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Northwestern’s Jimmy Hall might have tools to man ‘Cat’ position

Updated: August 12, 2013 10:36PM

KENOSHA, Wis. — Traditionally, teams use a cornerback to play nickel back. But after the Northwestern staff coached safety Brad Phillips, whose last season came in 2009, it realized that different personnel could be used at nickel back and that it could develop situational sub-packages.

Jerry Brown, who has been the Wildcats’ defensive backs coach for 21 seasons, said that the ­multiskilled Phillips showed the staff some of the benefits of using a ­safety in the position.

This season, junior safety Jimmy Hall could fill that role.

“[Hall is] physical enough, he’s fast enough, he’s smart enough,” Brown said. “Yeah, he’s a candidate. Now if we want to probably get into a little bit more specifics, if we have to defend a real nifty slot receiver, we’ll probably put a cornerback-type guy in that spot. He has to be smart.”

In fact, the Wildcats use the position in so many ways that Hall said they refer to their nickel as the “Cat,” meaning the position can be called up to play in the box like a linebacker in pass-rushing situations or in coverage like a cornerback.

With so many teams playing with three- and four-receiver sets, making the position multifaceted allows Northwestern to develop more situational packages. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said that means the team will work players into the role on a week-to-week basis as opponents dictate how the “Cat” is used.

Considering the many roles that position can be asked to fill on a given play, Brown said being a studious player is as important as any skill.

That’s how Hall was able to get playing time last season.

“They can put me in, I can play in the box and come up and hit and I can also cover some of the smaller, quicker DBs,” Hall said. “It’s definitely a learning curve because you’ve got to learn some of the linebacker things, you’ve got to learn blitzing, you’ve got to learn coverages.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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