Tyler Sash is Ready for a Bigger Role on Defense
Giants’ second-year safety Tyler Sash broke from the defensive huddle and jogged to his position. He leaned forward, full attention on the quarterback, anticipating the snap of the ball, and making whatever final adjustments were necessary to make sure his area of responsibility was ready.
The ball was snapped and Sash pounced, well, like the ’Hawk’ he was in college. He quickly got into position and knocked the pass from the receiver, earning praise from defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and safeties coach David Merritt that was no doubt heard two counties away.
For Sash, it was just another day and another chance to make a play – that is, after all, his goal as he begins his campaign to win the third safety spot previously held by Deon Grant.
It has only been four months since Sash last played in an NFL game – he last contributed on special teams in Super Bowl XLVI. Since returning to the field for OTAs, he has shown improvements in nearly all aspects of his game, especially in his understanding of the finer points of the defense.
“I’m at an advantage now going through OTAs where I actually understand why we’re in certain coverages and certain sets,” he said. “You understand why the linebackers are here, and why the cornerback is doing this, because we have the time now where the coaches can sit down and explain things. Last year, we were kind of in a hurry-up mode in just trying to get everything in.”
By having that better understanding, Sash said he has been able to play faster this spring, something that Merritt has taken note of as well.
“You look at all these rookies going into their second year that didn’t have a chance to do the things that we’re doing now because of the lockout,” Merritt said. “Now, they’re able to get the classroom stuff, slow it down, and understand the nuts and bolts of what’s going on to where it’s like, ‘Ok, this is what we’re doing and this is why we’re doing it’”
Merritt also said that Sash has really evolved into a student of the game this spring, an evolution that he believes will make a significant difference in the Oskaloosa, Iowa native’s performance this fall.
“One thing that Tyler has done is that he’s actually taking classroom (work) a little more seriously,” Merritt said. “He is growing up and understanding that he has to make the calls and the adjustments, so that right there alone from his rookie year to where he is right now has been a big improvement. Since he’s running with the first team with Phillips down, he’s out there making more coverage adjustments and rotation adjustments than he did last year.”
Another goal of Sash’s was to improve his physical conditioning. Although he came into camp in shape last year, this off-season, Sash sought to cut his body fat because he wanted to gain a step in his quickness.
In addition to modifying his diet, he put himself through more footwork and ladder drills to bring his physical quickness up to a level to complement his mental understanding of his assignments.
“I feel better moving around,” he said of his showing thus far this spring, adding that his improved understanding of the defense has also contributed this being able to play faster.
“Last year, I don’t think I understood all the run fits and gaps systems when an extra safety comes down into the box. With the OTAs, that’s something I’ve really been concentrating on because that’s something that I feel like I can really help the team with.”
While Phillips will eventually return to the starting lineup, both Merritt and Sash think that the former Iowa Hawkeye has as goo a chance as any to win the third safety spot held by Grant the last two seasons.
“Physically, I think Tyler can do everything Deon did,” said Merritt, who also offered that Sash is probably a better fit for the box at this point in his career.
In comparing Sash’s abilities as a box safety to that of Grant’s, Merritt said, “Overall strength and playing the run, they’re the same. Tyler might be a little more physical vs. the run than Deon was, to be honest with you.”
In the Giants’ system, the safeties are interchangeable, and it’s in pass coverage where Merritt thinks Sash might have a bit of a bumpy road.
“When you’re dealing with a guy who’s a 6-5 tight end and you have a guy like Deon, who was just shy of 6-3, it was easier for him to match up against those bigger guys. Tyler, who is about 6-0, is probably going to be a little more tested by quarterbacks who see him trying to cover a bigger receiver.”
Merritt said that Grant, a 12-year NFL veteran, was also more advanced in his knowledge of the techniques and in breaking in the angles.
But that doesn’t mean that Sash can’t one day get to that same level. In fact, Merritt praised Sash for how quickly he grasped some of those complex intricacies last season.
“He surprised me last year when he came in and all of a sudden he was playing in the middle of the field and he was going right and left and taking proper angles,” Merritt said of Sash, who in college had 13 interceptions for the Hawkeyes.
“I feel like I can do a little bit of everything,” Sash said. “Safeties today have to cover and support the run. In our system, we really don’t have a free or a strong. One motion can get me into coverage and another can get me down into run support. I just feel like I can help in all areas.”
While Sash appears to be further ahead in terms of providing run support, Merritt believes that as he continues to learn the different pass coverages, Sash will continue to evolve into an all-around safety.
“In college, one of the things that he did was he played more of a quarter technique. It wasn’t like he was in the box, but he was close enough around the line of scrimmage that he made a lot of plays against the run. When it came to the passing game, their scheme allowed him to play and read one guy, and off of that read, it took him to his second read, and then he could make plays,” Merritt said.
“In the NFL, we’re not necessarily that simple like, ‘OK, you’re going to play this technique and really that’s all you’re going to play against the pass.’ We play multiple techniques, so that’s been the struggle for him. To be able to go back and forth and play multiple coverages and techniques and adjustments is hard, but the kid is actually improving in that area.”
In addition to his studying and on-field reps, Sash said the pointers he received from Grant last year were priceless.
“He’s probably forgotten more football than I’ll ever know,” Sash said of Grant. “He’s taught me so many things, from reading the outside receiver in Cover-2 to getting your run pass reads, to when you’re in the box, reading the guard, tackle, and tight end. He pointed out little things here and there that help you become a better player.
“He’s seen just about every offense, every offensive set you can imagine, and one thing that he really instilled in me is if there’s a motion coming, you have to be read to make the adjustment, make the shift, and just get everyone on the same page.”
Another lesson Grant taught Sash is the value of being a leader. These days, Sash can be seen helping his new teammates to understand the defense because he still remembers how his head was swimming when he was trying to grasp all the complexities of the system.
“It’s funny because when you’re a new guy coming in, you have a lot to learn in the playbook,” Sash said. “I remember what it was like to be in that position last year. So even if they’re not asking, I’m trying to explain to the new guys exactly what’s going on just because I know exactly how they must be feeling.”