Elad adapting quickly to nickel back role with Bobcats

In a different world, Jett Elad might have been known by a different moniker.

Perhaps JC.

Elad, whose given first name is Jett-Cornelius, obviously opted for the shortened version. And it works for the redshirt freshman defensive back, both in describing part of his athletic gifts and in describing the speed with which he’s adapted as part of the Ohio defense.

Ohio redshirt freshman Jett Elad gets a drink prior to a Nov. 10, 2020 win over Akron inside Peden Stadium.
Photo by Jason Arkley

Two games into his redshirt freshman season, Elad has popped up as newcomer making an impact for a defense that has operated without four potential starters this year because of opt-outs and in-season COVID-19 issues.

“It’s big for me to be getting the role that I’m in right now,” said Elad, a 2018 recruit out of Cleveland St. Ignatius. “It’s a blessing to be honest.”

Technically, Elad’s role is that of a nickel back. As a full-time cornerback in high school, it’s not a drastic change. But within the scheme of the Bobcats’ defense, it involves a lot more than just covering a wide receiver.

As the nickel, which is actually more of a linebacker/safety position, Elad will be counted on to cover slot receivers, be strong in run fits and containment, and may even occasionally rush the quarterback.

It’s a lot for a first-time contributor to bite off, but Elad has earned strong reviews so far for his work. He played substantial reps in Ohio’s 24-10 win over Akron on Nov. 10, particular after an early-game injury to strongside linebacker Jeremiah Wood.

Elad is currently tied for seventh on the roster with seven tackles, and picked up his first career interception against the Zips.

Two of Ohio’s most-used options in this role from a year ago – Marlin Brooks and Dylan Conner – opted out this season.

“I’ve always said he’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve ever played,” said sophomore linebacker Keye Thompson, another athletic but relatively unexperienced member of the defense. “He plays a big part in our dime and nickel packages, playing the run and covering.

“He’s picked it up very fast and been able to replace Marlin and Dylan, and those type of guys,” Thompson continued. “He’s done a fantastic job.”

Ohio head coach Frank Solich said Elad’s combination of smarts, athletic ability and willingness to be physical bodes well for his football future. Elad is currently slotted as back up at strong safety, but the playing time has come closer to the line of scrimmage.

“He’s got the whole package,” Solich said. “You’re asking those guys at times to step up into the line of scrimmage and make a tackle once they recognize run and take a gap, and yet be able to have the ability to play … smaller kind of guy in the slot with a lot of great quickness and speed. Plus, when he’s in zone, he’s got a lot of range and he sees things, and he’s able to break on the ball very, very well.

“He’s got the right combination of things.”

Elad was born in St. Paul, Minn. Before moving to Canada as a young child. It was a homecoming for his family. The family hails from Mississauga, Ontario – not far from the home town of the Ohio quarterback brother tandem of Nathan and Kurtis Rourke.

“My whole family is from Canada, we all live in Canada. We have a house there, we still live there really,” Elad said.

But prior to high school, when his mother secured work in Cleveland, Elad moved to Ohio and quickly settled on St. Ignatius to prepare for the opportunity to play college football. The move paid off, and led to a chance encounter that helped him get a head start on his OU playing career.

In Cleveland, Elad ran into T.J. Carrie, an Ohio graduate, current NFL cornerback with the Indianapolis Colts and – at the time – a DB with the Cleveland Browns. Carrie broke in with the Bobcats in the same fashion, more than a decade ago, in 2008 as a freshman playing the nickel back.

Elad can’t remember what movie was on at the theater where he met Carrie, but the two struck up a friendship. Carrie gave him a heads up on what to expect in Athens, with the Bobcats, and being a nickel. The two have stayed in contact since that initial meeting

“He was telling me the exact same thing, how he was playing nickel and in the hybrid position,” Elad said. “He was the only one I really talked to about playing that position until this year.

“He gave me a bunch of tips. He’s been a big help.”

Elad hopes to help the defense mature quickly. The unit started the season with five players making their first career starts in Wood, defensive tackles Jeremiah Burton and Kylen McCracken, cornerback Justin Birchette and free safety Jamison Collier. There isn’t an upperclassmen in that quintet, and that contingent could grow to six; Wood was injured against Akron and his backup is redshirt freshman Ben Johnson. Elad could potentially make his first start as well.

Like the others, Elad is honing in on his fundamentals and techniques. There’s a lot to learn, and not much time to do so. Ohio (1-1) is already a third of the way through its pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

“Basically I’m trying to be the best of both worlds right now,” Elad said. “Being a sound linebacker when I have to be, being in the trenches with them, and then also a cornerback when I’m out on a slot receiver. Even when I’m dropping in a zone like a safety.”

Ohio travels to Miami (1-1) for an 8 p.m. start on Tuesday night. It’s another chance for Elad to accelerate his learning process. And, fitting for the short-version of his first name, Solich believes it’ll be a quick undertaking.

“He showed really great promise in fall camp,” Solich said. “We knew were going to get playing time out of him this year, and he’s still a young player.

“He’s just rounding into what he’s going to be.”

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