Sports for dummies: Nickel cornerback

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Favre didn’t know what a nickel corner was for years.

The useful defensive position named after a useless coin

In this week’s edition of sports for dummies, we will be tackling (wink) the nickel cornerback in football. The nickel cornerback is simple enough but is becoming more and more important in today’s pass-happy NFL.

Defensive coordinators mix things up every single game, sometimes every play. However, for the sake of simplicity, I am going to break down a basic defensive alignment.

Every defense has 11 players. There are four defensive linemen, three linebackers, two safeties and two cornerbacks. The cornerbacks are the dudes that lineup against the opposing team’s receivers on the outside close to the sidelines.

If the offense lined up with just two receivers than two cornerbacks will do. Even if the offense sends a tight end and/or a running back on a route, the defense will have a linebacker or safety assigned to them.

However, offenses will constantly send out three receivers instead of two. For teams like the Rams, Falcons and Chiefs who have a plethora of offensive weapons at their disposal, they can send out three receivers on regular defense.

This is when the defense sends out the dude called a ‘nickel cornerback.’ They do this by taking out one of their linebackers or defensive lineman and having the nickel corner guard the extra receiver. The nickel corner is named as such because it gives the defense five defensive backs opposed to just four.

Nickel cornerbacks are becoming a vital part of a defense. They are routinely being taken in the first round of NFL drafts, and continue to get bigger and bigger contracts each offseason.

If you were unaware of what a nickel cornerback was, do not feel bad. Another guy that did not know what a nickel cornerback was is Brett Favre. Yes, that Brett Favre who retired with almost every major passing record in NFL history.

The story goes that when Favre was a few years into his career with the Packers, he kept hearing about ‘nickel defenses.’ He kept hearing about these defenses, but as the starting quarterback multiple years into his starting job in Green Bay, he was too embarrassed to ask what it was.

One day, he finally got up the courage to ask backup QB, Ty Detmer. Favre asked, “Ty, what’s a nickel defense?” Detmer got quiet for a second a responded, “Are you serious?”

Favre confirmed that he was indeed serious. Detmer explained that the defense basically just adds an extra defensive back. ‘That’s it?’ Favre asked. ‘That’s it,’ Detmer assured him.

In classic Favre fashion, he responded, ‘Who gives a shit?’

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