I wanted to turn your attention to the defense and provide a general overview. The Spring Game offered little to observe, as the defense played what’s referred to as ‘vanilla’. Also, it remains somewhat of a mystery, what most of you will see come Fall. The reason I say that is, Orlando will have different personnel and with that often comes changes. On top of that, his defense will look familiar at times. That’s because Coach Strong also ran a multiple front defense. That’s where they align in both odd (3-man) and even (4-man) fronts. Where they differ some is on the back end. In that respect, Orlando utilizes more quarters-based coverages. That said, we shall see what comes in the Fall. For now, let’s take a gander at a few things from the Spring game.
Very early, Orlando’s 3-4 Nickel personnel is apparent. You have an odd front, 3 down linemen and 4 linebackers, one of them being a Nickel defensive back. He’s the dude on the hash to the field. The other backers are stood up and you’ll note the boundary outside backer up on the ‘edge’. What you also notice are the corners off and the safeties at shallow depth. Orlando likes to play with pre-snap alignment and move guys around post-snap, as most defensive coordinators do.
Note the front, how it’s ‘set’ post-snap. The boundary backer feints forward and backs off. The boundary defensive tackle ends up between the left guard and tackle, a 3-technique. Malik, is now attacking his A-gap on the center’s left. The presence of a 3-technique to the weak side makes this an ‘under’ front. That makes Malik’s natural run fit the weak side A-gap, where he ends up attacking. Lastly, you see the field safety bailing to cover the deep middle.
The corners and Nickel all play a ‘catch’ technique. They are playing man at depth and ‘catching’ the receivers deeper in their stems. This allows them to drive down on short throws and more space to keep eyes forward, as opposed to starting up close and being forced to turn and run with the receiver.
What you get is a variety of single-high safety coverage. From there you can pick and choose what techniques your corners and Nickel play. You can even have your safety key a receiver and bracket him over the top or funnel him upfield. Again, this should be very familiar. The hope is, the defense continues its trend of improvement from last season to become the best unit in the conference.
You also saw even fronts, below 2 down linemen and two stand-up ends, a 2-4 if you will. It’s the same personnel, but now you’re adding a variable, as either end is positioned to more easily drop in coverage or rush upfield. Also, the linebackers remain static and against this 2X2 set, the boundary safety is walked up to the cover the slot receiver to his side. The field safety is high in the alley making this appear to be another single-high coverage.
At the mesh, you see the end left unblocked, the pulling left guard will be kicking him out in what converts to a bootleg concept.
Only, no one is open and the quarterback must widen as the end breaks free and gives chase, then the Mike comes, then Malik comes, this play is mush. With the 1st team unit, if they cover on the back end, the quarterback better throw it away or he’s dead.
You also saw some 2-high safeties coverage. Below you can see the difference in depth from the 2-high shell in the first example and this one. Here you have a 3rd and long situation against an Empty set. You also see the 3 down linemen shifted toward the field and the backers widened, aligned outside the ends.
The backers are widened to cover out on the inside receivers to their respective sides. The safeties remain high and the five defenders underneath cover each receiver, up to a point of course.
The pass rush yields very little time for the quarterback to make any throws early and one wonders whether the 1st team defensive line is that talented or if the 2nd team offensive line is that bad. Note, the corners are both turned inward. They are trying to get depth while also keeping eyes in the backfield. If needed, they can plant and drive down on throws to the flat or scrambles.
I was reluctant to write a post about the Spring Game Orlando defense, mainly because it was boring. You really didn’t see a whole lot and many questions remain. Some in the Texas Football commentariat suggest Orlando will opt for a style more like his former colleague, Dave Aranda at LSU. That is yet to be seen. However, given the amount of cover 1 you saw in the Spring Game, that could be a tell, who knows? What you could also do is examine more closely Orlando’s defense at Houston the last couple of years. I’ve poured over that stuff and there is a bit more. The bottom line, Orlando’s approach is flexible and he will scheme whatever is necessary within the framework. To make a long story short, the defense will be somewhat familiar. I’m more concerned about the players. If Orlando is blessed with a perpetually healthy depth chart, I see a bright 2017 season. This unit finished very strong last season and I expect the players to continue on that path. You and I will see how another year affects this young roster. On a side note, for those of you that follow me on Twitter, you may be familiar with my crude ‘Maturity Index’ metric. The average classification of this unit will finally breach 3 years in the program this season. These guys started as pups the last couple years. Now, will they be dogs?