There has been plenty of attention given to the Washington Huskies and their No. 1 ranked defense this season and deservedly so.
Bruce Feldman of SI.com delved into another cool x’s and o’s aspect of what has helped Co-Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Jimmy Lake’s unit become so tough to beat.
With nickel corners like current sophomore Myles Bryant manning the slot and playing multiple roles, the Huskies have borrowed techniques and talents that helped made former University of Virginia and Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive back Ronde Barber a star player and likely future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lake coached Barber for four seasons in Tampa Bay (2006-07 and 2010-11) and saw first hand how the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Barber crafted himself into a player who made five Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro three times and won a Super Bowl in a stellar 16-season career.
Lake has used players like Bryant in similar fashion.
“We did so much with him,” Lake told Feldman. “He was really a true extension of the coaches onto the field. He’d be able to make checks on the run—let the free safety blitz and he would stay in coverage. He would blitz and the free safety would stay in coverage. He would switch things off back and forth, so we became very multiple. You didn’t know if we were in man or in zone. He tricked really good quarterbacks. He was so smart and savvy. I think he completely changed the game. Before him, as soon as defenses went nickel, everybody knew that the defense was basically in man defense and that guy was out there to play man.”
How good was Barber? Well, just ask former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb who saw his team’s Super Bowl hopes dashed by Barber’s all-around excellent play in the 2002 NFC Championship game.
The Huskies have caused problems for opponents by using Bryant in many of the same ways the Bucs utilized Barber.
On the season, Bryant has 40 tackles, including four for loss, six passes breakups and one interception.
On any given play, he may blitz off the edge, he may cover a receiver out of the slot or he may drop into zone coverage. The trick for the quarterback is to properly guess what is what before the snap.
More often than not, the Huskies have won those mind games. In this highlight package from Washington’s 37-10 win at Colorado on Sept. 23, Bryant dropped into coverage, read the quarterback, made an interception and ran it back for a touchdown.
This week, Ryan S. Clark of the The News Tribune reported on the challenge the Huskies will face Friday night when they take on Stanford and their fleet of large wide receivers.
“I think this year we’ve seen all kinds of receivers,” Bryant said. “Big, physical ones. Quick ones. So, I think Stanford, they’re mostly big. We just have to do a good job getting our hands on, being under routes and just playing the ball.”
Perhaps Bryant should pop some tape on of Mr. Barber for extra motivation.