Year: Redshirt Freshman
Hometown: Johnstown, Pa
In order to counteract the multiple WR sets that are so prevalent in today’s college football, teams often need to be comfortably playing 4 or 5 cornerbacks. Ideally, teams want a mix of bigger CBs and quicker CBs. That way, defenses can match up with different types of WRs depending on the schemes they run. Teams that play more zone-heavy schemes would likely use bigger CBs. Man-heavy schemes, on the other hand, might require more quick CBs.
Virginia is likely to play a combination of zone and man coverages this season, though zone is the preferred option for Bronco Mendenhall. That preference helps explains the current depth chart, in which the smallest CB on the 2-deep is 5’11” 195 pound Myles Robinson. The other CBs are all at least 6’1”. There may be matchups during the season where a smaller, quicker CB is needed. For example, Virginia’s week 2 opponent, Oregon, has a starting WR who is 5’8” and 170 pounds.
That’s where redshirt freshman Kareem Gibson enters the picture. At just 170 pounds, Gibson gives up size to most WRs. But he makes up for his smaller stature with quickness. Gibson doesn’t quite have the elite top-end speed that you want from a small CB (he is roughly a 4.5 guy), but he’s good at turning his hips and staying with a man, especially on shorter routes. It remains to be seen if Gibson can stick with Oregon’s WR in man coverage. Oregon has some of the fastest and most talented WRs in the nation. But if the situation calls for it, Gibson may be a better matchup than the bigger, beefier, and potentially-injured Tim Harris.
Here is a video of Kareem. He played WR and returned kicks along with playing CB in HS, so there are some clips of him there. But most of the shots are of him playing defense.
As is often the case with WRs and DBs, the plays in the highlight reel don’t show the most important part of the play. They don’t really show Gibson staying with his man through the route, they only show him making a play on the ball or making a tackle. You get brief glimpses of him in his backpedal, and one decent shot of him turning his hips to run with his man.
Gibson is an instinctual CB. He reads the play well, and anticipates what is going to happen. He will not hesitate to step out of his zone to make a play. Despite his lack of size, he’s a willing tackler and he plays much bigger and stronger than he looks. Even though he’s just a redshirt freshman, Gibson should get some run this year as a nickel CB. He will almost definitely be one of the top special teams players, both as a gunner on the coverage units, and as a blocker on the return units (watch the last play in his highlight reel to see him blocking his man and pushing him 20 yards downfield).