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Striker vs Star: Defensive X-Factors in UM vs UF

The next evolution of defenders will be on display in Orlando

Miami Spring Game Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

In a previous article we, outlined the impact of No. 4 for both teams. Today we throw the defense a bone, highlighting a couple of defenders who have similar roles for their perspective teams and just as big of an impact. We’re talking about the “star” position of the Florida Gators and “striker” for the University of Miami. Are both positions essentially the same job? What are the differences between the two? How do the personnel match up for both sides?

We’ll explore those answers together.

State of The U’s own Justin Dottavio covered Floida’s defense in his Film Room Series a couple of months ago. In the film breakdown, you’ll notice that the Gators employ a 3-4 defense predicated on speed and winning early in the down. No position is a more shining example of this than the star position of defense. Combining the role of safety, cornerback and linebacker, the position is the wildcard of the defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s system. In 2018, the Gators used Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the position, leading to huge season for the junior safety. You can debate whether the player made the role or the role made the player — regardless of where you fall, it was an ideal pairing. Garnder-Johnson showed off his versatility to come downhill for the tackle and blitz off the edge. Of course, UF fans will trumpet his four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns last season.

In the Orange and Green corner, you have the striker position. Another hybrid position meant to keep up with the spread offenses prevalent in the college football landscape, the position made its grand debut in 2018 with measurable success. Played by Romeo Finley, the striker position is now considered a part of Miami’s base defense. Like the star, the stiker can drop back in man or zone coverage after the snap, responsible for short, intermediate and deep routes. That skillfulness to be able to work various scenarios is the reason why both UF and UM have effective counters to opposing passing games.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Miami v Wisconsin Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While Finley returns for his senior season, carrying on his role as starter at the position, the Gators will break in new player at star. Trey Dean III will slide over to the position after starting nine games in 2018 in place of injured starting CB Marco Wilson. Dean has a thin 6’3”, 194 pound frame. Able to fluidly close and redirect like a cornerback, he plays like someone much smaller. Another contender to win the starting job for UF was John Huggins — he was recently dismissed from the team. Having played safety last season as a freshman, Huggins spent spring working at star, as the Gators try to find the next… well, star. Sophomore Amari Burney is currently projected to backup Dean to begin the year.

Miami has some new faces at the position as well. Behind starter Romeo Finley, there is a depth chart fighting to get their own opportunity to shine. Senior linebacker Zach McCloud has made the move to striker, with little information at the time of publishing on how the team plans to use the three-year starter for the Canes at strong-side LB. Sophomores Gilbert Frierson and Colvin Alford round out the group.

So which position group gives their team the edge entering the battle on August 24th?

It boils down to what you believe in.

The Gators will be breaking in a new starter, no matter who winds up being the starter at the position. Given Romeo Finley’s production last season, I would give the edge to striker in terms of experience. Both positions are highly versatile, as has been stated throughout this article. Both positions require strong athletes to occupy their respective roles in the defense. However, from our unbiased position, let’s add another checkmark to striker since the position can be played from varying alignments on defense. It’s only a slight edge over UF, but it’s a gain nonetheless. Defensive coordinators would likely sub you off for a nickelback or traditional linebacker if they felt that you weren’t up to the task.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Florida v Michigan

Since the addition of both positions to their respective programs, both defenses have seen a considerable rise in production. Miami ranked first in the country, allowing a paltry 135.6 yards-per-game — a huge jump from their 56th ranking in 2017 where the team averaged 217.1. Florida improved from 28th in pass defense (195.4) in 2017 to 13th in 2018 (180.8). These hybrid positions aren’t the sole reason for improvement on the roster, but each played a factor in the defensive improvement. As the 2019 season comes into focus, we have to wonder how each position will continue to evolve entering a new league year.

The biggest question that I have with both the star and the striker position deals with how much credit goes to the player and how much goes to the defensive system. Long ago, hybrid/tweener players were viewed as enigmas on the team where coordinators struggled to find them a set position. Today, we have positions that cater to the player who does everything well, but can’t find their way onto the field. Because of that, these hybrid positions have emerged as the entrepreneurs of defense. The ongoing battle to counter offensive passing games has led to the berth of personnel innovations that will continue to shape the football landscape for years to come.