When the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Alabama strong safety Ronnie Harrison in the third round of the 2018 draft, most were elated about acquiring the eventual successor to Barry Church.
Most did not, however, envision Harrison leaving as strong of an impression on his coaches and teammates as he has thus far. In fact, Harrison has been so eye-catching that free safety Tashaun Gipson feels Harrison will see the field sooner rather than later.
“I truly believe that he is a unique player,” Gipson said. “And I think that somehow, someway Ronnie is going to be on the field. He is a good young player.”
So how does Harrison see the field barring an injury to the incumbent veteran safeties ahead of him?
At nickel cornerback, of course.
Harrison challenging DJ Hayden for the starting nickel role? That’s absurd.
No. In fact, Harrison getting a unique package inside as a “big nickel” is innovation.
The reality is that the fabric of NFL offenses is slowly evolving and coaches are starting to use their personnel in more creative ways as they install more spread concepts into offensive schemes. One of the hottest trends surfacing across camps right now is splitting a receiving tight end off the line of scrimmage and into the slot to take advantage of size mismatches against what is usually a smaller, twitchier nickel back.
The New York Giants will likely get a heavy dose of this from Evan Engram in Week 1, but it won’t stop there.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are famous for splitting Rob Gronkowski out wide into the slot (especially with Julian Edelman suspended for Week 2).
And the Jaguars also have Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker, Charles Clay, Mike Gesicki, and Jordan Reed on the schedule this year, all of whom are capable of playing as a slot tight end. Early reports from Philadelphia Eagles camp in particular suggest that Zach Ertz and rookie Dallas Goedert have been unstoppable in two tight end sets, especially in the red zone.
The concept of a three-safety set really began when Todd Bowles was employed as the defensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals, where he used Deonne Bucannon in this role. James Bettcher, a Bowles disciple, carried on these philosophies in the desert after Bowles moved on to the Jets and will likely continue to in his first year as the defensive coordinator of the Giants. I’ve heard this role referred to as a “star” or “monster back” or plainly “dime backer” — but I’m here to give it a new moniker...
The brute back.
While Hayden is the likely down-in and down-out starter at nickel for the season, he is simply not long and strong enough to challenge these 260+ pound freaks of nature in the new world order of the NFL. Who better to line up and challenge these physical tight ends this season than Ronnie Harrison?
At 6’3” and 214 pounds, Harrison not only boasts the length to challenge at the point of attack, but also possesses the athleticism and play recognition traits to put him in consistent position to challenge for the ball. Harrison just might be the new guardian of the secondary that this team is missing.
So what do you think? Will we see the birth of the “brute back” in Duval?