The VIPER — a free-roaming defensive position — was popularized by Jabrill Peppers throughout the 2016 season, but his departure to the NFL created an opportunity for this year’s new defensive squad.
Sophomores Josh Metellus and Khaleke Hudson have been trading reps at the VIPER in practice, and Hudson seems to be the ideal match.
“It fits him perfect,” Metellus said of his teammate. “Khaleke is a downhill player. He likes playing in the blocks, and he likes playing physical.”
The position will allow Hudson to protect against the pass but also pressure opposing quarterbacks with his speed. And while he has mainly received praise for his athleticism, he is expected to be a strong, violent hitter for this year’s new-look Michigan defense.
“What I like about (VIPER) the most is that I’m able to play deep safety, I’m able to play in the box and I’m able to blitz off the edge,” Hudson said. “I really like everything about it.”
Defensive coordinator Don Brown and linebackers/special teams coach Chris Partridge have been responsible for Hudson’s transition to VIPER, and throughout the offseason, the sophomore has gotten to know the position well.
And while Hudson wasn’t the Michigan coaching staff’s initial pick to replace Peppers, he has since taken a stronghold on the position.
Michigan’s first plan was to utilize Metellus, as evidenced in the 2016 Orange Bowl. Against Florida State — a game in which Peppers did not play — the VIPER spot was given to Metellus, at the time a true freshman earning his first career start.
Despite a 33-32 loss to the Seminoles, getting the start at VIPER boosted Metellus’ confidence. Despite a lack of familiarity with the VIPER position at the time, he posted six tackles against Florida State and returned a blocked PAT for a defensive two-point conversion.
“It gave me confidence that I could play on the college (level), that I could play fast,” Metellus said.
As of late, though, Metellus has transitioned to spending more time practicing as a safety, since Hudson seems to be a lock at the VIPER position.
Regardless of where he lines up, Metellus will still be a crucial part to Michigan’s defense, which only returns one starter in senior linebacker Mike McCray.
“Last year I had my first start, but this (season) just feels different,” Metellus said. “I know I’ve got a bigger role to play. …
“I’m going back and forth (between safety and VIPER) because you never know what could happen. Coach wants me to get reps at both. I could fill in any way I need to.”
The VIPER position was pretty much made for Jabrill Peppers, and it seems to fit Hudson just as well. But if the coaching staff calls on Metellus instead, he said that he would be ready to jump right in.