As an NFL prospect, few players were as well-respected for their tape knowledge and cerebral understanding of the game as former UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt. Always an excellent interview for his genuine responses and insight into the Xs and Os aspect of the game, I asked Zumwalt about the Pittsburgh Steelers Cover 2 defense and the nuances of playing inside linebacker within the scheme. Zumwalt was admittedly a film guru in college, and I’ve listened to him break down the details of playing linebacker before, including certain tells he observes in offensive linemen that could key him to run or pass pre-snap.
One of the first questions I asked Zumwalt was how difficult is was as a inside linebacker to go through your run/pass keys, yet still get as much depth as he needs to in his zone drop for a Tampa 2 defense. Because of the depth he has to get right away in coverage, I was curious if he felt that made reacting to the run more difficult.
“It depends, you keep into consideration down and distance and things that they (the opponent) may do in certain situations, so you have things going through your mind so you’re prepared for a situation such as that (a potential draw or handoff).” Zumwalt said. “It also depends on the coverage, sometimes if my eyes are supposed to be on the quarterback, it helps a lot with draws and screens because we are already looking back anyway (at the ball).”
I asked Zumwalt about run/pass keys for linebackers in Cover 2, the first signs they look for to identify whether a run or a pass is coming.
“High hat, immediately, run/pass keys you want to read the linemen. You know a lot of linemen when they’re getting off the ball for a run play, they’re gonna fire off and try and hit defensive linemen and move the line of scrimmage. So when you see they aren’t firing off as hard…it is something you just get accustomed to, you kinda learn how to read it and get a feel for it.”
Zumwalt has been taking mostly third team reps with Terence Garvin at inside linebacker throughout camp and during preseason action. I asked him about the main aspect of his game that coaches have him working on right now, and his answer was specific and honest.
“I would say my alignment, getting my alignment right and making sure I’m in the right spot (pre-snap).”
I asked him about how he felt the team ran Cover 2 in their second game, including the breakdown on the second quarter touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Clay Harbor on Friday night.
“It happens, ya know it happens, that’s why we watch the tape, that’s why we’re learning, and hopefully it won’t happen again.”