BYU Xs and Os with Bronco Mendenhall

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PROVO -- In this week's debut edition of "BYU Xs and Os," Bronco Mendenhall takes us inside the film room to show us the role of the free safety in his defense, a position he calls "crucial" to the Cougars' success in 2010.

Three starters return to BYU's defensive secondary in 2010. The one starter not returning is 2009 free safety and team captain Scott Johnson.

Here's what Mendenhall had to say this week:

"Well, the free safety, number one by position, is essential -- where he is on the field, knowing he's the last line of defense. Meaning that the term ‘eraser' applies. Meaning, any other mistakes made in front of him, he'll be responsible to make up for, and so really any scoring play, from an offense to a defense, or against the defense, has something to do with the free safety."

"So if you look at points allowed, which is our number one metric as to determining our chance for success or not, it's tied directly to the play of the free safety. Not only physical skills but his positioning on the field. The free safety controls much of what at least seven other players do."

"In our defense we have a number of different ways to get aligned. We can align to strength, meaning we can align to the tight end, which is run strength. We could also align to the passing strength; those are two separate things. We could also align to the field."

"So there are three different sets of defenses within our package based on what tendencies the offense uses. After Scotty [Johnson] has identified the formation -- got the coverage checked appropriately to both sides -- motion can also change the play, so what you'll see here as UNLV's tight end goes from one position to another position, there'll be some communication happening. It won't be anything you'll see with hand gestures as you look at the different players, but you'll see some alignment starting to change here. The biggest difference is they'll go from having three receivers to the [weak] side to now basically three potential receivers to [the strong] side."

"Knowing that, from that alignment, most likely that player's not there to release on a route. He's there for protection. Having said that, Scotty's initial reaction now is, "How many are releasing?" Those two are clearly there for protection, which means they change the route depth. Because they're both staying for protection, route depth means, now that the routes are going to be longer than shorter, otherwise they wouldn't keep players in to block."

"What you'll see is Scotty's showing one alignment, meaning on the hash mark like he's tied directly to this side of the field but really his responsibility as the strong safety is moving up because we're only rushing three players here.

Scotty now actually is a deep middle player, meaning he has the cylinder, which we call two yards outside the hash knowing that the Kat safety has seam coverage, going up the seam, he can favor (even though he's cheated this way) he can favor to his left because he's got seam help this way, which then puts him in great position to be not only on top of the route in terms of vertical leverage, but have plenty of width horizontally to where he's not having to run very difficultly to hit the receiver. He's actually able to run by him confidently. And if it wasn't for Brandon [Bradley] wanting the interception, then we'd have an easier play."

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