I sat down for a conversation with Cincinnati linebacker Perry Young. He is not the biggest linebacker (5-11, 220) in this class but the former safety had a great college career and looks to make his mark on the NFL in any way possible.
To start, I asked Young about his difficult transition from safety in high school to a linebacker at the college level. A lot of players struggle with position changes from one level to the next and I was curious how the transition came about and how he made the transition look so seamless on film:
“So I was recruited by Tommy Tuberville’s staff and Jeff Koonz — who is the linebacker coach at West Virginia now — and they were a group of guys who didn’t think size was an issue. They believed that if you could play football, then you should be on the field. I went to Cincinnati as a safety and I was behind a couple of guys on the depth chart. I was doing well there but Coach Koonz really wanted to work with me and he thought that I could make a bigger impact at linebacker. They just wanted me on the field because I was their only non-redshirt freshman.
Going into the season, they made the decision right before we played Houston when they were ranked No. 5 in the country. You know, honestly, I wasn’t the happiest about it at first but I was the type of guy who just wants to help my team win no matter what. They played me a bit in that Houston game and after that, everything just took off.”
My biggest question prior to getting into the film with Young was just how difficult the change was from safety to linebacker. I asked him what the single toughest challenge was for him during his transition:
“The biggest challenge for me was just having that quick reaction with offensive lineman coming after you. Just battling those guys every play is really tough man and you rarely saw them at safety. Over time though, it just takes a couple games and a couple practices of hitting those guys and mixing it up with them to get a real feel for how it is near the line of scrimmage full time but yeah at first that was the biggest challenge.”
Now before we jump into today’s film, I did ask Young about this particular opponent. I cut up both of his games against Memphis, a program that has been an offensive powerhouse the past few years. I asked Young what the film study and preparation is like going up against a team like Memphis:
“Our preparation is basically to try and not beat yourself on defense. They just want to create big plays and they want to get linebackers and safeties out of position so they can make those quick RPO throws in that gap between the linebackers and safeties. So our emphasis was mostly on being patient and letting plays kind of happen rather than just reacting. So, if we saw a play-action pass or an ‘A’ gap or ‘B’ gap open wide — because you know a team with those offensive masterminds would open gaps up to get linebackers sucked up in those gaps so they can run those seven yard glance routes. That was probably the most difficult thing to stop on their offense.
The good thing about it though was that we had two chances to play them. It was difficult in that first match-up because we never faced a team that can execute that playing style the way that they did. They have some tells though on offense. Like the personnel they are in. Sometimes the details such as a bigger tight end or bigger running backs being in the backfield. Things like that kind of gave away some of their plays. For instance every time their freshman running back (Kenneth Gainwell) came in, it was more lateral plays or passing plays as opposed to when their bigger back (Patrick Taylor) came in. Little things like that helped give away some of their plays for us.”
With the first clip in this film session, I wanted to see if there were any tells at the snap or right after the snap that gave away the offensive play for Young. I asked him where his eyes are and what he is keying in on early in this play that gives away the direction of this run:
“On this play, I’m looking at the guard in front of me and I’m also looking at the width and depth of the running back. He was very flat on this play. From watching their film, we know this is a heavy run formation because he is not going to max protect with his spacing there and they also had a down tight end to the boundary and that was their bigger tight end. They always like to run that way to their bigger tight end so we know it is a run coming that way.
At the hike of the ball, the tackle pulls around and they try to double team the defensive end to kick him out. They tried to get that backside guard to pull all the way over to me but I’m taking my read steps up to take away that backside angle. Our nose guard in front of me– number 90 Jabari Taylor– is supposed to loop outside to that ‘A’ gap. He actually looped a little too far which kind of helped me out a little bit. As soon as I saw him loop out wide, I decided to replace his spot so we wouldn’t have two guys crashing outside.”
Young does a great job on this play of sifting through traffic, keeping his eyes up, and being aware enough to know to replace his down lineman on the play. I asked him how important is it to not only be aware as a linebacker in this spot but also have that ability to sift through traffic and find the ball carrier:
“I think that is the most important thing about being a linebacker. Sometimes the defensive line is going to mess up or they are going to get out of position but it is our job to clean up everything. With that being said, you have to have great footwork. Let’s say the I assume the tackle is pulling to take me out of the play and I cross over run the play and Jabari and I are both crashing outside. Then we are both out of the play and there is a big gap up the middle. That is why it is important to take those read steps, stay square, and read the play to see the flow of the back and then know when to attack.”
The ability to stack and shed is so important for linebackers in football as you can see above in this clip of Young. I asked him though how important it is for him to have good technique when he is shedding players as he is much smaller than the traditional linebacker playing in the box:
“That is probably the most underrated thing about being a defender. It doesn’t really matter how big or how wide the guy blocking you is, if you can have leverage and get under the guy and get the first hit on him then you can get off any block. Knowing my size and knowing that I’m at a bit of disadvantage due to the size of guys blocking me, I just try to stay under control and square and snap my eyes to the guy blocking me so I can get my hands in the right area to make a play.
They like to run to the side of the big tight end when he is down so they kind of gave it away a bit. They tried to pin me here so they can get those two pullers around and what I had to do– I told my safeties not to worry about the tight ends because I’ll take care of them all game– was just have great leverage and be quick with my hands to win this play.”
Young is unique player as he has the strength and technique to win by stacking and shedding but he also has the speed and quickness to maneuver around blockers and evade them on plays like this. I asked him how he knows when to evade blockers versus when he should take them on and shed them:
“Typically it is knowing where my help is on defense. I know on this play that I wasn’t going to have any help on the outside so I have to keep contain and force everything back inside here. Plays like this are where you really have to process and stack and shed because if you don’t, it can be a potential big play for the offense. On plays where lineman are trying to climb up to me and going up the field, that is when I can use my speed to my advantage. That way I can kind of play with the lineman by picking a side of his hips and stem left or right or give him a double juke to get around him. Those plays are pretty fun because you get to play running back for a second. It is all about assignment though when it comes to that or stacking and shedding.”
This next clip is one of my favorites as it calls back to the opening statement Young made about Memphis trying to hit those RPO glance routes behind the linebackers. I asked him here if this pass deflection was more from him reading the quarterback’s eyes on the play or more a result of the week of film study before the game:
“I would say it was a little bit of both. You can see in this play that the ‘B’ gap is huge. They love to open up those gaps because they wanted us to run through there. Say I just run through there like I am blitzing or something, that guy is wide open behind me for a big gain. It was kind of a feel thing. Knowing that ‘B’ gap was wide open and feeling that receiver behind me is why I stopped at the line and I just tried to put my hand up as vertical as possible because I knew they were going to try and get me on my inside shoulder. That was just the quick thought and reaction I had there and it ended up working out pretty good. Would have been better if one of my guys caught the ball though.. that thing floated up there forever.”
This next clip, I really wanted to see his knowledge of the overall defense and figure out what this coverage is on the play. So I asked him right away, what the play call was here and what was his responsibility on this particular play:
“So this play is called ‘Black.’ It is basically like two-man and you can see the ‘Mike’ backer is playing a low hole and is basically in a spy on this play. The other up field linebacker and myself are playing underneath in this two man. The other linebacker takes the running back because of something we called ‘First out’. Basically means whoever the first guy is who comes out of the backfield, that’s the guy that you take. When the number three receiver cuts across the field, that is really the boundary safety’s responsibility but he gets caught in no man’s land trying to help out on the other in breaking routes deep. That is where my responsibility is between the numbers and the hash. I saw that he threw it early due to the pressure so that is why I bit when I did even though that isn’t really my spot.
That was one of our biggest base defense calls called ‘Black’. Really all it is is just man coverage with zone integrity. Everyone has a man but if you don’t have a man, then you have a certain area where they drop to.”
I was very interested in this defensive call as it has a good mix of zone principles along with being a man defense. I asked Young though what his responsibility would be — for example — if the receiver ends up carrying on the play were to not come to his side and instead do a ten yard out. Where would his zone be if there is not a receiver crossing the field?
“I would try to sit under the number one receiver to the boundary. Our corners are playing outside leverage to force the play to the safety so I would be near the hash in case he ran a crossing route or a slant. I’m trying to sit under him between the numbers and the hash and watching the quarterback’s eyes.”
The last question I had about this play was when they typically ran the play and how successful it was for their defense as a whole.
“Oh yeah it was great. It was kind of like our eliminate the big play type of defense. It would also eliminate these confusion routes like crossers and such that offenses are doing nowadays. Like on this play, that crosser was his number one read. With this play call and my instincts to carry the route, we were able to take away that primary read on the play”
The final question I had in the film session of this interview was based around his movement pre-snap on this play. It is a lot of movement and I was curious as to why he moved down the line so much here and what the communication was like between his teammates.
“I think they rushed to the line of scrimmage and this is a fourth and one attempt by them. This was one of those formations that we would go over maybe once because how many times are you going to face a fourth and one opportunity. I see the down tight end and my defensive end… he’s not supposed to be right there. He is supposed to be inside the down tight end and the right tackle. I’m supposed to have the down tight end in man so we are really supposed to be flip flopped. I see him out there, it’s fourth and one, so I’m not really worrying about the pass here.
I tried to tell him like ‘uhhh check check’ but then I just say never mind stay right there. I used that momentum to get inside and shoot the gap where our defensive end should have been. It ended up working well but you know like I said, being a linebacker you have to make those split second decisions. Everything isn’t going to be perfect and you know… my coach would never tell me to do that but sometimes you gotta change up on the fly and just make a play.”
I had just one last question for Young and it is one of my favorite questions to ask young players as they prepare for the draft. With his Pro Day coming up, he’s going to be sitting down with a lot of NFL teams and scouts over the next month. I asked him, if a team sits you down and asks what you would bring to their team both on and off the field, how would you respond?
“You are getting a guy who would do anything for his teammates and the people around him. I just enjoy being around people. I just enjoy being around people and talking to people and making them feel welcome. Just playing football, you kind of have to adapt to that type of lifestyle and I adapted to it really well and took it in because football doesn’t last forever. I see it as I’m going to be the best person I can be on and off the field in however long I am playing football. So they would be getting a guy who will do anything for his team and also be a big vocal part of the locker room.”