Four-three has been the silver bullet standard for decades.
In the traditional look, a sam, mike and will linebacker play inside the box with four down linemen in front. It’s what’s been run at Ohio State throughout the Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer eras, with more nickel and dime packages branching off as the spread evolved in college football.
Now that traditional look could change based on the opponent, given developments to spread offenses across college football. It centers around a new position at Ohio State.
“The bullet position is a position [used] when teams want to try to spread you out and use a very, very athletic tight end to get a mismatch on what most people would be a big, strong sam linebacker,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said.
Mattison and linebackers coach Al Washington worked with other Ohio State staffers on the idea after the two toyed with a similar position called the viper at Michigan.
It’s a linebacker-safety hybrid that plays inside the box, providing run support as a third linebacker but with the athletic ability to lock down a tight end. The bullet will also blitz frequently.
“You’d like to have that be the guy that is fast enough to play in the secondary and physical enough to play close to the line of scrimmage,” Mattison said.
He added that it gives the team a “fluidity” on defense, able to move in and out personnel without changing scheme.
Where this differs from a traditional 4-3 look is the hybrid nature of the role. Mattison called sam and bullet “interchangeable,” but given the type of athlete it’s similar to walking down an extra safety.
That’s why the players the Buckeyes will use there are coming from the safety position. Chief among them is junior Brendon White, who started almost half of last season at strong safety for the team. Redshirt junior Jahsen Wint, another traditional safety, also drew Mattison’s praise.
The emphasis remains on keeping the defense fluid and prepared to counter anything an offense could throw at them.
“It gives us a lot more flexibility to be able to play a lot of different positions,” Mattison said. “Brendon White has done a really good job of that, and Jahsen Wint, both of them have had very good camps so far.”
When asked what the base defense is, the traditional 4-3 or the new look with a bullet, Mattison said it could be either.
“That’s the beautiful thing that we have,” Mattison said. “Our base defense, you would say it probably is a sam, but with the type of offenses that people give you now, you feel very, very comfortable now having that big fast athlete also.”
Having those extra athletes in-box with superior coverage ability should limit the ability of spread offenses with gifted tight ends, looks that Michigan and Penn State –– among others –– could use this season.