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Finding Hybrid Defensive Backs

Posted May 12, 2011

Versatility is one thing, but the Chiefs are also looking for defensive backs that can fill specific roles

Over the last three drafts, the Chiefs have quietly attempted to build a legion of hybrid defensive backs. The approach is a branch off the team’s broader strategy of finding versatile players to build a flexible 54-man roster.

Specifically, the Chiefs have focused their efforts on finding bigger DBs. Ones that have played both cornerback and safety at the college level, or at least project those attributes into the pro game.

It’s a reaction to the tall task of matching up with the premier pass-catching tight ends that roam not only the AFC West, but the AFC’s top teams in general.

Indianapolis has Dallas Clark. The Chargers feast on mismatches created by Antonio Gates. Heath Miller, Owen Daniels, Todd Heap, Zach Miller, Dustin Keller and New England’s rookie tandem – receiving tight ends are found across the AFC.

The Chiefs were once hosting the party with Tony Gonzalez and are looking to re-enter the picture with Tony Moeaki.

These are all players who beat linebackers down the seam and break off crisp routes in critical third-down situations. Zone defenses are shredded by the best.  The elite will find the soft spot, and forget manning-up with a 5-9 cornerback.

To defend the AFC’s top tight ends, the Chiefs are turning to hybrid defensive backs.

The hybrid is about more than position versatility. They’re safeties with the footwork and hips of a cornerback or a corner with the size and toughness of a safety.

These players aren’t easy to find. Eric Berry is one of them and the Chiefs hope fourth-round pick Jalil Brown will become one as well.

Before he was a cornerback, Brown played safety during his first two seasons at Colorado. He’s big (6-1, 204), he’s strong (383-pound bench press and 375-pound power clean) and he can run (4.5 40-yard dash).

Brown also comes battle-tested, having played opposite first-round pick Jimmy Smith each of the last two seasons.

There are specific, sub-package roles to fill. Brown’s potential to cover pass-catching tight ends is a major reason the Chiefs added him to an already strong cast of cornerbacks. His value is magnified further by the possibility of becoming a “core-four” special teams player.

“He’s a player that we felt as we did our homework with (special teams) Coach (Steve) Hoffman, and some of the other scouts, a player that we felt could not only come in and help us in a role at the corner position, but also come in and be a corner that plays a lot of core-special teams and be one of the betters,” General Manager Scott Pioli said.

“We identified him as being one of the better special teams players, difference makers in this draft.”

In many ways, Brown could be a less developed, condensed version of Berry - at least in the sense of what the Chiefs might ask him to do.

In addition to his defensive role, Berry played on a number of coverage units last year. He manned-up on tight ends and added toughness as a run stopper as well.

For his NFL debut, Berry drew a tough opening assignment. He was asked to play man-to-man against Gates throughout a nationally-televised broadcast of Monday Night Football and, at times, the veteran exposed the rookie.

Gates finished the day with five catches for 76 yards and a TD.

After a rough opening week and a few more early stumbles, Berry made notable progress with the technique. It’s a role he’ll be asked to replicate in 2011, but the addition of player like Brown makes coverage assignments more flexible.

Jalil Brown in 2011. Eric Berry in 2010. Donald Washington in 2009.

Three years in a row the Chiefs have drafted some form of a “hybrid defensive back.”

While each pick is different, they’re also very similar. Hybrid DBs are about more than position versatility. Playing man-to-man against tight ends is just one example.

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