Kerry Coombs Shares Philosophical Defensive Differences Between NFL, College Football

Kyle Kelly

Kerry Coombs returns to Ohio State not only refreshed and re-energized, but with more ideas and experience than ever before.

Just eight months ago, Coombs was finishing up his second season on former Buckeye Mike Vrabel’s coaching staff with the Titans. He earned the opportunity to coach the defensive backs in the NFL largely because of the success he had developing so many Ohio State DB’s between 2012 and 2017.

While there are some similarities between the college and professional game, the NFL is more heavily predicated on throwing the football, so the defensive backs play an even more important role.

“I think it is a nickel-based league because it’s a throwing league; 70% of the plays are passes, there is very little quarterback run,” Coombs said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “You’re going to have to be in a nickel concept to be able to handle the speed in the slot with kids like Tyreek Hill and those guys they have in the NFL.”

Although there are certainly less quarterbacks running in the NFL, Coombs was quick to point out that the game is changing. Last season, the Titans played two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL — Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. They beat both of them. Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Russell Wilson – there are several starting quarterbacks in the league that can extend the pocket nicely and keep plays alive with their feet, if they aren’t scrambling by design.

In late-January, Coombs was brought back to Columbus after Jeff Hafley left for Boston College. Could we see Coombs implementing more of the nickel concept in Columbus this year?

“I think that it has its place, obviously in college football. Not just on third down, just more based on the opponents and what they’re trying to do with the ball,” he said. “You always have the quarterback factor in college football that you don’t experience in the same way [in the NFL]. I think there is a little bit more of a hesitance for some people to play some nickel stuff on first and second down here.”

As football has become faster and more athletic over the years, teams are interchanging their defensive sets just as frequently as the offense does. That’s a dimension Coombs will bring to the table this season.

“I think the big thing is having the ability to play in multiple personnel groupings on defense ... Having packages with different personnel groupings has been an offensive thing for a long time. I think it is bleeding over to the defensive side of things. I think you are going to see that grow and develop,” he said.

Of course, you have to have the talent to pull it off. With CoVID playing a factor this year, it will be more challenging than ever to diversify personnel groupings and teams will constantly have their depth tested.

““For us right now it is going to be ability based. It is going to be based on the talent of the roster. And frankly, the health of the roster,” Coombs said. “You’re going to have to be flexible this year. You are going to have to have the ability to adapt to a lot of situations based on who’s healthy and able and ready to go. Those are things that may evolve this year more than any other.”

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Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Baker Mayfield extending the play with his feet. What a joke. He is not a threat whatsoever to teams on the ground smh.