First off, it’s a beautiful day in Manhattan. Seriously, I’m talking a 100% chamber of commerce day. I know this means it will most likely snow next week, but I’m going to enjoy this false spring while I have the opportunity, and I’m certain the football team will have a little bit extra for practice today.
Two Wildcats will be working particularly hard at a new position in this gorgeous weather. Wayne Jones and Ryan Henington will both be moving up a level from their previous safety spot to play linebacker.
Henington is a nice depth player, and a Wildcat through and through, but his most important contributions come as a special teams ace. Jones, on the other hand, could make an immediate impact at linebacker, and brings something completely different to the position.
One of the questions I had when Russ Yeast signed on as a graduate transfer was where Jones would end up, because he’s too good to keep on the bench. Jones moving to linebacker clears that up. Jahron McPherson and Yeast are the clear starting safety combination, and Jones will nominally be a linebacker, but I expect him to line up all over the field.
On first glance, moving the 6’0” 210 pound Jones to linebacker seems like a bit of a stretch physically, but consider that 6’0”, 215 pound Elijah Sullivan just graduated after a stellar career at linebacker for the Cats and all doubt should be erased. Jones can play linebacker and K-State has plenty of experience with using fast, undersized linebackers in this defensive system.
What Jones brings to the table that Sullivan didn’t necessarily have in his bag is the ability to morph from an outside linebacker to a safety on the fly. As we all know, most Big 12 teams love to spread the field and run tempo. It’s hard to play two traditional linebackers, much less three, even on early run downs, because a team running tempo will happily run it on 1st down, go with tempo, kick out a tight end or a back, and suddenly be in a total spread look 20 seconds later, forcing your linebackers to either play a soft zone or match up against a faster, more agile receiver.
I know I talk about Clemson too much, and I’ve tried to be better about it recently, but Brent Venables loves to playing three nominal safeties, with one of the three lining up as a linebacker.
In this clip, Clemson is in their nickel defense. I’ll be honest, Brent is messing with Jimbo’s head on this play because he has Isaiah Simmons at his disposal. He lines his Butkus Award-winning linebacker up against Texas A&M’s slot receiver, in case he needs to blow up a screen, and kicks 5’11”, 205 pound K’Von Wallace down to linebacker.
Yellow Box (right): Four Down linemen
Orange Box (middle): Two Linebackers
Blue Box (left): Three Safeties
At the Snap
This defense is designed for Wallace to be the free tackler. Venables fires both of his linebackers into the A&M line, and is playing man across the board, with one high safety. Wallace (blue box) is the only player not accounted for, and for a minute it looks like A&M may have something working to the boundary until Wallace arrives on the scene.
Venables is using Wallace as the third linebacker, but it’s disguised because they are playing three safeties at the same time. A more traditional linebacker may not have the speed to make it all the way across the field to make this tackle, but K’Von is safety, and what he lacks in size, he makes up for with the speed he needs to shut this play down.
Back to Wayne
This is a role I can see Jones thriving in for K-State, in fact, he reminds me of K’Von Wallace a good bit. Wallace was Venables utility knife at Clemson. When he wanted to send Simmons, Wallace played safety. When he wanted to put Simmons at safety, he put Wallace at linebacker. Just because someone is listed as a safety, doesn’t mean they can’t play linebacker. The only difference for Clemson in 2019 is they also had a linebacker that could play safety, which is much harder to find.
Either way having McPherson, Yeast, and Jones on the field at the same time allows Joe Klanderman similar flexibility. In particular, I could see McPherson and Jones playing off each other in the same way that Wallace and Simmons played off each other at Clemson.
I’ve got one more clip for y’all.
Yellow Box (right): Three Down Linemen
Orange Box (middle top): Two Linebackers
Blue Box(s) (left and middle bottom): Four Safeties
Once again, Venables is messing with Kellen Mond and Jimbo. He has Simmons playing deep middle next to two traditional safeties. He decides to take a defensive tackle off the field on this play and keep Wallace on the field as an outside linebacker. This is one version of Clemson’s “Dime of Doom” (five in the box - six defensive backs).
Once again, Venables fires both of his linebackers into the line (they run a twist blitz) and brings Wallace around the edge. The A&M left tackle is totally confused and doesn’t block Wallace or the blitzing linebacker, but in theory, the linebackers twist is supposed to occupy the left tackle, giving Wallace a free run at the quarterback from the back side. Having extra speed at linebacker allows him to disguise the blitz at the snap because Wallace is fast enough to get around the edge and make a play without giving away the blitz pre-snap.
Okay, I’m not going to lie, this is pretty hard to do, and I don’t think K-State has this level of talent yet...but maybe they do. If you’ll notice, the left defensive end is in man to man cover with the running back, and picks up the primary wheel route causing Mond to pump the ball. That little hesitation is all Wallace needs to fly in from the back side and pick up the sack.
Back to Jones
You won’t find many defensive ends capable of covering a wheel route like former 5* Xavier Thomas does on this play, but Jones has the capability of being the extra hidden blitzer at linebacker for the Wildcats.
I’m not sure if you’ll see many four safety looks for the Wildcats, but you can do something similar out of a four down linemen, two linebacker, nickel look that Coach Klanderman favors (although I would love to see him break out the Venables “Dime of Doom”). Tackles aren’t used to blocking safety size players, and Jones has the speed and agility to get the corner and the tackling ability to get the quarterback on the ground once he arrives (a key step in the process).
I love Jones moving to linebacker, at least in theory. Klanderman and company will have some interchangeable parts in the back end of the defense that should allow him bring pressure from strange angles and disguise coverage in the back end.
I say “in theory” because it takes guts (and a talented roster) to play the sort of coverage games that Venables does at Clemson, and on occasion, he gets burned. In fact, he tried to play these games with a young secondary this season, and Ohio State ate his lunch. Such is life though, I’d rather go out on my shield than play soft and let them chip away. Klanderman and Klieman have to decide if they’re willing to gamble in order to reap the full benefits of moving Jones to linebacker. I think the fact that they moved Jones, shows they’re willing to try a few things this season.
It should be interesting.