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‘Croot Loops: Oh DBs, Where Art Thou?

As the games tilts more towards the offensive side of the ball, a premium is put on finding quality defenders.

MAC Championship - Akron v Toledo Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

One of the biggest challenges that coaches face in recruiting (particularly coaches in the MAC) is recruiting quality defensive backs. To have a D-I quality DB, you need a guy that has good change of direction, good speed, can make a play on the football when the ball is in the air, possesses the physicality to come up and make tackles in the run game as well as press receivers at the line of scrimmage, and has the mental toughness to come back after giving up a big play in the passing game and execute what is called on defense. It is difficult to find all these traits in a high school kid, especially when you are in the position that some of the MAC schools are in as the number of elite DBs that would consider a Group of Five school is very low.

Even if you do get prospects that have a lot of these traits, they also have to be able to understand the schemes and the techniques to stop the variety of offenses in the MAC. From Frank Solich’s Ohio attack that has its roots in the pistol offense to Kent State’s (likely) no-huddle, Air Raid offense, the league has all the offenses that drive defensive coaches up the wall and they can keep DBs from developing into technically-sound players when you have so much scheme to cover. The proliferation of RPOs across the sport has made this nightmarish scenario even worse as teams like the Toledo Rockets and Miami-Ohio Redhawks are using these concepts to put second-level and third-level defenders in conflict with their assignments to create easy reads and throws for the quarterback.

When you consider the imperfect science of recruiting, it’s sort of mind-blowing that everyone doesn’t throw for 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns but coaches in the MAC (and college football in general) have found solutions to the problem of the lack of quantity of good DBs. First, programs can convert receivers to the defensive side of the ball, as Miami did with Cedric Asseh. Asseh was a three-star wide-out from Georgia when he committed to the RedHawks, but he had the convert to DB out of necessity and his athleticism as well as his long frame proved to be an asset on defense. Coaches like to have longer corners that can match-up better with the bigger receivers and tight ends (i.e. your Richard Sherman-type corners), but those longer DBs usually don’t have the kind of change of direction to excel at DB so players like Sherman who are long and excellent DBs are a rarity.

Another thing that defensive coaches have done is adjust their schemes to fit their personnel and give them a chance to make plays. The most prevalent defensive concepts in college football today are Cover Three Match and Cover Four Match. The responsibilities for the corners are the same in both coverages: they are responsible for the outside receivers vertical and can help out on the inside receivers if there’s no vertical threat. The high safety in Cover Three is responsible for the middle of the field and the down safety is responsible for the inside receiver. In Cover Four, the safeties are responsible for the inside receivers if they go inside the safety or if they go vertical. If this doesn’t happen, the safety keys the eyes or the shoulders of the quarterback to take him into the direction of the play. This simplified defensive structure allows DBs to make plays and makes reads difficult for the quarterback, which leads to an increased chance of success on defense (although the offense can counteract these strategies with unbalanced formations, which is a discussion for another day).