Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was asked at Monday’s SEC Media Days about the toughest position to play in the SEC today. Enjoy his answer:
Q. Kind of a broad question. What do you think the most difficult position is in the SEC on the field?
COACH MASON: Nowadays, I believe it’s linebacker, just because what’s happening. The run-pass conflict. What happens, I believe those guys are constantly under stress and duress, because of what you’re seeing. The slight of hand with quarterbacks, the deception of formation adjustments and how things change, bumping gaps, being able to communicate what happens with empty sets.
There’s a lot of stimuli, you know, going on, and those guys have to deal with a lot of ground. I’m not saying that because I’m a defensive guy. I coached 14 years on the offensive side of the ball. I think I understand what it looks like. Defense is about reacting, anticipating and reacting. And now with these RPO teams and how teams are attacking you off the line of scrimmage, guys coming back across the formation, there’s a lot of things that draw your attention. You have to focus, anticipate, react well, and that job is made increasingly tough and increasingly hard by the tempo of the game.
Q. I’m going to follow up to that. How has that changed the way you recruited the position over the years?
COACH MASON: It’s definitely changed. I believe you got what you got. You took what actually fits your system. What changed, now football is such a space game. It’s changed in nine years. It’s a true space game. It’s about match-ups. Guys have to be longer. I’m not saying length is the only category. Because I’m not going to dismiss a good football player. We’re going to take a good football player anywhere we can find it.
Length is key, in my opinion. The ability to cover down in space, the ability to close in space, to think on your feet. Football’s definitely changed. So, for me, you’ve seen our linebacking corps evolve from where it’s been. Chris Marve, who is now my linebacker coach, has done a really good job of understanding exactly who Zach Cunningham is, what we need to be. He’s taking some keys from me in terms of what we’re recruiting and a lot has to do with length, speed, ability to read, recognize and react and ability to play on the sideline.