"Strongside linebacker and nickel is what Coach [Wally] Burnham talked to me about," Northup said.
In Burnham's base 4-3 defense, he asks his strongside linebacker — in 2013 it was Jared Brackens — to defend the pass on nearly every play; more complicated schemes allow for blitzing, but Burnham keeps things mostly vanilla.
Brackens, a safety in high school, finished third on the Cyclones in tackles (61) and second in sacks (two), while improving his ability in coverage from start to finish (he still has much work to do).
On certain passing plays, usually third down and longer than four yards, Iowa State puts a fifth defensive back on the field (nickel), lined up inside and charged with rolling on either the slot receiver tight end while keeping run-contain./p>
Burnham in 2013 preferred a hybrid safety/linebacker type at nickel (many Big 12 teams throw an extra cornerback on the field and slide their best cornerback inside), and redshirt freshman Charlie Rogers looked like a future long-term contributor before transferring in January to Iowa Western JUCO for undisclosed reasons.
Rogers' absence, compounded with the graduation of Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield, gives Iowa State three immediate holes to fill. Northrup arrives June 9 and if he can add some weight and keep his head above water in the first weeks of camp, could have a shot at early playing time.
It is highlight tape, and we don't see any of the negatives, but one play in particular stood out to me while reviewing Northrup's senior season.
Here Northrup is lined up at outside backer in what looks like a 4-4 defense, with three defensive backs playing thirds, making Northrup responsible for coverage in the flats (lime green box).
Northrup's first steps are backwards as he watches the play unfold. The second it becomes clear the quarterback's swinging it to the slot in the flat — via his eyes, footwork and, obviously, arm angle — Northrup jumps, covering over 10 yards in a second, and soundly brings the ball-carrier to the ground.
If Northrup can improve his speed and hip fluidity, he'll have a shot at strong safety, but his measurables suggest he's a front-seven/hybrid player, and he does well there in his tape, frequently being in the right places in coverage and shedding off blockers if need be.
"I feel like I did better this year than I was expecting," Northup told Scout.com in an earlier interview. "I just played football the way I know how to play the game. One game at a time. And I'm still improving."
The two-star Northrup visited over the Jan. 24-26 weekend and will sign with the Cyclones on Feb. 5.