If you've hung around ODB very long at all during football season, you've come to grips with one rather inconvenient truth: I'm not a huge fan of Sam Holl. I'm sorry, I know I should be. It's nothing personal against him at all, I'm just not. It seems like he's been here 200 years and every one of them has been excruciating. The only hope is that moving him to the nickelback position -- our "Bear" spot-- gives more opportunities closer to the line of scrimmage to do what he actually does well -- stop the run-- and fewer to do what he doesn't -- stop the pass.
Behind Holl is one of the truly interesting position battles on the defense. Senior Prince Kent, a former safety who moved to NB when Ahmad did three years ago, has shown in spurts of play the last two years that his lofty recruiting rankings were no joke. The only problem is that those are only spurts. Challenging him to be Sam Holl's backup is freshman Kiante Griffin, who has something of an interesting story himself and probably won't, but could, redshirt this season to preserve eligibility.
In our 4-2-5 defense, the nickelback spot is the only truly unconventional position on the field in that it's not a linebacker or a safety, it's a bit of both. When receivers line up in the slot, we've seen our nickelback paired against them, rather than a safety. When they don't, you'll see our NBs lined up outside the tackle on the strong side of the field, between 5 and 8 yards off the ball, sometimes more. There, the NB often has responsibility for TEs coming off the line or RBs out of the backfield. Basically, playing a LB-S hybrid instead of one or the other is an attempt to do both things at the same time, supporting the run defense while also not having a slower LB taken advantage of by faster receivers in a spread offense.
Sam Holl -- SR -- #25 -- 6-2, 210 pounds
I'm going to do that thing where you say two positive things and then one negative, to make the negative seem less bad. The first positive-- did you know Sam Holl ran a 4.49 in the 40 in the spring? Yeah, he did. Here's me expressing my incredulity on twitter at the time. He also recorded a 39.4" vertical jump. The second -- if Holl can use that speed to good effect in Dixon's old spot, we may not see much of a dropoff at the NB position. In fact, the coaches keeping Holl closer to the line at NB, because there wouldn't be a Holl behind him at safety, could mean he plays more of a linebacker role than we're accustomed to and actually plays pretty well. The idea behind moving him was obviously to take things off his plate, putting him in a position where he has fewer coverage responsibilities (than a safety) and poor angles won't hurt him as much. I can see that being a reasonable plan, at least.
I really shouldn't pick on the guy. He's been a starter each of the last two years and played about as well as anyone could expect given his coaching and recruiting pedigree. He was never going to be an elite safety, and in a perfect world, we wouldn't have needed him to be. Hopefully, with the position switch this year, he can leave Baylor on a high note playing a position better-suited for his skills, and jerks like me won't harangue him endlessly, anymore.
Prince Kent -- SR -- #1 -- 6-3, 220 pounds
Kent is one of the reasons I probably shouldn't be so hard on Holl; at least Holl has done something in his time here. Kent came in as a 4* safety in our amazing 2009 DB recruiting class and has 14 total tackles to his name. That's it. He was also on the field, and directly responsible, for Blake Bell's horrific rumbling touchdown against OU.
Kent is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. There's no reason, given his physical attributes, that he's not a great player for us somewhere on the field. At times, like I said, he'll certainly look like it. But generally, he's not, and he'll most likely be gone after this year without ever having started a game. In a way, it's very sad. It's also totally mystifying. I really wanted Prince Kent to be really good.
Collin Brence -- JR -- #38 -- 5-11, 200 pounds
Lee Bristow -- SO -- #34 -- 6-3, 220 pounds
Our pair of walk-on nickelbacks. Brence and Bristow both ran with the 3s at last week's Scrimmage and each brings something a little different to the table. Brence has 5 total tackles in the last two seasons, while I believe Bristow sat out last season and/or didn't dress. I'm not sure on that.
Kiante Griffin -- FR -- #23 -- 6-0, 220 pounds
The first thing you should think of when Griffin comes to mind: he didn't have to be here. Yes, he signed with Baylor as part of the 2012 class, but Clearinghouse issues kept him out last year the same way they did Brian Nance. And just like Brian Nance, he could have gone anywhere he wanted and chose to stick with Baylor. I like that about both of them.
Griffin was one of my favorite recruits in the 2012 class because of his potential. He's extremely fast (4.40 in the 40 this spring) and was actually a 4* WR recruit in high school. He now brings that speed and athleticism to the defensive side of the ball, where he's impressed since getting here in January. This year, his first season of eligibility, he's competing with Prince Kent to be Holl's backup. There have even been rumors that he might force our coaches' hands to get him on the field even beyond that. Griffin is one to watch, especially in early games, where we might get the chance to see more rotation against the weaker teams on our schedule. The position should be his in 2014.
Travon Blanchard -- FR -- 48 -- 6-1, 185 pounds
Full disclosure -- I'm not 100% sure this is where Blanchard should be. I've seen him listed at LB (on the roster), NB (practice reports from the spring), and CB (I can't remember). I think he might be a corner. When we recruited him, we did so with this NB spot in mind because of his size and speed. That's why I'm going to put him there now. If I have to move him next year, I will.
Blanchard is a true freshman this year and one of the more outspoken members of our 2013 recruiting class. If you're on BearsTruth, his brother actually provides quite a bit of interesting information on the team and what's going on, and is always worth a read. Blanchard was one of our first commits last spring and never wavered, recruiting others to come with him to Baylor. I can't wait to see what he can do on the field here.
Nickelback will be a really interesting position to watch this coming season for the Bears. It's vitally important to our defense because of what we ask them to do-- that's why we've had Ahmad Dixon, possibly our best individual defensive player the last two years, playing in that spot. But now he's moved back to safety, possibly his more natural position, and Sam Holl has moved up, a gamble designed to improve one (or possibly two) without compromising either. If it works, we'll stabilize the safety position while remaining strong at LB/NB. If it doesn't . . .