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Defensive Thoughts and Meanderings - Defensive Speed is Fool's Gold

+9 HS
zenshade's picture
January 7, 2019 at 1:38pm

Great speed/athleticism is absolute fools gold on the defensive side of the field, if it's emphasized before the WHOLE DEFENSE, meaning every goddamn single individual ridiculously talented superstar recruit that's the latest greatest thing since sliced bread, has been DRILLED, DRILLED, DRILLED, DRILLED, DRILLED...

...did I mention DRILLED?... to maintain at a 100% level gap integrity, leverage, proper angles and sure tackling.  You miss any single one of those and you're going to have a defense with a fair amount of SUCK to it.  With the high speed/high athletic teams it shows up as a strange admixture of great negative yardage plays followed up by some goddamn dink pass going 97 yards in your face.  SOUND FAMILIAR?

You cannot play fast on defense, until you can play SLOW.  If you give me 11 4.8 forty guys who play perfectly in the areas I mentioned above I will give you a much better overall defense than what we witnessed out of this years super talented Ohio State unit.  Why do you think Pat Fitzgerald can year after year field a Northwestern defense littered with two star talent that consistently ranks in the upper echelons of the Big Ten?  Same thing with Dantonio and Michigan State, or Gary Patterson at TCU.

The problem is, it's really hard to sell that kind of discipline to super talented recruits who are used to having their athleticism just completely decimate on the high school level.  So you have to find that very fine balance of "letting the dogs loose" and getting the talented player to realize that the overall performance of the defense very often requires them to play a role that isn't going to put them in the spotlight all the time.  They have to realize that even if they don't get the press, the right people (NFL scouts) will be paying attention.

Nick Saban is probably the best at "de-recruiting" the defensive superstars to get them to play disciplined.  He can do that because they overall recruit at such a high level he has no fear at all of scaring off a five-star once in awhile.  In terms of athleticism, they are so talented top to bottom that there's almost no dropoff going from the first team player to the third team player.  So the difference maker for getting on the field is playing 100% within Saban's defensive system, not the fact that you are way faster or stronger than the 2nd team player.

Ohio State "should" be the same way, but we aren't for whatever reason.  The talent is there.  It might be due to Urban taking a mostly hands off approach to the defensive side of things, but at the same time being such a presence that it's hard for a defensive coordinator to exert the necessary leadership over his squad.  And that seems to also be a requirement for a defense to play as a cohesive unit that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Most of the really good defenses either have a head coach that's a defensive guy, or a defensive coordinator with the kind of presence that can get his players to run through walls for him.  Schiano is definitely that type of guy, but something about the dynamics just hasn't enabled that kind of leadership to take place.  It could be just the fact that everyone knows he's going to be out the door as soon as the right head coaching opportunity comes.

This years defense was very similar to the 2013 defense (worse in actual overall numbers, but 2013 felt worse, probably based on the collapses in the last 3 games).  That too was similarly a fairly young, inexperienced but definitely talented group of players who consistently had their play fast aggressiveness exploited by offensive coordinators.  Then what happened in 2014?  Chris Ash came in with his emphasis on "rugby" style tackling, which among other things requires the defense to be a little more reserved and make the certain tackle taking proper angles to the ball carrier.  And it almost certainly helped that Ash was coaching a group of one year older players humbled by the knowledge that it was their overly aggressive mistakes in 2013 that cost the team a shot at playing for the national championship.

It's going to be critical for Day to get the defensive coordinator position clarified quickly.  As I type this, I'm seeing rumors that Schiano won't be returning and that Mattison has possibly been hired away from Michigan.  That to me looks like great news.  Mattison is a very good recruiter and has fielded some very good defenses over the years, even with some mediocre talent in the early Brady Hoke years.

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