he's been among the nation's best linebackers for the last three seasons. However, the true trend to watch in college football this year is the rise of the hybrid defender.
Through the 3-4, and the increase in teams going to the 3-4 scheme, we see some true monsters playing the rush backer. Chase Thomas for Stanford and Jarvis Jones of Georgia highlight the list of guys who just get things done at the hybrid spot out of the 3-4 scheme.
The 3-4 is not the only area that we've seen hybrid players come to prominence in recent years.
Both Devonte Holloman, a Spur for the Gamecocks, and Khaseem Greene, a linebacker for Rutgers, epitomize the safety-linebacker blend. Holloman plays in a 4-2-5 that slides him down into the box as the third backer for run support. Greene plays a more traditional Will linebacker, but his athleticism lets him get loose to make plays all over the field.
With the rise of the tight end position, defensive coordinators are looking for ways to get the coverage skills of the safety into their linebacking group. The conversion of players like Holloman and Greene to members of the "in the box" defenders lends some legitimate athleticism and skill to the interior defense.
2012 is going to be a banner year for the defensive hybrid positions.
Jarvis Jones and Chase Thomas are two ball players who are going to give quarterbacks headaches. They can bring pressure from depth, they rush standing up and they can put their hands in the dirt to get into the rush. Players of their ilk are also capable of getting into pass coverage on zone-dogs—something that lulls the quarterback to sleep and makes for a big defensive play.
While the spread, the tight end, the Wildcat and the jet sweep have been offensive innovations to attack defenses, the hybrid player has become the defensive coordinators tool to combat these new weapons.
He speed rushes linebackers who are capable of forcing the issue with tackles and beats blocks to put pressure on quarterbacks. Hybrid linebackers are as comfortable in space as they are at getting into the box to make plays.
It is a constant chess match as defenses adjust to their offensive counterparts. Teams like Virginia Tech, with their Whip player, have long put the best bodies on the field, and in 2012, the hybrid defensive athlete is going to continue to push his way into the college football ranks.
As offenses become more dynamic, look for the lines between defensive end and linebacker—as well as linebacker and safety—to continue to blur. It will definitely be worth watching this year as teams attempt to balance speed and power to combat diverse attacks.