Hybrid role suits Rutgers veterans
As senior safety Wayne Warren prepared for a role yesterday that he had never played in a game, it did not hurt to have its previous occupant standing only a few yards away.
Pat Kivlehan, a former Rutgers football team safety and now a member of the Seattle Mariners’ farm system, stood in street clothes, giving advance on how to defend Army’s triple-option offense.
“He played it pretty well last year,” Warren said. “It’s always great to have another eye of somebody that’s been there and played it to give you a few pointers.”
Warren said he has been filling in Kivlehan’s former role as a hybrid safety, playing closer to the line of scrimmage like a linebacker. Kivlehan played it twice last season, when the Scarlet Knights faced both Army and Navy.
It is part of a fluid defensive system head coach Kyle Flood said dates back at least five years.
“What you find is when you watch people defend these teams, they really get one of about three different versions of defense to defend the option,” Flood said. “We have our version.”
The Knights’ copy last year — Flood said the plan is prone to changes — involved three-safety looks, placing a premium on speed. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith, in his first play-calling duty against the option, likely will not deviate much from predecessor Greg Schiano’s outlook.
The fluidity benefits the players, Warren said, who worry less about changeover.
“Every year when you play them again, you’re not starting from scratch,” he said. “You’re pulling in the back of your brain that memory that you have of playing that position before.”
Khaseem Greene earned his first career start in 2009 against Army.
The senior linebacker was a reserve safety then, much like the increased role Warren could employ this time. He recovered a fumble against Army in 2009, recorded a then-career-high 10 tackles in 2010 and added a team-high 13 more last season, his first at linebacker.
But he said his priority within the scheme is to take on blocks and avoid Army’s cut blocks, which is part of the Black Knights’ use of deception.
“It definitely plays a role,” Greene said. “But just as easily as we can get deceived by those guys, they can get deceived by our looks. It goes one and one with each other.”
Flood said the Knights make adjustments each year against Army, which became a prioritized nonconference opponent under Schiano. But using veteran secondary players in the box likely will not change.
“Kivlehan … had seen Army already. He had the experience and knew how the field was going to be,” Greene said. “You throw a true freshman out there … [or] a guy who didn’t get in the Army last year … it’s a whole other ball game.”
Flood said he is not concerned about the potential for Rutgers’ offense to lack rhythm following time-consuming Army drives.
The Knights held the ball for only 24:45 in last season’s matchup, when they ran only 53 plays.
“You have to take advantage of the snaps you get against this team because they run the ball so much, they’re going to shorten the game,” Flood said. “If they get long drives, that shortens the game and limits your possessions.”
But Flood said the offense’s approach will not change because of Army’s run-game philosophy.
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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