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Building a bulletproof defense: Ohio State to utilize hybrid safety position

Ohio State sophomore safety Brendon White (25) intercepts a pass in the second half of the game against Michigan on Nov. 24. Ohio State won 62-39. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

Al Washington did not see what Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore did to Ohio State in person in 2018. He was still on staff with Michigan as its linebackers coach. Washington did not have to face Moore, since the Wolverines did not play the Boilermakers.

But when Washington described his game plan for the Ohio State linebacker position ahead of his first season as the position coach, the player who recorded 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Buckeyes on Oct. 20 was the first name that came to mind.

Moore’s versatility stood out to Washington: his ability to catch and run even with a shorter stature, proving to be a dynamic playmaker in every aspect of the offense.

Washington’s goal for his linebacker room is to have that same level of versatility for the safety-linebacker hybrid he will install for the 2019 season, what he calls the “bullet” position.

“That guy is a guy who can sack, he can rush the passer. Not every safety can do that,” Washington said. “He’s a guy that has to be able to play at the line of scrimmage, use his hands. Not every safety can do that. Guy has to be able to cover man, a slot. Not every linebacker can do that.”

For Washington, the first “bullet” he will use is a player who asserted himself as a dynamic playmaker at the end of the 2018 season: junior safety Brendon White.

After recording five tackles through the Oct. 20 loss to Purdue, White had a late-season surge, ending the year with 46 tackles, two pass deflections and an interception.

Washington said White has been getting looks at both safety and the “bullet” position, finding success in both.

“He’s an established player,” Washington said. “Like you talk equity, he’s one of those guys that has put his body of work in. He’s a great kid. He works his tail off.”

White said he feels like this position change is a “brand new start” for him, but, physically, he fit the criteria as a “bigger safety” at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.

In a way similar to former LSU safety Jamal Adams, whom White said he watched for inspiration, this new hybrid position gives him a different defensive look.

“For me personally, to be able to guard the tight ends, which I am better at, I can definitely see myself helping out if they have an athletic tight end instead of having to stand out there,” White said. “Having a ‘bullet’ out there will definitely help that.”

This position is nothing new. The “bullet” position is something used at Michigan with former safety Jabrill Peppers, which was called the “viper.”

A hybrid defensive position is also nothing new for the Ohio State defense, which used something similar in the past, but between the linebackers and the defensive line.

It’s even something Washington has seen while recruiting, watching high school players who play that same hybrid position between safety and linebacker.

White said the “bullet” position has been a natural fit, but it has not been an easy transition for him, learning how to pass rush and fill gaps.

“The coaches understand it’s going to take time and take patience,” White said. “I’m in the film room all the time with them, trying to come in as much as possible so I get that stuff.”

Working with co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley and co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison at installing this new position, White said he feels he will be 100 percent at the position come fall camp.

With the change in the position, Washington has seen his linebacker room accept the change.

“They’ve bought in,” Washington said. “I said it to the linebackers after practice. They’re growth-minded. They want to learn more. They want to do more. They are not caught on what was.”

But the “bullet” will not be used constantly. With a plethora of talent in the linebacker room — from redshirt junior and 2018 captain Tuf Borland to sophomore Teradja Mitchell — Washington said there will be multiple looks in the middle, from the traditional three-man look, to possibly four.

The two middle linebacker positions — the Mike and Will — will have the same approach they always have: to be fundamentally excellent, Washington said, to be instinctive and to love contact.

Sophomore linebacker Dallas Gant might see the change at the linebacker position, but it does not affect him much in the middle.

“I think inside, the Will and the Mike are kind of similar in their own way. Sam and the hybrid are kind of in their own world, I would say,” Gant said.

White is not the only one vying for playing time at the “bullet”. Washington said redshirt junior safety Jahsen Wint has received playing time in the middle as well, something that has inspired White.

“I still have to have that chip on my shoulder because anyone can take that ‘bullet’ spot,” White said. “Jahsen Wint is right behind me doing that spot as well. I have to go out every day acting like it’s my last day of practice and keep that position.”

No matter if it’s Wint or White, Washington wants a playmaker at the “bullet,” a jack-of-all-trades who can rush the passer one play and cover a post route on another.

The position is being defined, something Washington is excited about.

“Hell, there may be a great ‘bullet’ on this team now, we just don’t know yet,” Washington said. “I think there is. We know them, but you never know as time goes.”

ike are kind of similar in their own way. Sam and the hybrid are kind of in their own world, I would say,” Gant said.

White is not the only player vying for playing time at the “bullet.” Washington said redshirt junior safety Jahsen Wint has received playing time in the middle as well, something that has inspired White.

“I still have to have that chip on my shoulder because anyone can take that ‘bullet’ spot,” White said. “Jahsen Wint is right behind me doing that spot as well. I have to go out every day acting like it’s my last day of practice and keep that position.”

No matter if it’s Wint or White, Washington wants a playmaker at the “bullet,” a jack-of-all-trades who can rush the passer one play and cover a post route on another.

The position is being defined, something Washington is excited about.

“Hell, there may be a great ‘bullet’ on this team now, we just don’t know yet,” Washington said. “I think there is. We know them, but you never know as time goes.”

One comment

  1. I’m glad that the state team is changing something in their tactics and it pays off. The fact is that in football you need to constantly change something to surprise and defeat your opponent. The players are now in great shape, I even began to read articles on the website https://formmefit.com/ and I think to buy a sports gear to be engaged as they are!

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