New Nickel is News

The UCLA game this past weekend saw the unveiling of a new defensive package, which includes a fifth defensive back to defend against the pass. The nickel package includes much-hyped cornerback Brandon Bradley as part of the alignment. TBS caught up with Bradley and defensive coordinator Jaime Hill to learn of how and why the nickel package came to fruition.

After the Washington game, cornerback Brandon Bradley boarded the bus which would take the team to their plane for their flight back home to Provo. During the game Bradley saw spot duty on special teams coverage and kick units and assumed he'd be doing the same sort of work against UCLA while backing up Scott Johnson at the boundary cornerback position.

Bradley took his seat on the bus, but instead of clowning around with teammates, talking about the game or even catching some shuteye, Bradley was immediately approached by Coach Hill, who took a seat right by him for the bus trip.

"Yeah, [Coach Hill] came right up to me after the game and told me that they were going to use me in a nickel formation," said Bradley. "I was like, ‘Great, yeah, I'm all for it.' It was seriously right after the game and it sort of surprised me, but man, I was excited the second he told me."

So why was the decision made immediately after the Washington game? Was it something Coach Hill determined to utilize on the spot in light of the pass defense against Washington, or was it in the works in Coach Hill's mind long before the team took their first snap against the Huskies?

"It was in the works and always on my mind about the right time to put it in," said Coach Hill about the development of the new nickel package. "It was simply time to run it against UCLA because of the formations they run on offense. We've been holding back, holding back for a while now, but we determined that against UCLA it was time to break it out and use it, and I feel it worked very well."

In Hill's nickel defense he simply takes out a linebacker and replaces him with a defensive back. The extra defensive back during the UCLA game was Bradley, who took over for Scott Johnson at the boundary cornerback spot while Johnson assumed the nickelback role. The nickelback is sort of a safety/cornerback hybrid position. Due to Johnson's knowledge of the overall system and Bradley's improved play, Coach Hill was able to develop and then implement his new package against UCLA with few - if any - hiccups.

"He's a corner playing inside basically," said Hill regarding Johnson's role in the nickel formation. "If we had enough corners, then that's where he'd play all the time. He wouldn't play any corner if we had the depth, but right now he's our best overall option at boundary."

While Johnson has solidified the boundary corner position, Bradley is improving and making up ground with every practice and will now likely do so with every game he's out there playing boundary with the nickel package.

"Brandon Bradley certainly has potential," acknowledged Hill. "But he hasn't played for three years, so it's going to take time. He's certainly not there yet, but he's working hard and I like what I saw from him on Saturday. He responded well to his role and we'll just work to get him to improve week by week. He's someone who has been hyped and he's sort of the internet folk hero right now, but we're taking it easy and he knows what he needs to improve on and he's working on those things."

Bradley was happy with his play against UCLA, but readily acknowledges that he has a lot to work on. For right now, Bradley is just happy to have a regular role within a Cougar defensive package.

"I don't know exactly how and when Coach Hill decided to use me in the nickel, and I really don't care," said Bradley with a laugh. "I just want to play. I'm just grateful that he trusts me enough now to have me out there to help the team. It's my job now to just get it done, make sure I respond to every opportunity and get better every week."

While Bradley continues to develop to the point where Coach Hill may be able to use him more, Johnson has provided and will continue to provide the type of play at boundary corner that reminds Hill of another Cougar cornerback.

"I've always said Scott Johnson is going to be a good player," said Hill. "I told him that he's going to be the next Ben Criddle because he's a smart guy who plays within himself. He understands the technique and he doesn't do more than he's supposed to do, and he's a good tackler. He's the type of player you love to coach."

Mixing and Matching

A lot of the reason why Coach Hill has waited until three games into his third season as the cornerbacks coach (and his first season as the defensive coordinator) to put in his nickel package was simply due to personnel, or lack thereof. Now that he has some better talent developing within his system he's able to put forth different coverages that will better match what opponents present offensively.

"We got away with it for two years not playing nickel," said Coach Hill. "You have to have some depth and we have that now at defensive back. Guys understand what their responsibilities are and now we're better able to match personnel. We got away with it and we probably shouldn't have the past two years, but now we won't have to get away with it; we can use it and use it well."

So how did it work out against UCLA?

"It worked like we wanted it to," said Hill. "It was very successful when you look at what UCLA was able to do offensively when we had the nickel in. They weren't able to do much when we had it out there."

So will fans be seeing a nickel package with every game from here on out during third-and-long situations?

"I can't promise anything," answered Hill. "It's all about the flow of the game and matching personnel. We'll see how it works out from a week-to-week basis. But what we do know is that we have it and we can use it successfully."

Rich in Coverage

Another aspect of the nickel package on Saturday was safety Andrew Rich subbing in for David Tafuna in coverage as a safety. For Coach Hill, it was an opportunity to give Rich some needed experience.

"[Rich] just needed to get out there and get some reps," said Hill about Rich. "He's practiced very well and has shown well in coverage and that's why he was out there. He played well, as did most of our other guys we got in late in the game."

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