INTERVIEW: Payam Saadat & Chris Smeland PT 3 continues its exclusive interviews with Black Knight co-defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland. In part 3 of 6 the two coaches discuss linebacker speed and size along with playing on defense.  You looked at Erzinger at Mike linebacker this spring is he going to stay there or move back to rover?

Chris Smeland: He's going provide some plays for us maybe at both positions. We took a good strong look at him at the Mike position this spring. We took a good strong look at him at the Mike position this spring because we wanted to see how he felt in that role. He did a nice job for us but he's got a ton of experience at that rover position. Depending on who we are able to bring along as a Mike linebacker, might allow us to move Erz[ringer] back to that [Rover].
(Note on the depth chart released after this interview Erzinger was listed at Mike linebacker)  Who are some of the other contenders at Mike linebacker?

Chris Smeland: Maybe Matt Luetjen, maybe a Nate Combs, maybe a Kyler Martin.  Again coach, with the players we are discussing at Mike linebacker, is there a concern about size? Stephen Anderson weighed 222 and the players who are looking to replace him weigh in the 200-210 range. It doesn't seem you're concerned about that.

Chris Smeland: You heard Payam's comment. Size is not a big concern with us. It's a matter of do you play fast and if you play fast we'll be just fine. Nate Combs had a great spring last year and initially won the bandit tackle spot. After Andrew Rodriguez was injured last year you moved him to whip linebacker. Combs suffered a season ending knee injury on the first defensive series of the year. Do you think he'll be ready to contribute this year?

Chris Smeland: We're hoping he'll be able to contribute. We're trying to find that will make us most effective whether it's at one of those linebacker positions [whip, rover or mike] or whether it's pushing him back up front where he's been.
(Note: A few days after this interview was concluded  the depth chart was produced that initially has Combs listed at rover)  With the whip linebacker you traditionally had that position call the defensive signals. Will Zac [Watts, the whip linebacker] still be responsible for setting the defensive?

Payam Saadat: There are two guys that kind of operate the defense, the whip linebacker and free safety. The free safety manages the back end. The group of guys Chris would coach. The whip linebacker operates the front end the group of guys that I would coach. Though everyone is responsible for getting the signals from the sidelines the voices in general will be the whip and the free safety.  There are a couple of players that were expected to make a move this spring and possibly assume starting roles which you haven't mentioned yet. They are Reggie Nesbit and Justin Trimble. What's your feeling on those players?

Chris Smeland: Toward the latter half of spring ball we ended up moving Reggie [from Mike LB] over to the [backup] SAM position. We did that because it just appeared to us he might look like he's a little more comfortable out there in space where there is a little more movement, where he can turn his hips and run a little bit. He wasn't quite as physical as you'd like to see when he has to play inside the box [at Mike linebacker] with him and Lyle Bellamy, another guy we had as a backup this year R.J. Speidel those guys are going to compete for that spot right there.

Trimble, who had some game experience last year as a young guy, has a good feel for the game. He was Erzinger's backup at that rover position. He along with maybe a Nate Combs can play [Be starter at rover].  Maybe we can bounce Erzinger back to that rover position. We had a young guy that played a little bit of boundary corner this spring named Casey Hughes.  He did a nice job. He has the same kind of skill set as that rover. He's a very sharp player so I think he would understand the alignments and adjustment he would have to make as a rover. He might allow us to get a group of guys to compete at that position.  That's why I refer to the fact that we've got some guys not long on experience but who appear to have some talent. It's going to make things very competitive. Once you have guys making positions competitive then I think everyone has a chance to grow. That's what's got me excited about our young defense. Top Stories