Every once in a while, a team makes an evolutionary jump that leads to vast improvement.
The Oregon State football team hopes that is the case this season as the Beavers have implemented a dime package on defense.
In the dime, the defense uses six defensive backs with two outside linebackers and three defensive linemen.
“The dime is a way to get more players with a lot of athletic ability on the field,” coach Mike Riley said. “It’s always something we’ve wanted to do, but the last couple years we were limited with personnel.”
It’s the first significant change on defense since the addition of the nickel package, which uses five defensive backs, in 2006.
That midseason adaptation helped turn around a season that saw the Beavers reach the Sun Bowl.
Riley hopes that the early addition of the dime helps, much like the nickel did in 2006. It certainly helped against Wisconsin in the opener, a 10-7 victory, when the Badgers were confused by what they saw.
“They definitely didn’t know how to handle it,” said cornerback Jordan Poyer, who is the rover in the formation. “It is fun to play because it’s a whole new position for me.”
The Beavers decided to use the dime in response to the addition of new Pac-12 Conference coaches Mike Leach (Washington State) and Rich Rodriguez (Arizona), defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. Both like to use a wide-open passing approach on offense.
“It’s from anywhere between personnel we had, or didn’t have, and then the direction we wanted to go,” Banker said of the dime package. “We saw that as something that can add to what we do on defense.”
Both those new coaches run a spread passing offense with multiple wide receivers. OSU’s base 4-3 defense couldn’t handle that with linebackers forced to cover receivers.
OSU had gone away from using the nickel the last two years because it didn’t have the right people. The Beavers want to have enough backups who can run a scheme so that it doesn’t fall apart if an injury occurs.
“It’s one thing to have one person to run something, but you need two,” Banker said. “If someone gets hurt, you can’t use it and you spent all this extra time practicing.”
The Beavers thought about the changes during recruiting the last few years, choosing to load up with defensive backs.
They signed 10 in the last three years. A few offensive players, such as Tyrequek Zimmerman, Peter Ashton, Malcolm Marable and Jovan Stevenson, have moved to the secondary as well.
Poyer’s athletic ability is a key factor to the change. He’s a corner by trade, but is replaced by Sean Martin in the nickel.
That allows Poyer to cover an inside receiver instead of the linebacker. Then Steven Christian or Anthony Watkins is added in the dime, and they can take the inside receiver so Poyer can blitz or go for the ball.
“You can have fun with it because it’s just being athletic and making plays in the middle,” Poyer said. “We have a lot of athletes on the field when we do this. We have a lot of guys who can run. It’s just an advantage to us to have that much speed. And if we can hold our coverage, our defensive line is so good they are going to get there.”
Players took to the new formation easily because Banker keeps the terminology and concepts the same as the base plan.
The new scheme was simple to install because it had been in Banker’s playbook from the past, and he just had to dust it off. The addition of Rod Perry as the secondary coach has also helped since he’s a veteran NFL coach who has used the dime in the past.
“It hadn’t come to fruition in trusting it live until the last week in camp,” Banker said. “We had a two-minute situation and you could tell guys were getting the handle of it.”
Banker likes the dime for passing situations, but can see the formation working against the spread running approach of Oregon and UCLA, who the Beavers face Saturday.
Either way, the Beavers now have multiple formations for different situations. They used 24 defensive players against Wisconsin and they have their own niche responsibilities.
“What that does is it makes everybody take ownership,” Banker said. “That’s they way we were in 2007 and 2008 (winning seasons).”