It’s good for me. It’s a challenge, but a good challenge, and it’s all about helping the defense. —Zayne Anderson, on switching to outside linebacker
PROVO — Zayne Anderson, like a lot of seniors-to-be, approached preparations for his final season with more vigor and focus than in years past, ready to go out strong as an assumed starter and defensive leader at safety. But a conversation with defensive coaches about two weeks before spring camp began changed those plans a bit.
Anderson is coming off a 2017 season in which he started 12 games at safety while compiling 61 total tackles and picking off two passes. His play had him positioned to reprise a starting role within the defense, while taking on more leadership responsibilities, the latter of which helped precipitate a switch to outside linebacker.
"He's a natural linebacker," said BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb, who himself made a switch from coaching safeties to coaching linebackers for the 2018 season. "At the safety position he keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and to the runner really well. So it's made for a relatively easy transition for him, and I think it's gone well so far."
The specific linebacker position Anderson is learning this spring is the flash position, which was manned by defensive standout Fred Warner the past two seasons. Replacing a player of Warner's caliber isn't an easy task, although Anderson does have similar abilities.
First and foremost is Anderson's speed, a necessary component manning the position effectively. It requires a lot of versatility and the ability to cover, attributes the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Stansbury Park product focused on throughout his first three seasons at BYU.
“I’ve been training the whole offseason to play safety, but they approached me and I agreed to give it a try,” Anderson said of making the switch. “At first it was tough, with this being my senior year and all, but I quickly learned the difference isn’t that big, and I’m working well with it, so far. And I trust the coaches.”
Of course, the linebacker position isn't dubbed a "safety position," and for good reason, given some of the different aspects involved in playing one of the two outside linebacker spots in a 4-3 defensive alignment.
“You have to be tougher. That’s the main thing,” Anderson said. “You’re in the box, so you’re even taking on linemen, and that takes some adjusting to. It’s also quicker, so you have to make decisions faster.”
In order to be tougher, Anderson has focused on gaining strength, while not wanting to stray from his natural abilities too much.
“I don’t want to get too big because speed is so important for me,” said Anderson, who ultimately wants to play at between 212-215 pounds. “Often the mentality with football is to get bigger and stronger, but speed is so important, so I’m focused on getting stronger, but not so it affects my speed.”
So far he's added about 5 pounds of strength since the switch, and hopes to add a bit more leading up the 2018 season.
When the season rolls around, Anderson could remain at outside linebacker or be switched back to safety. It's all an effort to field the best defense possible. How Anderson fares at linebacker, congruent to how others perform at safety this spring, will dictate what coaches do come fall.
"It's really a daily exercise for us to look at and evaluate all our personnel, and then decide how to get our best two-deep on the field," Lamb said. "In this sport, with injuries, the second-team now, and with the reps that are played, the second-string (players) are just as important as your starters."
Anderson anticipates playing at outside linebacker for the rest of spring camp, which concludes in early April, and then move forward with the goal of playing the spot where he's most needed.
“It’s good for me. It’s a challenge, but a good challenge, and it’s all about helping the defense,” Anderson said.