As Cory Undlin sees it, some players are a fit for certain roles.
Undlin, the Jaguars&39; secondary coach, said one such role is nickel defensive back, a role at which a combination of sometimes difficult-to-find skills is needed to play at a high level.
Which brings the conversation to Rod Issac.
Issac, who the Jaguars selected with the last of their five selections in the recent 2011 NFL Draft, never has played an NFL game, and never has participated in an NFL practice. As such, Undlin – in his third year as the team&39;s defensive backs coach – won&39;t make any guarantees.
Still, Undlin said there&39;s no doubt the skill set is there to be a quality nickel back.
And partly because of that, there is an excitement level around the fifth-round selection from Middle Tennessee State.
“He&39;ll be in the mix,” Undlin said when discussing Issac, who the Jaguars last month made the 147thoverall selection in the &39;11 draft.
“Obviously, time will tell if he can do that, but without question, he has shown that on tape.”
Issac (5-11, 196 pounds), an All-Sunbelt Conference selection as a senior who played at Miami (Fla.) Dade Central High School, started 37 of 46 games at cornerback for Middle Tennessee State. He finished his collegiate career with five interceptions and 18 pass breakups, but it has been his physicality that has been most-often discussed since draft day.
Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith talked of his physical nature shortly after the draft, calling him one of the most physical corners available. Undlin called Issac “the most physical corner” he saw on tape during the pre-draft period.
“I don&39;t care if he played at Middle Tennessee State or LSU,” Undlin said. “If you&39;re hitting, you&39;re hitting.”
Undlin said Issac showed better physicality and better skills to play nickel than just about any other corner he scouted this off-season. Some young corners, he said, can play the nickel if asked, but not all corners – even quality corners – necessarily flourish in the role.
“You can tell with some guys – maybe it&39;s not their spot, or they had to put the guy in there,” Undlin said. “The game is different in there. The alignments are different. The techniques are different. It comes back to knowledge of the game. To be able to play that spot, no matter what your body type is, it&39;s a completely different spot.
“If you can find a guy who can function in there, he might not ever play a snap as a corner, but he plays eight years in the nickel and he&39;s the best nickel out there. It doesn&39;t matter what level you&39;re playing at, if you&39;re a great cover corner, they may not throw the ball over there, but if they feel like they can run the ball over there and gain an advantage, they will.
“You&39;ve got to be able to play.”
Undlin said Issac&39;s knowledge of the game was evident during his pre-draft visit to Jacksonville when coaches asked Issac to discuss football and strategy and diagram plays and defenses.
“When you listen to a guy talk football or get on the board, you can tell immediately if a guy understands the game,” Undlin said. “You can tell if he knows what&39;s going on, when he knows what formations are, when he knows personnel, when he knows how the safety fits off him in the nickel. He (Issac) can talk through all of that stuff. He was very, very solid.
“You can talk to a guy for a short period of time and know pretty quickly. You can tell if a guy&39;s IQ is where you want it to be to function in the defense. Without question he&39;s got that.”
Undlin said having had a chance to meet and talk football with Issac – as well with fourth-round safety Chris Pronsinski – before the draft heightens the feeling that the two players have a chance to contribute quickly.
“When you have a chance sit down, hear guys talk, look them in the eyes and have them say everything you want the guy to say, that&39;s nice,” he said.
Undlin said although Issac played outside corner in college, having played the nickel in college not only gives him experience at the position, it showed he can handle the role.
That, Undlin said, is critical with the Jaguars playing the Colts and Texans twice a season in the AFC South.
“We&39;re out there in nickel as much as we are in base, so he (the nickel corner) ends up being like another linebacker on first and second down,” Undlin said. “He has to be able to shed blocks and get off and tackle. That player has to tackle.”
Undlin said while there are many examples of great corners in the NFL who aren&39;t top-level tacklers, Issac appears very much to not be such a player.
“He has good ball skills, good reads – he does stuff like that,” Undlin said. “But at the same time, to be a physical player like that, that was the first thing that jumped out on the tape. Not that everything else didn&39;t, but watching him, you were like, &39;Dang.&39;
“Every time the ball was over toward the guy, his face was in it.”