The game of college football changed. Long gone are the days of 6’4”, 250-pound linebackers that a football analyst could call “thumpers” that roamed the middle of the defense. Gone as well would be the days 6’1”, 230-pound running backs just pounding the football between the tackles. Indeed college football changed in style, and the personnel changed as well.
That change is especially true on defense. Defenses need more speed, more quickness, and more creativity to keep up with spread offenses and the advantages they possess like the run-pass option. That’s why UCF and other college programs are recruiting true athletes to play strong safety and linebacker.
With the commitment of T.J. Bullard, the UCF football program added a young man that could play multiple positions. Further, the Knights will bring into their program a football player that can line up against completely different types of skill position players. Here’s a closer look at Bullard’s skillset.
T.J. Bullard, Linebacker, 6’1”, 210-pounds, Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep
As the following clips will display, this is a unique football player. After training his body to gain needed weight while also adding even more speed, it’s clear that Bullard is one of the most unique linebackers in the state of Florida.
Athleticism and Instincts
When watching the following plays, the film will speak for itself. Bullard’s speed, change of direction and power go beyond his size. Now, onto the film.
This is Bullard's first play on his highlight reel, and for good reason. This next play shows Bullard’s instincts, as well as his ability to quickly take an interception for a touchdown. This is a true game-changing football play.
Pass Coverage Skills
Bullard will be asked to cover a variety of skill position players. This next film clip displays his ability to out maneuver wide receivers and make an interception from a deflection. Really intelligent football.
Watch Bullard run over 20 yards to tackle the quarterback near the line of scrimmage. For a future college linebacker, his explosion and open-field speed proves to be one of the best in Florida.
Bullard's ability to close ground between himself and the ball carrier will be critical for UCF. Watch him eliminate extra yardage for the quarterback.
Playing in the Box
One thing every linebacker must do, even if only occasionally, would be play inside the tackle box. During the following film clip, Bullard squares his shoulders and performs a solid tackle on the running back. Prior to the tackle, Bullard quickly slid his feet horizontally to gain a proper tackling position.
This is a player that’s fantastic in space, possesses powerful hands to thwart blockers, understands zone principles to cover wide receivers and running backs, and will lay a lick on a ball carrier.
Expect to see Bullard line up against slot wide receivers, and then on the next play he might be coming off the edge to blitz, or covering the curl-flat zone to his side of the field. Whether he plays just one of the linebacker positions or multiple will be defined after Bullard reaches the UCF campus. Make no mistake, however, he could play multiple roles.
If one would use a recent college linebacker to define Bullard’s style of play, a great example would be former Notre Dame linebacker and 2020 Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He was college football’s most unique linebacker last season, and he defines what college coaches desire: very good coverage ability, but still capable of playing inside the box and the run game.
Bullard definitely plays in a similar fashion to Owusus-Koramoah, and his talents will likely be used in a similar manner by UCF Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach Travis Williams.
Position Projection and Final Thoughts
To start out, look for Bullard to play the hybrid linebacker position. This is arguably the most difficult position on the football field beyond quarterback. A blend of a safety and linebacker, where a defender will line up in the slot against three wide receiver sets and attempt to redirect a receiver’s route. Then, on the next play, lining up in the same position, it’s a 260-pound tight end that’s lined up in the slot and he’s blocking the hybrid linebacker during a wide receiver screen.
This position is all-encompassing; Bullard will be challenged mentally as much as he will be physically. The other position Bullard will likely be given a chance to play would be weak side linebacker (WILL).
Bullard already showed a predisposition for contact. He will be an excellent addition to that position if that’s where the Knights need him to play. WILL is a position that plays on the edge of the tackle box. It’s the linebacker that traditionally plays in “space” and possesses the best coverage skills from a linebacker group. Regardless of whether Bullard lines up at the Hybrid linebacker position or WILL, the Knights will gain one talented football player.