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The nickel – no longer just a 'fifth defensive back'

The nickel – no longer just a 'fifth defensive back'

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant

KTVB.COM

Posted on April 5, 2011 at 7:30 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 3 at 6:10 PM

 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011.
 
Boise State is committed to the scheme. Consequently, it’s looking for the next big thing at the nickelback position. The Bronco defensive alignment creating a hybrid linebacker-safety position made its debut in the 2008 Oregon game with Ellis Powers as the nickel, and it has thrived ever since. Now, can Dextrell Simmons pull a Winston Venable?  That’s one of the more interesting aspects of Bronco spring football. 
 
Venable came in as the only junior college transfer of Boise State’s 2009 recruiting class with the hope that he could rapidly pick up the system and compete for Powers’ vacated spot. To say that Venable succeeded is an understatement—second-team All-WAC in 2009 and first-team last year. Simmons is also a JC transfer, a former teammate of Cam Newton at Blinn College in Texas. Says Petersen, “I’ve been impressed with Dextrell just moving around. Fast.”
 
Petersen says Simmons just has to channel that athleticism and speed into the structure of the defense. Venable floored the Boise State staff with how quickly he picked everything up. “Winston was amazing—we all know that,” Petersen said. “But we’re hopeful (with Simmons).” Could Simmons ultimately be even more versatile than Venable and Powers? “He’s a really physical player who can play in the box if we need him to,” said Petersen. Not to be forgotten is Hunter White, who has 100 career tackles, eight of them for loss, and two interceptions. And Jonathan Brown, one of the prize recruits of the 2009 class who’s missing spring ball due to an injury.
 
Draft stock check on a couple former Boise State stars from an NFL Network round table on Boise State’s recent Pro Day results. Charlie Casserly, NFL Network draft analyst and one-time Washington Redskins general manager, calls Titus Young a second round pick. “Looking back at the Combine, this guy to me had probably the best workout of any receiver there,” said Casserly. “From catching the ball to getting separation on his breaks, seeing him live was impressive.” He said Young’s size, at 174 pounds, is a concern. Casserly isn’t as high on former Bronco Austin Pettis, tabbing him as a fifth-rounder. “He ran 3.88 in the short shuttle—that was the best at the Combine,” notes Casserly. “That should mean he has exceptional ability to separate from the defender.  You watch the tape, you just don’t see it.”
 
Idaho coach Robb Akey could have just praised his defense and left it at that after the Vandals’ first spring scrimmage Saturday. But Akey didn’t pull any punches, saying, “It wasn't quite what I wanted to see." Akey bemoaned dropped passes—ones not caused by the wild winds of the Palouse outside the Kibbie Dome. That makes Brian Reader’s 6-of-14 day (for 76 yards) more palatable. The running game was inconsistent. Junior college transfer Ryan Bass had one 60-yard touchdown run, and three other carries that totaled four yards. Idaho’s second scrimmage is set for this Saturday. "This is the beginning," Akey said.  "What matters is we get better next week.  It has to be better than it was today."
 
The Idaho Steelheads are trying to put a harrowing home stretch of the regular season behind them as the Kelly Cup Playoffs open tonight. The good news for the Steelheads: their opponent is, too. Las Vegas has won just five of 17 games since the first of March and lost a pair at home to Stockton over the weekend. The bad news: Idaho was 2-5 during the regular season against the Wranglers and was winless in the Orleans Arena. The Steelies are going to need their goaltenders to play over their heads in this series. Jerry Kuhn, who just finished his college career as a Western Michigan Bronco, has been with the Steelheads all of five days. Adrien Lemay has been a Steelie for five weeks. But a lot will depend upon those two.
 
Only 14 former Boise Hawks made Opening Day rosters in the majors this year. I’d say that’s about five or six fewer than usual. There are no newcomers among Hawks alums in the bigs this season—yet. Six of the former Hawks are playing for Boise’s parent club, the Chicago Cubs, and one of them made a strong 2011 debut yesterday after a solid spring.  Randy Wells served up a leadoff home run to the Diamondbacks’ Willie Bloomquist, but that would be Arizona’s only run of the day. Wells went six innings and allowed just five other hits in a 4-1 Chicago victory. Wells, who pitched for the Hawks 10 years ago, stumbled last year after a rookie season that saw him go 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA. In 2010 those numbers slipped to 8-14 and 4.26.
 
Former Boise State standout Troy Merritt is feeling a little better this week after getting a paycheck at the Shell Houston Open. Merritt made the cut for only the second time in eight tries this year and earned $20,600 after finishing in a tie for 42nd, four-under for the tournament. Merritt was resilient Sunday, responding to what could have been a dollar-draining double bogey on the 12th hole with an eagle on 13. He more than doubled his season winnings to $32,280. At this point last year, Merritt had made $159,270. But he was in the midst of missing seven straight cuts before his breakthrough third place finish in late April at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
 
Can you stand one more parallel between Butler basketball and Boise State football? I know, I know. But we have to wrap up the NCAA Tournament. Watching the Bulldogs in the second half of the national championship game against Connecticut last night was like watching the Broncos in the first half at Georgia in 2005. Yes, it was that much of an ouch. Less than 19 percent from the field? You knew Butler was better than that, but it didn’t give itself a chance.
 
This Day In Sports…April 5, 1984: 
 
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers breaks Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA career scoring record with his 31,420th point. Kareem got the record by sinking—what else—a skyhook. He would end up with over 38,000 points in his 20-year pro career with Milwaukee and LA.
 
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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