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Nazeeh Johnson 1204 (copy)

Marshall’s Nazeeh Johnson will be a key to coach Charles Huff base deployment of the nickel defense.

Nickel for your thoughts.

Does that sound like inflation?

It’s not.

Instead, it has become the name of the defensive game for Marshall University’s football team. The former premise of stopping the run at all costs, including giving up lots of passing yardage, is gone along with former head coach Doc Holliday.

In its place, new head coach Charles Huff is installing a basic defensive alignment that will utilize two linebackers and five defensive backs, aka the nickel.

“Yeah, it’s going to be nickel,” confirmed Huff. “If you look at college football now, that’s the base defense alignment for 99% of the teams because of what offenses have done. Offenses have taken the game and stretched it vertically and horizontally.

“So now you have to have a guy in that nickel spot who can play in coverage and can tackle. Well, that guy is hard to find, man.”

That is true, usually. But fortunately for Huff, veteran nickel Nazeeh Johnson decided to return for another season. That is a significant bonus in the transition to the nickel.

“We’re lucky,” said Huff. “We’ve got some guys who have done both. I think Johnson has done a really good job there. [Kerion] Martin kind of flirted with it a little last year. He’s doing more [in spring drills].

“But it’s hard to find both because he’s got to cover the slot receiver, who is usually the fastest or the slipperiest guy on the field. And he’s got to fit the ‘C gap’ in some of the run game stuff, so he’s got to have a little bit of courage.

“So yes, we’re going to play what you would consider nickel, but that guy is probably going to look different than an NFL nickel who is just out there just to cover.”

In the college game, it translates to much more blitzing by the secondary.

“We are going to pressure — a lot,” said Huff. “We’re going to win or lose the game pressuring. For me and my philosophy on offense, the thing you hate to do the most is having to redirect the ‘Mike’ [middle linebacker], slide the line, make sure you’re covered on the blitzes, make sure you’re protected. It limits what you can do. It limits how fast you play.”

The by-product is it also creates an exciting brand of football for the defense and the fans.

“It allows our guys to dictate the tempo on defense,” pointed out Huff. “Usually, most offenses dictate the tempo. You know, you blitz in certain situations. We want to take a little bit of that control back.

“When you blitz, the ball comes out a little quicker. The corners can play a little bit stouter on the edge. Now we’ve got an opportunity to not get the ball so far down the field because we’re putting a little pressure on, the ball comes out quicker and we can rally to the tackle.”

It becomes a win-win situation, defensively.

“I think it creates a little bit of an advantage for the defense, if you can do it and execute,” said Huff. “If you blitz the wrong gap, you’ve just helped the offense. If you don’t blitz when you’re supposed to blitz, you’ve just helped the offense. If you don’t rotate to the right side, you’ve just helped the offense. So again, the execution and consistency of it will allow us to do more or allow us to kind of flirt with it a little bit.”

It’s a high-risk, high-reward scenario. Make no mistake about that. But it also generates high excitement for the defense and for a fan base that is, quite frankly, starved for exciting football.

“I think the players kind of see that,” said Huff. “And that doesn’t mean that not blitzing is not successful. My philosophy is anytime you can create motion, it creates emotion.”

Nice motto.

Motion creates emotion.

It’s exactly what Marshall fans want to hear.