In part 2 of our position preview series, we take a look at the Nickel Back Position. With starter Sam Holl graduated, this was one of the big question marks entering spring camp. With senior walk-on Collin Brence currently listed as the starter, with former 2-star recruit Pat Levels backing him up, there are still plenty of questions around the position.
CURRENT STARTERS – 5
|Special Teams Regular, 3-year letterman, 4 tackles in 2013||Played in all 13 games last year, totaled 14 tackles with 1 fumble recovery||Appeared in 11 games, 6 tackles, 1.5 TFL||No stats, Rated as 25th best safety by scout in 2011|
The starter post spring is senior walk-on Collin Brence. Primarily a contributor on the special teams unit, Brence does not have much experience at nickel back. He has good size for the position, but his walk-on status has to be taken into account. Yes, it is quite possible for walk-on players to eventually emerge as starting caliber players. However, without seeing him play, really outside of the spring game, this isn't the best news for the Baylor defense.
The last time a surprise like this was found on the depth chart, it was former quarterback turned linebacker Brody Trahan listed as a starter. He would hang onto the starting position throughout fall practice and through the first few games of the year. However, his lack of speed and awareness at the position eventually would cost him the top spot.
Really, there is no idea what to think about Brence. He could be a revelation at the position, but then again, he could be a disaster. During the spring game, he didn't look out of place completely, but his size and lack of lateral quickness hurt him in coverage a few times. Really, this is just a pure guess grade, given the lack of information we have on the current starter.
POSITIONAL DEPTH - 5
|Nickel Back Eligibility|
Brence's backup is former safety Pat Levels, a 2-star sophomore from Dallas, TX. Levels is a bit on the small side, but displayed good speed on the kick/punt defense units. He also did get some snaps at safety last year.
Behind those two are a pair of very highly rated safeties with a ton of promise, and the expectation of rising up the depth chart this fall. Kiante Griffin is a former 3-star recruit, who originally signed with the Bears in the 2011 class, but it took him a while to get to campus. He played as the backup Nickel Back and a little at linebacker last year, but was primarily used as a special teams player.
Austin Jupe is the young man on the squad, a redshirt freshman who came to Baylor as 4-star safety and one of the highest rated Baylor signees. Jupe has great size and speed for the position, and was very active in the spring game, both good and bad. He was involved in a lot of plays near the line of scrimmage but also took a few bad routes, especially on the Jay Lee touchdown.
CLASS BALANCE – 8
With a senior, two sophomores and a freshman, this position is set up very well. One player not listed is 2014 commit T'Kevian Rockwell. The 4-star linebacker did not sign with the Bears during the signing period, as he is still working on getting his grades in order. Currently, there are no commitments for the 2015 class that project for the Nickel Back position, though Blake Lynch might have the profile to play there.
The Bears are still recruiting Cedar Hill Linebacker Richard Moore and even Missouri City Athlete J.W. Ketchum could find a home at the nickel back position if the Bears were to get their commitment. Without a commitment in the 2014 or 2015 class though, this grade stays at an 8.
NEXT YEAR – 6
With so many questions about this years depth chart, next year's is even harder to evaluate. The only known is that Brence will be gone. Beyond that, it is a bunch of questions. One would expect Griffin and Jupe to rise up the depth chart due to their talent, but that is a hard bet to make on two guys not on the 2-deep.
FUTURE YEARS – 4
The development of Jupe and his ability to grow into the position are the key to this grade. Jupe has the potential to be a star for the Bears. He could be a multi-year starter, similar to Ahmad Dixon, who was in this role for two years before switching to his more natural safety position last year. Jupe has that kind of ability, it is just up to him to work hard and the coaches to develop it.
IMPORTANCE – 3
Not a linebacker, but not exactly a safety, the Nickel Back position is the link between the front 7 and the back 4. It is the position that gives the Bears more speed than a traditional linebacker in a 4-3 front, but he also have to be able to run in coverage. The Bears utilize this position as that extra guy in the box during obvious running downs, and will also blitz him in passing downs, in addition to traditional under-zone coverages.
TOTAL - 31
This is a position that is hurt by the current question mark of who is the starter. Walk-on Collin Brence is holding the spot now, in front of several highly rated players, but who knows if they will ever reach their full potential.