We looked at one factor per position on the offensive side of the ball that might allow an NFL player on the “bubble” of his roster to secure one of the last spots on a club’s 53 man roster. Quarterbacks showing smarts, wide receivers with return skills, running backs bringing a different element, tight ends capable at the line of scrimmage, and offensive linemen that can “swing”.
Now we look at the defense and the one factor at each position that might just convince the General Manager or Head Coach to keep a young player or aged vet around for another season. These are based upon my own experience and perspective of the game. You might have a different outlook as to what can hold off “The Turk”.
Linebackers – SPECIAL TEAMS
Linebackers are like Humvee’s, they can go anywhere and do just about anything you ask them to do. They very well might be the most versatile athletes on the football field. Linebackers have likely played running back in their younger years, or dropped down from the secondary out of positional need in college. They have the speed of most skilled players on offense, the strength of a Tight End, and the instincts of a quarterback. They’re asked to fill versus the run like a tackle, drop into coverage like a corner, or blitz off the edge like an end. And in the end it takes an athlete of incredible skill and flexibility to do all those things and more on the football. That’s why LB’s are so valuable on Special Teams. Protect inside, run down and cover, fall back and block, fair catch a sky kick? Check, check, check, and check.
Defensive Backs – NICKEL & DIME
I wouldn’t play secondary if you paid me a million dollars! Well maybe two million, but that’s not the point. Todays’ defensive backs have the hardest job in all of football. As offenses become more complex and open, and as rules continue to favor the movement of the ball downfield, playing corner or safety takes a lot of . . . well, let’s call it courage. Just south of linebackers, defensive backs are asked to do a lot to supplement a game plan to slow down the high powered offenses in the NFL. Four DB’s and a front 7? Not overly likely in today’s game. Professional defenses require a stable of talented DB’s, and not just for depth. Young cover guys have to supplement and adapt to both nickel and dime schemes with seamless consistency. That’s takes understanding, discipline, and confidence in the backend of the position. These players have to be as secure in their abilities as your starters, or the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees will sniff them out in a second.
Defensive Linemen – STRENGTH
Some might argue with me here and lean towards quickness, but I’ve seen a lot of quick interior linemen get run right by a play without the “lead in their pants” to hold point or position. Good anchor upfront is where it all starts, then worry about the shed. Functional strength in a front four is one of the very first things you notice MISSING when a defense begins to struggle. The lower body leverage and upper body power accentuated by youthful athleticism is as exciting to watch as anything on the football field, especially from a scouting perspective. And strength doesn’t necessarily mean mass either. Some of the strongest DL’s I’ve seen were packed into smaller frames and able to get up under even the nastiest offensive linemen. Penetrating quickness and burst off an edge get paid millions of dollars for that premium, your backup depth better be able to just hold their own.