Safety first for Pack's Anyanwu

RENO - The first thing you notice about Nevada safety Uche Anyanwu is his body.

At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he has the physique that NFL scouts will be drooling over next season. He has the prototypical body for a safety, a position that used to be filled by guys that weren't even 6 feet and 200 pounds in the old days.

"Uche is really long," Nevada defensive coordinator Ken Wilson said. "Even if he isn't in the best position, he can still reach out and get a piece of the runner.

"He's a good run-support guy; a good blitz guy. He can move up and be a linebacker. Justin (Jackson) isn't as big, but they are very similar. They both have good range. He gives you an added element with his size."

So did David Fulcher, the former Arizona State star in the late 80s, who at 6-3, 230 was built more like a linebacker. He was the first of the "big" safeties in the college and NFL ranks.

Fulcher's size made him ideal in run support. Bringing him into the box was like having another linebacker in there, and that's the way the Pack has used Anyanwu this season in certain packages.

And, like all safeties, Anyanwu loves to hit. He'd rather bring the lumber like Ronnie Lott rather than intercept a pass, get a sack on a blitz or recover a fumble.

"I've always gotten more satisfaction running downhill and giving that running back a little something," Anyanwu said before Tuesday's practice in preparation for Saturday's game at San Jose State. "The running back is going so hard that as soon as you lay that big hit on them, they aren't running so hard. They don't envision the DB doing that stuff."

There's no doubt wide receivers better be aware when they are coming over the middle into Anyanwu's territory.

Anyanwu is the fifth-leading tackler for a Nevada defense that has quite frankly underachieved. He has 47 tackles, including three stops behind the line. The stats might be even better, save for injuries that have hampered him. He missed part of the Nebraska game, part of the Nicholls State game and the entire Fresno State game with a bruised quad.

"I think I've done well," Anyanwu said. "It (the injuries) is more of a mind thing. You have to tell yourself that you can do it.

"I've been hurting all year with the bruised quad. I came back for the Boise State game and had 11 tackles, two for loss. I knew I couldn't play at full speed. You do the best you can."

As Anyanwu pointed out, every player has room to grow, and he's no exception.

"I have high expectations," he said. "There is definitely room to get better. I definitely see room to grow. I'm looking forward to the rest of this year and my senior year."

In Nevada's defense, the free and strong safety are interchangeable, which means you have to have guys that can play the run and the pass. Nevada had three to start the season in Anyanwu, Jackson and Jon Amaya, who also had enough speed to play cornerback.

"When I play free we're more in a zone, and when I'm at strong we play more man-to-man," Anyanwu said.

It's a good thing Nevada coaches never followed through on their idea of moving him to outside linebacker after his first year at Nevada. It wasn't really what Anyanwu wanted, either.

"After the first week, coach (Chris) Ault felt I could still play the position (safety), plus there were depth issues," Anyanwu said. "I wanted to prove to myself I could do it."

Wilson said that another reason why Anyanwu didn't move to outside linebacker was because his weight leveled off.

It seemed like it was a win-win situation for the Wolf Pack.


Position: Safety

Year: Junior

Height/weight: 6-4, 220

High school: Crespi HS in Encino, Calif.


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