Defensive hybrids making names for themselves in SEC
Star, Viper, Spur, Buck. We’re not intentionally trying to acknowledge the 30th anniversary of “Top Gun,” the Tom Cruise-led, fighter-pilot flick. It just sounds like we are.
Trips down nostalgia road aside, those names are nicknames for key hybrid defensive positions in college football. Several SEC teams employ them, and here’s a look at the players who will potentially fill these roles this season:
Last season, Alabama had Minkah Fitzpatrick play the “Star” position, which is the fifth defensive back in its nickel and dime packages. In the aptly named role, all the freshman did was make 45 tackles (3 for a loss), record a pair of pick-sixes, 11 pass breakups and a QB hurry.
As a safety last season, Oren Burks led the Commodores with 3 interceptions and finished second with 5 passes defensed and third with 52 total tackles. But head coach Derek Mason feels the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder can do even more in 2016.
“In looking at our best 11 football players, we had to find a way to get Oren Burks on the field,” Derek Mason recently told campusrush.com. “We moved him from safety to what we call the ‘Star’ position, or what’s formally known as the Sam linebacker position, which has given us not only a fast, athletic pass-rusher but a guy who can also match up in coverage.
Mississippi State’s Viper
New Mississippi State defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon introduced the “Viper” position at the start of spring practice. It’s basically an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid that rushes the passer, sets the edge and will also drop in coverage.
Anfernee Mullins, Traver Jung and Will Coleman all saw action at the Viper spot during spring practice. According to The Clarion Ledger, Sirmon believes those three players will get up to 1,400 collective reps at the position before the Bulldogs’ Sept. 3 season opener against South Alabama.
“With what we’re doing, you need a guy with some versatility,” Sirmon told the newspaper. “It doesn’t have to be a total cover guy. He needs to be a blend.”
South Carolina’s Spur/Buck
Ever since Ellis Johnson became South Carolina’s defensive coordinator in 2008, the Gamecocks have been using the “Spur,” a linebacker/defensive back hybrid position. New head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson will still use a hybrid defender, but this one will be called the “Buck,” a cross between a defensive end and an outside linebacker.
“That position right there is a premier pass-rusher,” Robinson told The Post and Courier. “A guy that can stand up, a guy that can put his hand in the ground. We’re still trying to find who exactly that guy is. We have some guys we’re really looking at that can be that dominant player.”
Senior Darius English, sophomore Quandeski “Boosie” Whitlow and incoming freshman Keir Thomas have split snaps at the Buck position this spring.