The first thing Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh told his players was the three things he expects them to be able to do as hybrid linebackers/defensive ends:
1. Rush the passer.
2. Destroy tight ends.
3. Be able to move in space.
For Anthony Egbuniwe, a former defensive end who is now at outside linebacker and experimenting with the combination of the two positions in Groh’s 3-4 defense, it’s a welcome challenge.
“I love it,” said Egbuniwe (pronounced E-boon-a-way).
As Georgia Tech transitions to the 3-4 scheme, players like Egbuniwe are finding new homes and learning new responsibilities. Not only do these athletes need speed to come off the edge, but they also have to be able to drop back into coverages. It’s a growing trend in college football, and one that Groh has mastered during his 40-plus years on the sidelines. Groh says calling it a hybrid end position, though, doesn't do the athleticism needed to play it any justice.
"They're athletic players whose body type isn't quite what it's going to take to play defensive line in the NFL," Groh said. "They're 6-3ish, 250-plus players. But they do have to be players who have the physical strength to destroy blocks at the line of scrimmage, the burst off the edge to rush the passer and the athletic ability to function in space.
"These are the fun guys," he said. "These are the guys who make it work. It takes a lot of athletic ability to play the position."
Egbuniwe said he wants to show the coaches, the ACC and “the world that I am the guy for that position.”
“The advantages are that you’re able to show more of your athleticism,” Egbuniwe said. “You’re able to handle tight ends in coverage, you’re able to even cover slot receivers. As a defensive end, you don’t get to do that. You just get to rush the passer. That in itself is very fun, don’t get me wrong, but you get to show a lot more of what you can do by moving in coverage and also rushing the passer.”
There’s more responsibility with the hybrid position, but Egbuniwe also said there’s a lot more freedom.
“You’re able to just go sometimes,” he said. “That’s the good thing about it.”
This is the season to turn Egbuniwe loose. The former Tulsa transfer sat out the 2007 season because of NCAA transfer rules, and then dealt with nagging injuries in 2008. Last year he moved into the starting lineup in mid-September at the end position opposite Derrick Morgan. The best game of his career came at Mississippi State, when he had four solo tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one pass breakup.
To help him make more game-changing plays, Egbuniwe has been watching a lot of NFL film, and has found a role model in Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison.
“He is the epitome of that position,” Egbuniwe said. “He does everything my coach asks us to do. He rushes the passer great, he destroys blocks like no other and he’s great in space.”
Coach Paul Johnson said he didn’t hire the 3-4 system, he hired Groh.
“It didn’t have to be a 3-4, it just happened to be his system,” Johnson said. “Any time you can get a coach like that, with that much experience and success, it’s great for our program."