Impact Report - Connor O'Brien

Connor O'Brien (SMHS)

Washington has had success bringing safeties down before; in 2004 they moved Evan Benjamin from his strong safety position and he reacted by leading the Huskies in tackles his junior and senior seasons. In 2010 Victor Aiyewa was brought down into the box and he ended up leading the Pac-10 in tackles for loss that year.

So it was hardly surprising to see Nate Fellner make a permanent switch from safety to the SAM linebacker position during the third week of Spring Football. New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox laid out the rationale. "Really there's no difference when you're a strong safety rolled down into the box to what we ask our SAM position to do - so there's a lot of carryover," Wilcox told the media just a couple of weeks ago.

Besides, Fellner had bulked up in the offseason, jumping from 201 pounds during the playing season to 220 in spring. So not only did a move to linebacker seem to be the right move for the senior, it was almost mandatory given his newfound size.

Fellner's move also signaled a change in the way the Huskies would recruit the position from now on. Now it was incumbent they look at rangier athletes, with an emphasis on speed and the ability to gain pounds in college. They'd bring them in as 6-2, 6-3 safeties weighing anywhere from 200 to 210 pounds, and they'd end up leaving UW at 6-3 or 6-4 and 230-240 pounds, yet every bit as fast as they were the moment they stepped on campus - or even faster.

That's the hope with their newest commitment, Connor O'Brien of Santa Margarita, Calif. O'Brien became Washington's sixth public commitment for the class of 2013, following teammate Dane Crane. Crane, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound center prospect, verbally committed to UW during a trip north to see the Huskies' Spring Game. O'Brien was with him, as well as Santa Margarita teammates Johnny Stanton and Riley Sorenson. Could the Huskies go for a clean sweep of all the Eagles prospects? We'll see.

For the time being, we'll focus on O'Brien. The last Eagle at UW was receiver Bobby Whithorne, who signed with the Huskies 10 years ago. O'Brien will come to Montlake an accomplished receiver in his own right, but he won't be playing offense. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, his body type is perfect for what the Washington coaches want to do at the SAM position.

What also makes O'Brien a natural for the position is the fact that he's a natural football player. He has a nose for the ball, as evidenced by the fact that he was second in the state in interceptions as a junior. His knack for being at the right place at the right time takes on even more significance the closer he gets to the line of scrimmage.

Watching O'Brien play, he's not overly flashy. He won't wow you with his speed or amazingly athletic plays. What he does do is play with an incredible amount of anticipation and feel for making the right move at the right time. The way he anticipates throws from his perch in the secondary, it just looks like he's playing the game at a different speed.

And that's not to say he's not a good athlete; quite the contrary. But it's not his athleticism or speed that's making up for a missed read or a slip; it's his football IQ coupled with a keen awareness that keeps him a step ahead.

When you watch Washington games this fall, pay close attention to what Nate Fellner does in the box and along the line of scrimmage from his SAM position, because in a couple of years it'll be O'Brien doing the same things as a bigger, faster, stronger version of Fellner. The move to linebacker won't faze O'Brien at all because he's not only an intelligent player, but he's also going to get bigger. It happened this past season with Scott Lawyer, who went from 200 pounds a year ago to the 220 he is now. So size won't be a problem.

By moving players like Fellner and O'Brien down closer to the line of scrimmage, Wilcox is able to get the most amount of speed he can on the field without sacrificing a ton of size. And hopefully the more they can fine-tune their recruiting efforts, they eventually won't have to sacrifice any size at all.


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