Moving to the trenches: The Pat Hinkel effect
The Rieger Report
The single-most important decision the Miami University football team made this offseason was not a coaching change, a new game plan or a change at the running back position.
Rather, it was first-year Defensive Coordinator Jay Peterson's decision to move senior Pat Hinkel from strong safety to linebacker.
This move may also soon become the best decision Peterson and Head Coach Don Treadwell make all year.
Through three games, Hinkel is second on the team with 21 tackles and has snatched all three of Miami's interceptions. Entering week four, Hinkel is tied for third in the nation in picks.
Hinkel has been a defensive leader the past two seasons for the 'Hawks, finishing in the top five in total tackles both years while picking off opposing quarterbacks a combined four times in 2010 and 2011. However, Hinkel's quick adjustment to the linebacker position has given the Red and White the defensive playmaker this team needs.
With the departure of linebackers Jerrell Wedge and Ryan Kennedy, who accounted for nearly 19 percent of the team's tackles last season, the RedHawks had a gaping hole in the heart of their defense entering 2012. Wedge and Kennedy were second and third on the team in total tackles last year, and Kennedy had 43 unassisted takedowns, third-most on the team.
Enter Pat Hinkel.
Miami now has both speed and depth at the linebacker position and can defend against the new trend in college football: the spread offense.
The Red and White defended the pass well in 2011, finishing 21st in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, but were burned at the end of the year by Western Michigan University's spread offense, one of the best in all of college football. The Broncos threw for 429 yards last November, holding on for a 24-21 win at Yager Stadium.
Listed at 205 pounds, Hinkel is 14 pounds lighter than the average Miami linebacker, but his unique combination of linebacker strength and safety speed has made him a dynamic player for the 'Hawks this season. This speed and strength gives him the ability to cover tight ends and wide receivers, a huge advantage for a linebacker.
Miami already has one touchdown off defensive turnovers through three games, as many as the team had all of last year. Being able to capitalize off of turnovers will be key for the 'Hawks in 2012, as the team was 84th in turnover margin in 2011 and is 85th this year.
However, Hinkel has the ability to change all of that.
The senior has already made his presence felt through the first three weeks, making big plays in key moments for the Red and White. Hinkel is now Miami's Mr. Reliable on defense.
In addition to becoming the team's main defensive playmaker, Hinkel has also created opportunities for his teammates.
Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Wade, who had 11 total tackles in 2011, now leads the RedHawks with 27 takedowns through three games, while freshman linebacker Kent Kern and redshirt senior linebacker and co-captain Jaytee Swanson have 10 tackles each.
Hinkel's versatility has been Miami's greatest defensive asset in 2012 and even earned the senior a spot on Sportcenter's Top 10 plays two weeks ago.
The question is, who will lead the Red and White defense as it prepares to open conference play?
If I were a betting man, my money would be on Hinkel.
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