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Going Green: The Hybrid Phenomenon On Defense

State of the U does another breakdown of a personnel type commonly seen in football: the hybrid defender.

McCord goes in for a tackle for loss against UVa
McCord goes in for a tackle for loss against UVa
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Introduction

Each week State of the U will go over different scheme’s and personnel packages that are used in a given contest by each team to hopefully outwit their opponents and bring home a victory. So far in this series we’ve discussed the following:

Defensive Linemen Gap Responsibilities

Offensive Linemen Blocking Schemes

Secondary Coverage Schemes

The Passing Tree in the Offensive Game Plan

In this edition we will analyze the "Hybrid" defensive player and how they have come to be used in football, how the league views the player type now and how these types of players impact the Miami Hurricanes moving into the 2015-2016 season.

History of the Hybrid Position

First off, the definition of a "Hybrid" defensive player is someone who doesn’t necessarily meet the "tangibles" or "measurables" to fit into one specific position in the defense. The two most common types of hybrid player types are outside linebacker/defensive ends and outside linebacker/safety mixes. The reason for these player types is because the person is usually too small/slow to fit into one role or the other.

Now, not being as speedy as needed or too diminutive for a position used to be viewed as a hindrance. These types of players used to not have defined roles on a team, usually being relegated to special teams more times than not.

However, one of the first Head Coaches to view the hybrid players as a needed game changer was the former Miami Hurricanes Head Coach, Jimmy Johnson. It all started with his recruiting where he would take safety recruits and eventually turn them into linebackers and also take linebackers and beef them up to rushing defensive ends. Even though these players were smaller in height and maybe weight, they all had one specific character trait that Johnson desired: they were fast. Being in South Florida and being able to recruit the local talent was Johnson’s bread and butter for creating a swarming defense and when he left Miami for Dallas, he kept his philosophy.

The "tweener" movement in the NFL really came in to vogue in the early 2,000s as the 34 formation came back into use by the NFL Defensive Coordinators. Besides being able to attack the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterbacks with "rush ends," personnel evaluators were starting to find that those style of defensive linemen could actually start contributing in coverage too. Players like Jason Taylor in Miami, Mike Vrabel in New England were able to get after the quarterback but they also were able to stay with a tight end for short bursts or even a running back coming out of the backfield if required.

Besides the rush end type hybrid players in the NFL, the college game was seeing a renaissance in the secondary position. Gone were the days of having specifically cornerbacks and safeties. It was time to welcome players like Tyrann Mathieu who literally had no position but lined up at boundary corner, nickel and even strong side linebacker throughout a given game. Defensive Coordinators used these type of attacking, smaller players to get after the quarterback or roam the middle of the field to hopefully cause game breaking plays.

As time has passed, defensive schemes and in retrospect their mantra’s have gone from "this player must fit my needs in the defense" to "how can I fit this players gifts into my scheme?" Most Defensive Coordinators who find gifted players often try and put them in many different positions in a given game to utilize their talents as well as simply confuse the offense. A rover or rushing defensive end can line up anywhere on the field and, more importantly, cause duress for an offense by either putting pressure on the quarterback or dropping back into coverage.

How the Hybrid Position Is Used at Miami

Miami uses two types of hybrid positions. They often times use a rush end who can occasionally cover the tight end and they also have used cornerbacks as roaming, centerfield-like safeties in long distance passing downs (Gunter filled this role last season). The cornerback-turned-safety role is used situationally but the defensive end/linebacker position is a staple of the Miami defense and thus Miami has recruited for the need.

The rush end position on the Miami roster, to use a word, is loaded. McCord currently fits the role but he has quite a bit of help with him on the roster as Miami has recruited this type of specialist every recruiting cycle. McCord is going into his Senior year (no redshirt) and assisting him are the following others at the position: former 4 star recruit Al-Quadin Muhammad (Redshirt Sophomore), former five star recruit Chad Thomas (Sophomore) and former four star recruit Trent Harris (Sophomore). All of these players have starting experience and look to potentially wrestle playing time away from one another throughout the season.

The Miami defensive coaching staff has the talent to build around and cause confusion and havoc on the opposing offenses. We’ll have to see if they can scheme the right plays and put players in a position to thrive come next fall.