With the NFL becoming an offense-favored league, teams are forced to adjust in order to compete. The main thing defenses have to adjust to is the new rules in terms of tackling and where they hit the opposition. But with these athletic quarterbacks who are having no hard time getting out of the pocket, running spread offenses with at least three serviceable wide receivers, defenses are inclined to make sure they have enough depth at the defensive back positions, cornerback and safety.
Cornerback Antrel Rolle was drafted eighth overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2005 NFL draft. After a couple of rough seasons at corner, Arizona made the decision to move Rolle to Safety, one of the best moves to ever happen to the DB. In 2010, the New York Giants signed Rolle to a five-year contract, locking up the versatile DB. While Rolle and other NYG safety Kenny Phillips had minor injuries at the beginning of this season, 2010 seventh-round pick by the Oakland Raiders Stevie Brown emerged out of nowhere, proving he deserves playing time on the gridiron by intercepting five passes and recording almost 50 tackles, threatening Rolle and Phillips’ starting job.
Being the defensive guru he is, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell managed to create packages in which all three safeties were on the field at the same time. If one wants to see if the three were effective on the field together, re-watch the tape from the week twelve matchup against Green Bay, as the Giants secondary smothered Aaron Rodgers’ wide receivers, giving him little time to get rid of the ball and creating opportunities for their defensive line. Rodgers completed (a season-low) 14 out of 25 passes for (3rd lowest of season) 219 yards, with one interception and (2nd lowest of season) passer rating of 81.9 against the Giants. The three safeties were everywhere on the field, particularly Rolle, who matched up with Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and James Jones at times. Hybrid defensive backs will prove to be very valuable in the NFL.
Another hybrid DB who proves to always be effective is New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins, former Jim Thorpe award-winning cornerback out of Ohio State. Jenkins looked like he might be one of the next good corners in the NFL. But he too had a rough beginning like Rolle and was later moved to safety. Jenkins is aggressive at the line of scrimmage with wide receivers and tight ends, and he is not afraid to come up and tackle a running back in the hole. As Rolle primarily lined up in the slot, due to corners Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster on the edges, Jenkins sees time on the outside at times. We saw him last week on an island with 49ers wide receiver and one of the greatest Randy Moss. Jenkins pressed Moss at the line and played against the fade as well as any DB in the league. The ball would have been intercepted, but Moss got away with an offensive pass interference call. The motor that Jenkins brings to the "Who Dat" Nation is instrumental throughout that organization, and he is the motor that drives that defense, which is often inconsistent. But the captain does what he can to keep them contending week in and week out.
Another guy who fits the mold as a hybrid DB is Oakland Raiders DB Michael Huff. Huff is primarily the Raiders’ free safety, but due to lack of depth at the cornerback position, Huff wasted no time moving down to corner to help out his team. He had a very rough beginning, which happened to come against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in his first career start at Corner. Since then, Huff has adjusted and is learning at a rapid pace how to play the position, which he hasn’t done since he was a freshman in college. According to Josh Dubow of the Associated Press Sports section, in the last seven games at corner, Huff has given up 19 of 44 passes thrown his way, including three touchdowns while intercepting two passes, a 74.3 rating. It isn’t great, but it isn’t bad for a guy learning the position on the fly, going against guys like Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones, Roddy White and AJ Green.
A couple of guys who might make the switch from corner to safety or safety to corner, to provide flexibility in the secondary of their teams are Arizona Cardinals’ cornerback Patrick Peterson and Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. Peterson tremendously resembles Rolle in many aspects of the game; both 1st round picks of the Cardinals with decent cover skills and great combination of speed and height, but might be more effective at Safety. Thomas on the other hand might see time at cornerback, despite the fact that the Seahawks arguably have the best cornerback tandem in the NFL with Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. The reason Thomas might have to become more of a hybrid than he already is because Sherman and Browner are facing a four-game suspension for violating the league performance enhancing drug policy. Sherman and Browner will be missed, but their suspension provides opportunity for Walter Thurmond and Marcus Trufant to get more time on the edge, as Trufant has had a rough time trying to adjust to playing nickel cornerback and Thurmond finally comes off the IR. With Thomas as a hybrid on one of the league’s best defenses, second-year safety Jeron Johnson would see more time for Seattle. Very smart of the Seahawks organization to have so much depth on defense, especially at DB.
This will be a very interesting offseason via trades and free agency, as well as the NFL draft. A guy like NC State cornerback David Amerson might immediately be used as a hybrid DB, who would have probably been the first corner drafted in 2012. Instead, he decided to do another year in college and has really hurt his stock. It is very beneficial that he is 6"3 and almost 200 pounds. Teams can use him in a variety of ways and he can show why his 2011 campaign wasn’t a fluke *crosses fingers*. Will be nice to see what other veterans and young guys might make the adjustment. Only a matter of time.