Bill Hass on the ACC: Hokies' Cody Grimm a Tireless Hybrid at Whip Linebacker Spot
Nov. 19, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – The Grimm football family has gone from a Hog to a Hybrid.
The Hog? That would be Russ Grimm, former offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins.
The Hybrid? That would be his son, Cody Grimm, who plays “whip” linebacker at Virginia Tech.
There’s no precise definition of the whip position, other than it’s one of the most important on the Hokies’ defense.
“It’s kind of like a strong safety in most other schemes, or like a rover,” Grimm said. “Like a hybrid, between a safety and a linebacker, I’d say.”
Put simply, in this era of substituting personnel groupings for certain situations, Grimm rarely comes off the field. He plays the run, he drops into pass coverage and he blitzes.
The results show up nicely in statistics. Grimm is third in the ACC in tackles, averaging 8.5 per game through 10 games. In games against ACC opponents, he’s fourth overall with 8.8 tackles per game.
Not everybody is suited to the whip position, and Hokies coach Frank Beamer looks for a particular kind of player.
“It’s a place where you need a guy who can make plays and we force a lot of stuff out to him,” Beamer said. “And he’s a guy that, in open spaces, can make plays. I think it’s very natural to him; the game really makes sense to him.”
The open spaces are what appeal to Grimm. At 5-11, 210 pounds, he’s not built to play an inside linebacker spot.
“I love it,” he said. “I think it fits me well; it has me in space a good bit. I can capitalize on my speed and quickness rather than worrying about hitting the big guys.”
Grimm moves around a lot, depending on what formation the offense shows. In zone pass defense he’ll cover the area in the flat where a lot of curl routes are run. In man-to-man he might line up against a No. 2 wide receiver or a tight end.
Or he might blitz, which he said is the most fun. He has one sack among his seven tackles for losses this season. In 2008 his 14 tackles for losses included seven-and-a-half sacks.
Opponents have to account for Grimm, but he finds ways to make plays anyway.
“He is a real football player,” said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, whose Terps absorbed a 36-9 loss to the Hokies last weekend. “He runs extremely well and he hits extremely well but he has always an idea of what the situation is.”
NC State will face Grimm and the Hokies on Saturday. When Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien was the head coach at Boston College, his staff recruited Grimm out of high school in Northern Virginia. Their assessment turned out to be correct.
“He’s a great player,” O’Brien said. “He never takes a false first step; he’s always headed the right direction. He’s got great instincts and he’s a great tackler.”
Grimm’s approach to playing his position is simple.
“I try to be as consistent as possible,” he said. “I just try doing my job and letting things come to me. I try to minimize my mistakes and when I do that, it helps our defense. When we’re all doing our jobs, that’s when we’re at our best.”
And the Hokies’ defensive effort has typically been among the ACC’s best this season. They rank first in pass defense, second in scoring defense and third in total defense.
There are several reasons Grimm shows such good football instincts. One comes from his history of playing special teams, a long-time Hokie staple.
“He’s really good at special teams,” Beamer said. “Generally that’s a good indication of what kind of football player you are because you’re doing things out in open spaces and guys that make the right decision quickly out there are usually going to be a good football player.”
Grimm plays on the kickoff coverage and punt coverage teams – he also played on punt returns when the season began but was pulled off that one. Beamer said Grimm is the “quarterback” on the punt coverage team.
“He gets us lined up right and our protection right and he’s a great cover guy,” Beamer said. “He has made a lot of tackles on that punt coverage team. And then on kickoff coverage he’s just a good player.”
Players take special teams seriously at Virginia Tech and Grimm said he still enjoys playing on them.
“I don’t really mind the contact,” he said. “I try to avoid the blockers, but if it comes down to me hitting the wedge I’ll run into it. Sometimes you’ll ring your bell or get a stinger in your shoulder, but when you play full speed that’s when you don’t get hurt. When you’re going half speed is when you get an injury.”
Sprinting downfield on kickoff coverage and then staying on the field to play defense can take a lot out of a player, but Grimm has been doing it so long he’s used to it. He said there’s usually a TV timeout when he can catch his breath.
Not that Beamer has ever seen any signs of fatigue in Grimm.
“I’ll tell you another amazing thing about Cody, I’ve never seen him tired,” Beamer said. “He never has taken himself out of a game. We’ll tell a guy, ‘hey, if you’re tired let’s get another guy in there because we want to go full-tilt here, we want to go full speed.’ He’s never taken himself out of kickoff coverage or punt coverage. He’s just a very unusual, really, really fine football player.”
Another factor in Grimm’s instincts comes from his football lineage. His dad, Russ Grimm, spent 11 years as a player and nine more years as an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins. He won three Super Bowl rings as a player and another as an assistant. He’s now an assistant with the Arizona Cardinals.
Russ Grimm is best remembered as one of the five original “Hogs,” the offensive line that anchored a formidable offense. (To refresh: Jeff Bostic was the center, Grimm and Mark May were the guards and Joe Jacoby and George Starke manned the tackle spots.)
Cody Grimm was only 4 when his dad retired, so he doesn’t recall much about those days, although he has seen pictures of himself around the Redskins locker room and practice field.
Russ Grimm’s coaching schedule precludes him from attending more than one or two of Cody’s games each year. But Russ watches all of Cody’s games and the two communicate regularly.
“He talks to me about disguising stuff and forcing (the offense’s reaction) faster, not so much about stuff I do good or bad,” Cody Grimm said. “It’s more about how I can improve my play.
“He’s got a good gist of what kind of defense we’re in, he knows what I’m supposed to do and who I’m supposed to read. So when he watches there’s a good chance he’ll call me and tell me what I should have done here or there. He’s pretty accurate; I understand what he’s saying.”
A good bit smaller than Russ, Cody Grimm never was going to follow in his father’s footsteps on the field. He’s more like his uncle, Donn Grimm, who played linebacker at Notre Dame.
“I’d much rather play linebacker than I would in the line,” Cody Grimm said. “It’s a lot more fun being able to tackle people than blocking the whole game.”
Another influence in Cody’s life is his older brother, Chad, who was a reserve linebacker and special teams player at Virginia Tech from 2003-06. The two overlapped in 2005 and 2006.
Chad Grimm is now in his first season as an assistant coach, also with the Cardinals, and Cody Grimm ultimately might follow his brother and father into those ranks.
“Hopefully it’s something involving football, whether I have a chance of playing or whether it’s me coaching somewhere,” the fifth-year senior said of his future. “I did an internship two years ago and I don’t know if I really enjoy sitting behind a desk all day. I want to be involved in football some way or another.”
The reality that he only has three college football games remaining – two in the regular season plus a bowl game – has been sinking in for Grimm in recent weeks.
“The seniors have been talking about it and it’s pretty wild that we’ve only got three games left,” he said. “It goes by fast and we’re just trying to enjoy playing football together and get the wins. Any time you can go out there with your buddies and win, it’s a good time.”
The season has been disappointing in the sense that the Hokies, 7-3 overall, won’t get a chance to return to the ACC championship game or to the Orange Bowl, which they played in and won last year. But there’s plenty of pride left on the line.
“Right now 10 wins is what we’re driving for,” Grimm said. “More important, we just want to play the way we’re capable of. Last week against Maryland we showed what type of team we can be. We’re just trying to be consistent and play our type of football and hopefully everything takes care of itself from there.”
If the Hokies get to 10 wins, their tireless Hybrid will likely have a lot to do with it.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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