A Nickel for a Stud: The New Oregon Defense

Coach Eric Boles Analysis

In our last article on the new Oregon Duck defense, we discussed the basics of Coach Andy Avalos’ system. Now let’s get into the two positions that make it go, the Stud and the Spur. Avalos refers to the latter simply as the Nickel, so that’s the terminology I will use going forward.

However, first on the list is the Stud position. This is a hybrid role that, for simplicity, is a mix between an outside linebacker and a defensive end. If it helps anyone, this is very similar to the role that James Harrison played in the Pittsburgh Steelers 3-4 defense.

The Stud plays to the boundary.

In Avalos’ system, the Stud plays on the end of the defensive line to the boundary, or short side of the field. He is expected to rush the passer, set the edge on the run and drop into pass coverage on occasion. This is also the position that will allow the Ducks to jump from a four man front to a three man front whenever they so choose.

During the spring game this past Saturday, this position was manned mostly by Bryson Young and DJ Johnson. Lamar Winston Jr. also saw a little bit of time there.

Out of all the things Avalos likes to do with the Stud, one is to stunt him around the defensive tackle while rushing the passer. Above, you can see Johnson (No. 7) doing just that. Though he doesn’t get home, this is a scheme that has the ability to put a ton of pressure on the offensive line and quarterback based on the varying front (4-3 versus 3-4) pre-snap, and from the games they can play post-snap.

Another duty in the Stud job description, as mentioned above, is dropping into pass coverage. This is something that can really throw a quarterback off. A guy who’s been rushing you all game has just dropped into your throwing window, and it’s too late. That can be rough.

You’ll notice in the video above that DJ Johnson has nobody to cover, but we get a perfect look at where his zone is. The majority of the time, the Stud is going to cover that curl/flat area. And it’s obviously to the boundary, so he doesn’t have to travel a great distance to get there. Unless the offense guesses right and runs some sort of post/wheel combination to the boundary, he should be in good shape.

Something that I liked during the spring game was seeing that the Stud plays the run first and then drops back into coverage. In the clip above, Young mans the position. Look at how he attacks until he knows its a pass play, and then drops. Sure, that could get you in trouble if the offense specifically takes advantage of it, but in general I’m a big fan of attacking defenses.

For our final look at the Stud in this article, above we see him playing more of an OLB position in a 3-3-5 look. Like before, he drops into the curl/flat area, and closes in on the running back as he attempts a catch. There aren’t too many guys who would enjoy having a 270 pound man bearing down on him while trying to secure the ball.

The Nickel plays to the field.

Now that we’ve had chance to get a feel for the Stud, let’s take a look at the Nickel. The Nickel in this defense is more like a third safety. He plays opposite of the Stud, and therefore plays to the “field,” or the wide side of the field. He’s tasked with covering the pass, containing/funneling the run to the inside for the ILBs, and on occasion rushing the passer on blitzes.

During the spring game this positioned was mostly manned by Verone McKinley, Haki Woods and Sean Killpatrick. The first two are listed at as Corners and Killpatrick is listed as a safety. They all play at a weight of 190-201lbs.

In the video above, check out how the Nickel plays to the field even when the passing strength may be to the boundary. Because of the shift by the offense, McKinley (No. 23) becomes a box defender. And in this case, his responsibility becomes defending the tight end in coverage.

In this next video above, Avalos unleashed the Nickel on a blitz. This is actually something he likes to do quite a bit. You never really know where the pressure is going to come from in this defense. Woods (No. 12) does a good job of not giving away that he’s coming, staying over top of his receiver right until the snap. He actually does a pretty good job at jumping the snap count too.

I know what some of you are thinking, “What about when we go against teams like Stanford? Won’t the Nickle just get plowed over?” Though the Nickel’s speed could very effectively neutralize some blocks by the heavier linemen in space, Avalos has a second solution. Sometimes this past Saturday, when the offense would go 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), Coach Avalos would simply substitute the Nickel for another OLB. In the video above, Andrew Johnson (No. 30) has come on the field to replace the Nickel.

For the first team defense, the OLB to sub in was usually Winston Jr.

There you have it. The Stud and the Nickel are going to be key pieces to the Avalos defense this fall. These two positions will give the Ducks the flexibility necessary to combat any offense they come across. It’s an exciting, attacking defense, and I cannot wait to see it in all of its glory at Autzen Stadium.

Coach Eric Boles
Newark, Ohio                                                                                                                                                                                     Top Photo by Kevin Cline


Spencer Thomas, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches High School Football for Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA.



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