There can’t be many strong safeties in college football smaller than Texas Tech’s Jared Flannel at 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds. With Flannel being a fifth-year senior, it’s not as if he’s going to fill out before his college days are done either.
Last weekend, though, Flannel threw his weight around as best he could, making a career-high nine tackles, a sack and another tackle for loss against Iowa State.
“He did a very good job showing people that size doesn’t mean anything,” Tech middle linebacker Cqulin Hubert said. “I tell my boys all the time, size doesn’t mean anything. It’s about the heart. You’ve got to have the heart of a lion and the eye of a tiger.”
Flannel looked like the best defensive player in a bad game for the Red Raiders, who lost 41-7 at home the week after they ended Oklahoma’s 39-game home winning streak. Tech’s starting strong safety, sophomore Terrance Bullitt, got knocked out of the game with a dislocated shoulder on the second defensive series. That led to Flannel, a career special-teams player, getting a rare shot at extended time on defense.
He didn’t waste it.
“He did well,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “He played about three-quarter speed. He’s been banged up for the last few weeks, and he was the only person at that position. We were just kind of hanging on and kind of figuring out who we were going to put at that position.”
Flannel could be the man for a while with Bullitt expected to miss the game Saturday at Texas and possibly the one after that against No. 3 Oklahoma State.
Though Iowa State ran all over Tech, Flannel played like more than a stopgap option. Four of his nine tackles were on plays that netted 2 yards or fewer. He sacked ISU quarterback Jared Barnett for a 14-yard loss and knocked heads three times with the Cyclones’ 235-pound running back Jeff Woody, limiting him to gains of 1, minus-1 and 2 yards, respectively. He stopped Woody short on a third-and-2, and made one of th other stops on a second-and-4.
“You’ve got to be ready at all times and take advantage of every opportunity you’ve got,” Flannel said. “Right now, I probably have the opportunity so I’m staying focused like I have been, and now that I’ve got it, going out there and giving everything I have, sacrificing for the team.”
Flannel, from Class 3A Columbia High School, converted early in his Tech career from running back to the secondary. But most of his playing time has come on special teams as he’s a regular on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return and onside kick units.
He was put to the rare test conditioning-wise Saturday when the Tech defense was on the field for 93 snaps.
“It was a little different than just playing special teams a full game, having to come in and do both,” he said. “At one point during one long drive, I got a little winded. I guess I caught a second wind and felt all right. Yeah, it’s a little different, but we practice like that during the week to be in position, so when it does come game time you’re pretty familiar with everything.”
Flannel should have some eagerness and energy built up, considering he missed the entire 2010 season and a lot of spring practice recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Ever since he came back, he’s been one of the backups to Bullitt at strong safety.
In Tech’s 4-2-5 scheme, the strong safety — by positioning and responsibility — often looks more like a linebacker than a defensive back. He’s usually near the line of scrimmage to defend the run and cover shallow zones.
Flannel said he’s never given much thought to why new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow prefers him — an under-6-foot, sub-180-pounder — closer to the box than at one of the deep safety spots.
“It’s not really a huge deal to me,” he said, “as long as I get the chance to go out there and compete.”
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