Over at the "Texas sunshine pumpers" post I was challenged to review Aaron Colvin's play last season after I scoffed at the assertion that he was Vaccaro's equal on the playing field. So I pulled up the Oklahoma games vs. A&M and KSU and took note of Colvin and Harris' usage and performance. Very informative.
I'll go ahead and admit that I definitely undervalued Colvin, he's a great player. I've been slow to catch on to one of Stoops' major personnel adjustments to the spread offense. It's very easy to note that the SAM linebacker position has been stocked with Safety-Linebacker hybrids (your Roy-backer), but that's not the only switch OU has made in choosing personnel. Stoops' particular style of Cover-3 ends up with the Strong Safety playing basically catch-man coverage against the slot receiver and the numerous pressure packages y'all employ also isolates the SS in man-to-man coverage.
My thinking of OU has been that their response to the spread has been to play 2 corners and 3 safeties, I see now that it's really more like 3 corners and 2 safeties. And while his position is as safety, Colvin's skillset is more that of a corner. More after the jumpAaron Colvin is basically a 3rd corner on the field. You began to do this with Jonathan Nelson (correct me if I'm wrong) where you use a Corner as your SS. Since OU puts a premium on physical corners in recruiting anyways, if you recruit enough of these athletes you'll end up with guys who can handle the physical demands of the SS in Stoops' scheme. The Free Safety is still more of a classic support player and your more classic SS type player is now the SAM linebacker.
Contrasted with Texas: We play more press man-coverage so we're using guys at SAM/nickel who can play press against a slot receiver and be physical enough to not get run over on perimeter runs. Examples: Aaron Williams and Kenny Vaccaro.
Against A&M, Colvin did a great job picking up Swope and whoever else played in the slot, he's also really fast coming downhill against running plays and screens. At 185 pounds (or whatever he plays at) his tackling style is more about going low and making the sure tackle and he generally succeeds.
At KSU Fleming's injury and Lynn's incompetence pushed Colvin onto the field as Boundary Corner and brought Proctor off the bench as SS (he played well in that game, btw). As a corner he demonstrated the ability to play press-man, off-man, and bail out to a deep safety position. Really impressive.
Javon Harris reminds me of Blake Gideon or Christian Scott at Texas. He's usually playing deep centerfield or Cover-2 and if he's taking on someone in man-coverage it's going to be a TE or RB. When he can play in tighter space he's real solid at making physical form-tackles and filling against blocks. He's basically your classic SS from back in the day when such players weren't isolated in space against receivers. Then again, he managed to play the run against KSU without making a single tackle so maybe he's not much of a classic SS either.
When he has to make a tackle in space or demonstrate a corner's hips against the pass he can be made to look silly. Like Christian Scott or Blake Gideon. I understand that Mike seems to be playing him more at SS. I have no idea what to make of that unless you're going to play more 2-deep and not ask him to man-up slot receivers like Colvin does because I don't think he can hold up in that position without several more Baylor moments.
Either he's learned to take better angles and has better hips than the tape suggested or you need another corner to emerge so he (the new corner) or Colvin can hold down SS.
Colvin vs. Vaccaro:
Here's where there was sharp disagreement between myself and the Sooner faithful here on this blog. I think Vaccaro is the best safety in the league, over here I've seen no one give him any regard higher than being Colvin's equal.
One thing that's really tricky here is that they don't quite play the same position. Vaccaro is mostly a nickel or occasional Free Safety and Colvin lined up at SS and Boundary Corner. I've included below their man assignments and grades:
-play press-man coverage against the slot: A
-blitz the edge: B+
-Be a 7th or 8th man against the run: A-
-Play Hot 2 to the field (underneath Zone) in blitzes: A
-play catch-man coverage against the slot: A-
-play press-man against an outside receiver: A-
-Run support: B-
-play deep pass support: A-
Colvin is more or less Vaccaro's equal in coverage, here's where the main difference is: Colvin is about 185 and Vaccaro weighs 215 pounds. Those extra 20 pounds or so make a huge difference in run support and blitzing. Colvin tackles to bring people down and Vaccaro tackles to take people out.
He eliminated important players from opposing teams as game-factors with some big hits over the course of the year and is a load to handle on the perimeter as either a blitzer or run-defender. In sum: He is very good at performing the job responsibilities of a classic SS AND a modern one. He can be a big hitter and forceful support player or he can play coverage isolated against spread receivers.
Colvin is a great player whom I clearly undervalued and is probably one of the most versatile and effective defensive backs in the conference. Vaccaro is a physical freak and quite likely the league's most dominant defenseman.
I would issue a counter challenge to skeptical Sooner fans to review some Texas games and note Vaccaro's play. Don't come back and say "He missed a tackle in X game!" because I've got some similar examples for Colvin. Players make mistakes. If you watch Vaccaro and still disagree I'd love to hear your reasons and maybe learn a little more.