What makes a Cougar defensive back a corner, safety or nickel back? Alex Grinch explains

HE'S A cornerback. Check that, he's lined up at safety. Wait, he's a nickel. In talking to defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Alex Grinch, it's clear Cougar fans will be busy keeping tabs on where Washington State defensive backs will line up.

The strategy behind Washington State’s defensive back recruiting and development – assembling a pool of players with similar skills and then filling them in at corner, safety and nickel -- is two-fold, Grinch told

“It allows you to cross train players, which allows you to build depth,” said Grinch. “(It) ensures that your third-best corner, who otherwise could be in your starting 11, isn’t sitting on the bench simply because he’s deemed a corner.”

The same concept holds true across the entire defense, Grinch went on to say. 

But what skills ultimately render a player a corner in Washington State’s scheme?

“Athleticism and coverage skills, speed and fluidity, being able to flip your hips and run,” are all key parts of it, said Grinch.

And while corners also need to make plays against the run, the Wazzu safeties and nickels need to ably “hold up” with more responsibilities in the run game in addition to their coverage responsibilities, Grinch said.

“Safeties also have to be great communicators, more so than at other positions," said Grinch. "The nickel is closer to line of scrimmage and some guys thrive in that location, while other guys prefer to take more of an ‘outfielder’s approach’ and 10 yards off the ball."

And that’s what makes the upcoming spring session at Washington State so intriguing when it comes to the defensive backs – who will shine where and how much movement might be seen with players at corner, safety and/or nickel?  Robert Taylor (pictured above) would seem likely this spring to get looks at, say, free safety, strong safety and nickel, but he's far from the only multi-tool defensive back at Wazzu.

“It all goes back to trying to find your best 11 guys, and then trying to filter the next best 11 behind them, and regardless of the position you ‘envision’ them playing,” said Grinch.

Spring ball kicks off March 23 at Washington State.

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