Along with “spread option” and “up tempo”, “hybrid” has become one of the most widely used buzzwords in football over the last five years.
As the game evolves away from its smashmouth origins and into a more athletic and aerial game, the need for versatile defenders capable of doing many things beyond the scope of traditional position classifications has become crucial.
Defensive backs not only need to cover, but need to be able to apply pressure in the opponent’s backfield. Linebackers need to drop back and cover an increasingly high number of wide receivers when they aren’t stuffing the run. Even hulking defensive lineman are called upon to drop back and cover the flats in zone blitz schemes.
The defensive system installed brought to Tempe by head coach Todd Graham and defensive coordinator Paul Randolph thrives on such players.
Carl Bradford became one of the Pac-12’s most feared defenders as the “Devilbacker” a hybrid of a defensive end and rush linebacker.
Moving one level back was the SPUR spot, fusing together the responsibilities of a linebacker and safety. To play such an athletically demanding spot, a special kind of player was needed, and Arizona State found one in Chris Young.
After transferring over from Arizona Western College, Young wasted no time in making his presence felt in 2012. Young amassed 8.5 tackles-for-loss in his first four games, and finished the year with 82 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, two sacks and one interception.
Yet Young was not satisfied.
“I definitely see a lot of improvement,” says Young. “After completing my spring as a senior, I look back and see all of the mistakes that I made. I take that into consideration as I go into my second season. I’m just trying to be more explosive, more educated in my assignments, and understand what my teammates are doing on the field.”
With the departure of team captain and starting WILL linebacker Brandon Magee, a large hole opened up in the linebacking corps. During spring, the 6-foot, 233-pound Young slide over from SPUR to take first-team reps at Magee’s former spot. He performed so well that the post-spring depth chart lists Young as the starter at both SPUR and WILL.
While he can only play one spot, Young says he doesn’t care which, just as long as he is on the field helping his team.
“Wherever the team needs me,” says Young on his best position. “As far as SPUR or WILL, I’m comfortable at both positions. I really like both. At the end of the day, all I look to is whether I start, whether it’s at WILL or SPUR.”
Whichever one it is, having a healthy and effective Young in the lineup will be essential. While Will Sutton and Bradford will deservedly see the lion’s share of attention from the opposition, Young will be called upon to be a disruptive force at all three levels of the defense. With his speed, acceleration, and playmaking ability, augmented by a full year of experience, he can do just that.
ASU’s defense made a remarkable turnaround last season, becoming one of the nation’s most aggressive and effective units. With eight returning starters, including Young, they will form the foundation of the Sun Devils’ efforts to capture their first ever Pac-12 South title and fulfill the darkhorse Rose Bowl hype that now surrounds the program.