Dare to Compare
Not often does a two year starter on the Hawkeye defense return with two more years of eligibility, but redshirt junior Djimon Colbert brings 23 career starts to his weakside linebacker position. Colbert, 6’1” 235 pounds, came to Iowa as a defensive back prospect before switching to linebacker following his redshirt season. Can he have the same breakout junior season that another former defensive back turned weakside linebacker, Anthony Hitchens, had in 2012?
Colbert and Hitchens have nearly identical size measurements, but Hitchens did not have a career start to his name prior to his junior season. He then went on to be a two-time All-Big Ten selection before being drafted in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. I’m not ready to predict a Hitchens level career, but I do think Colbert’s statistical production will increase substantially. While Hitchens was able to adjust to the positional change during practice, it was trial-by-fire for Colbert.
While it was not the best game of Colbert’s season, we will be looking at a few plays from the 2019 game against Penn State. With access to the SkyCam video, we can get a better look at Colbert’s play compared to the traditional tv camera angle.
With more and more teams utilizing spread formations and concepts, a player like Colbert is important with his ability to play inside or outside of the box.
One area Colbert is able to shine is utilizing his quickness in the box to avoid blockers and attack upfield.
Penn State brings a tight formation and Colbert is aligned directly behind the defensive tackle and between the A and B gaps. He and middle linebacker Kristian Welch are running an inside cross blitz attacking the A gap. Penn State’s right tackle is pulling back inside toward the gap Colbert is attacking. Colbert is able to easily avoid the lineman, stack the running back who is acting as a lead blocker, and blow the play up five yards in the backfield.
Colbert is the only linebacker inside of the tackles to start the play. As the left guard pulls to the right, the right tackle is crashing inside toward Colbert. He doesn’t look like he tries to block Colbert, but regardless, Colbert is able to quickly jumps around him and fill the lane created for the running back. He’s able to finish the play by quickly wrapping the legs of the running back to limit the gain
On the next two plays, Colbert shows off not only his speed, but his play strength as well. He’s able to sprint outside, take on the blocking tight end, and hold his position to contain the outside run. His job here is not necessarily to make the tackle, but to occupy a blocker and string out the runner while unblocked pursuit can arrive.
The advantage of having a former defensive back playing linebacker is their speed and experience in coverage. Colbert wasn’t asked to fully defend in space, but his overall speed and natural coverage instincts allow Iowa to disguise a blitz and recover to the offense’s number one weapon.
Prior to the snap, Colbert and Welch are showing a Double A Gap Blitz look. At the snap, both linebackers retreat as Colbert immediately takes off to cover the slot receiver. He’s not able to get to KJ Hamler, who was one of the fastest players in the league, but he was able to get underneath the route enough to force the quarterback off the target and into a sack.
There are areas I’d like to see Colbert improve during the 2020 season. During the Penn State game, Iowa used Colbert on blitzes several times. While his job may not always be to full-on attack the quarterback, he does need to improve post contact initiation. On the next two clips, once he makes contact with the right guard, he is out of the play. If he can better absorb and recover from that contact, he will find himself disrupting the offense at a much higher level.
Colbert will likely not reach the 120+ tackles that Hitchens was able to record during his junior season. If he is able to increase from his low-60s to the mid-80s, I think you will see his intuition start to catch up to his natural abilities.