I like to think that the 5'10" and 187 pound measurables are pretty accurate. Those are usually inflated a bit to make it appear that the player is bigger than they appear. In this case, I don't know if it matters.
One of the things that new co-defensive coordinators Matt Wallerstedt and Mike Smith brought back was the hybrid safety and linebacker position and the moniker, Raider, which was made relatively famous for Texas Tech fans by Spike Dykes.
The reason why Payne is so confounding is the disparity between him and the incumbent starter, Terrance Bullitt. There is 4 inches and 30 pounds of difference between the two players, but you would never know that there was a difference given the reckless abandon that Payne displays and given the fact that according to Smith, Payne graded out as this team's best defender during the spring:
Last week, outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said Payne was the highest-grading player in his meeting room day-in, day-out, because he plays smart and with a fearless streak. That helps him overcome being small of for an outside linebacker at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds.
It was good to hear the praise lavished on Payne by Smith. Smith hasn't been real quick to heap praise on any player, but I think this is significant:
"He’s just a smart kid," Smith said. "He picks up the defense. He takes coaching. You tell him one coaching point, he gets it. You don’t have to, every day, keep repeating yourself. He’s been really impressive.
I think that's significant because Payne gets it and he's not having to be a burden on a young coaching staff. Smith emphasizes Payne's stature, saying that he's little, but that's really irrelevant at this point.
Payne did this in junior college as well, just making plays, I suppose, despite his size. Maybe I need to stop writing "despite his size" when it comes to Payne because I feel like I've done that before and when someone keeps doing it then his height and weight really doesn't matter.
If it comes to pass and Payne is starting at that spot in the fall, a smallish linebacker, I can't figure how that will work, a guy that is the size of most cornerbacks, but plays with the fearlessness of someone that's 6'4" and 265.
And really though, it is Payne's speed that is really the biggest equalizer. I think it's really just somewhat amazing that multiple coaching staffs, Payne's JUCO, Kaufman and Smith all recognized that his size is really irrelevant because he just gets it. Like Smith says, he just hits it and he doesn't wait and he's not hesitant. Of course, this somewhat ignores the fact that Payne didn't play hardly at all last year, mainly on special teams and only making 3 tackles all year. Add the fact that Payne was suspended for the bowl game against Minnesota. Perhaps you could say that the odds are against Payne making much of an impact at all. It's a long shot.
But Payne very much impressed during the spring game and he even talked after the game that it is about making turnovers and creating opportunities:
"Coaches preach every day: Get four turnovers a practice or more," Payne said. "With that, you try to get ball disruptions and stuff like that — a lot of pass deflections and INTs or strip-fumbles and stuff like that. We try to emphasize four turnovers each practice."
I don't know what sort of impact that Payne will make this year. I certainly found it interesting that so much praise was heaped on Payne, and probably rightfully so. Payne has Bullitt in front of him on the depth chart and Payne can probably do things, especially in space, that Bullitt maybe can't. Re-watching the spring game, Payne made more than a handful of plays in space and that's what defenders need to do in today's game.
Not only that, but if coaches aren't having to coach him up and he's able to take instruction and go with it, that's one less thing that as a coach, you have to worry about. I think that's an important part of football that maybe is too often over-looked.