Blue White Illustrated

May 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 28 of 67

M A Y 2 0 2 3 2 9 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz drew praise last season with his uniquely titled approach to third down. When the opponent was in an ob- vious passing situation, Diaz would call for his "prowler" package, which loads the field with defensive backs to ensure the best possible coverage scenario. It frequently produced either an incompletion, turnover or sack. Safety Ji'Ayir "Tig" Brown was an integral part of the scheme. He did every- thing from blitzing on third down to dropping back in coverage and helping in run support. It was a role he thrived in because he understood its importance in Diaz's scheme. With the 2023 season approaching, others are fighting for the chance to replicate it. "Now that Tig has done it, the guys love it," Diaz said. "And they can see it. Everybody wants to play his posi- tion on prowler, which is good, because you want com- petition. When that third-down unit takes the field, the guys who are not on the field, you want them to wish that they were. But there's a price to admission, right? "You've got to do the things that [Brown] did a year ago. When you have a guy like that, it sets a standard that only helps the other guys understand what it is that we're talking about." Johnny Dixon wants to be the one to fill that role. A 6-foot, 193-pound senior from Tampa, Dixon en- ters his third season at Penn State fresh off winning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last fall. He has played in some sub-packages under Diaz and former defensive coordinator Brent Pry. When asked who he thought could replace all that Brown did in the prowler defense, Dixon simply replied, "Myself." "It looks fun out there," the South Carolina trans- fer said. "He's out there roaming the field. Ji'Ayir is a playmaker, you all know that. He's out there on the field roaming the field, watching the quarterback, and doing what he does. Anybody would want to do that. Anytime you can just play football and be you, you have fun out there." It's one thing to think a job is fun and another to execute it. What has Dixon done the past few months to ensure he can fill such an important role? "I've been working on it a lot during the offseason, because I knew I would be coming in playing dime and nickel," he said. "My feet are real good, and I can understand what's coming at me. That's what has helped me." It takes more than quick feet and good awareness to play the position well, and Dixon said he can han- dle the wide variety of assignments the job entails. "It's a lot of stuff you saw Tig do — the blitzing, the sacks and stuff like that," Dixon said. "Being able to read the quarterback's eyes and make plays [is important]. "First, you've got to understand what's coming at you, and then you've got to have the confidence to read the quarterback and make the play that comes." Dixon has plenty of confidence, and Diaz has op- tions to work with in the secondary. That's especially true at cornerback. The second-year defensive coordinator can rest easy knowing that whenever he wants to call in the prowler package, he will have the players to run it. Dixon wants to be the leader of that unit, and he's sharpening the skills he will need to take the next step in his career this fall. "I wanted to work on not being so handsy, just keeping myself on top and in position," he said. "That's the main thing I've been focusing on, making plays that come to me and little stuff like that. It's the little things I've been trying to work on and upgrading my game." — Greg Pickel Johnny Dixon Seeking Expanded Role Heading Into Senior Season Dixon displayed versatility for the Nittany Lions last fall, finishing the year with 4.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 10 pass breakups and 2 interceptions. PHOTO BY DANIEL ALTHOUSE

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue White Illustrated - May 2023