Rookies Anonymous: Ready, but clueless
LARAMIE -- The whistle blows and I unleash hell. Charging forward, I bear down, square up and hit the runner hard. Batters say they feel it in the swing when they hit a home run. Golfers, the same with a perfect drive. That’s how it felt as our bodies left -- and then crashed into -- the ground. It was a perfect tackle.
But then the kid started to cry and I felt awful. Sensitive chap, me.
That was perhaps my one and only great tackle. And it was in practice. In eighth grade. And maybe “unleash hell” was a bit strong since I was six inches taller and 25 pounds lighter than everyone else on the field. When I started at 13 years old, I hadn’t broken 100 pounds, yet.
My football “career” was only two short middle-school seasons, and although I don’t pretend to have been some hidden talent gone to waste, I never really got any instruction in the game. No wonder I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
So, when I finally started falling in love with football years later, I had a great deal to learn — and still do. But I’ve found the more I understand, the more fun it is to watch and follow.
That’s why I’m starting this series called “Rookies Anonymous.” It’s a no-guilt, no-judgement column for those of us who want to know the game better, or at all. Just like anything in sports, it’s all about the fundamentals.
"The Defensive Secondary"
This week, I’m starting with a simple phrase you’ll probably hear surrounding this Saturday’s faceoff with UNLV in Laramie. Then we’ll break it down, so we can see what the hell they’re talking about.
Phrase: “If our secondary keeps getting dusted, we’re in trouble.”
Okay, so this seems daunting, but it’s easy to remember. When they say the “secondary,” they’re talking about a group of players in the defense. In the defense, three major parts broken up into a number of jobs make the squad.
There’s the defensive line, or front, which are the big dudes who take on their counterparts, the offensive line.
Next are linebackers, who have different responsibilities depending on the play, but are basically looking for the ball.
Then, there’s our boys -- the defensive backs, or secondary. These guys are usually a little smaller, faster, and primarily in charge of stopping the opponent’s passing game and keeping plays from getting too big.
Let’s take a look at the Wyoming Cowboy’s secondary:
Cornerbacks (CB): These guys usually try to track and stay with, or cover, the other team’s wide receivers to break up a pass or (hopefully) intercept it. Tyler Hall (No. 9) is one of UW’s best CBs.
Here's some visual proof:
Nickle Backs (NB): Not the savagely bad alternative band, but a sort of unicorn hybrid you won’t see too often. Wyoming’s Keyon Blankenbaker (No. 18) plays this position, but I’ll let you read Cody Tucker’s story about him here if you want to know more about the nickle back, because it kind of hurts my head.
Safeties (SS, FS): Very simply, the free safety and strong safety tend to be the last line of defense. The free safety, like Wyoming’s Braden Smith (No. 26), will tend to be the farthest back, while strong safeties like Pokes' powerhouse Alijah Halliburton (No. 3) tend to be all over the place, and are often tapped for the blitz. Blitz is one we’ll get to another time.
This barely scratches the surface of all these positions do, but it’ll get you started.
And the rest of the lingo
The next part of the phrase we’re looking at is, “getting dusted.” Dusted seems self-explanatory, as it literally means to be left in someone’s dust. Usually the dust of a receiver or breakaway running back (also see “smoked,” “bamboozled,” “Bambied” or “just plain beat”).
When the members of the secondary can’t stay with the receivers, allow completed passes and other big plays, the offense marches down the field. The secondary can play too loose (also called “too much cushion”) and allow too many first downs, or play too tight and let someone past them completely. Either tends to lead to points on the board for the other team.
For instance, Wyoming's secondary has been dusted plenty this season. The Cowboys are ranked 126th out of 130 FBS teams in passing yards allowed. That's not ideal.
With the Wyoming Cowboys, this is something to worry about as the Pokes enter conference play. Teams that have had little to no business making play after play have been doing so with impunity. These defensive backs will need to improve in order to stand up to some tougher opponents down the road.
So that's the defensive secondary. Now, go forth, football layman! Enjoy understanding the water-cooler Cowboys talk just a little bit easier. I’ll be back next week.