During long-yardage situations, most defenses have a built-in package to bring in an extra defensive back in place of a linebacker. This fifth body in the defensive backfield creates what is called a nickel formation by most schools. In a dime formation, two defensive backs sub in for two linebackers, and so on.
The mentality behind the use of nickel and dime packages is to have more players adept at coverage on the field in order to meet the multiple-receiver formations that offenses usually put forth to gain the necessary yardage during long-yardage and third-and-long situations. Just about every team in the collegiate ranks utilize these formations.
"There are teams that don't run as many nickel and dime packages, but I don't know of any that don't have them altogether," said Hodgkiss. "I think we may be one of the only teams that use our 3-4 base during long-yardage [situations]."
So why not sneak in an extra defensive back or two during long-yardage situations at BYU? Why leave four linebackers out there as teams stack up against them with four or sometimes even five receivers?
"We play base the whole time," said defensive backs coach Jaime Hill. "It doesn't matter what formation we're going against. We're able to do that because our linebackers are athletic enough to do what we need of them, in that we don't run man-coverages."
Indeed, with linebackers such as Bryan Kehl, David Nixon, Shawn Doman and others, defensive coaches are confident in the abilities of their linebackers to drop back into zone coverages. So far, the linebackers have proven to be good at defending against multiple-receiver formations in the flat and over the middle.
"You look at Bryan Kehl, and he can defend as [well as] anyone out in the flat," said Hodgkiss. "I know he's had a ton of deflections and interceptions covering during long-yardage situations, and because of that we're able to keep in our base formation all the time."
Even though Kehl and his fellow speedy linebackers can do more than an adequate job in coverages, the question remains whether a fifth or sixth defensive back could do even a better job, given that they'd be in there during sure-coverage situations.
"The advantage for us is that we have bigger bodies in coverage out in the flats," explained Hill. "We don't run man-coverages, so they just go out where they need to be and they know the system so well that they're able to do the job. Most of our linebackers don't only have big bodies, but they're all very athletic, which certainly helps as well."
During some long-yardage situations teams often run a screen pass, hoping to take advantage of the smaller defensive packages brought forth by putting in a relatively diminutive defensive back. With four linebackers left in who are all very skilled at run support, the opportunities an opposing offense may have to effectively utilize screens are subsequently diminished.
"People try to run running back screens, slip screens, bubble screens and what have you, and they can't. Our linebackers are too big, you can't block them," explained Hill. "You try and block those guys with receivers and you won't be able to."
Hill said that the advantage they gain in defending screens more than makes up for any deficiencies they may encounter downfield.
"The coverages we run allow for us to protect our linebackers in their coverages," said Hill. "It's worked so far, so why fix it? You haven't seen it [changed] this year and you won't see it [changed]."
So will the lack of nickel and dime coverages be a staple as long as Hill is running and formulating the coverage schemes?
"I'm not sure," answered Hill. "It's mostly a system decision and not a personnel decision not to use nickel coverages. Of course, having such athletic and capable linebackers helps. To what degree [things might change], I'm not sure. We'll have to see what happens. We may use [nickel and dime formations] in the future, but with this group, no way."