Are there any overarching philosophies you've brought with you that you are trying to instill this spring?
"It's pretty basic. All defensive teams do a couple things that are really good. Whatever they do by scheme, they line up really well. They line up well; they adjust well to motion before the snap. They understand all the four schemes and the calls we have to make every play, before they snap the ball. That's what good defenses understand. The next thing they understand is how fast they have to play during that five or six seconds of the down - to finish that down. Down for down, take them one at a time and fly to the football as fast as they can play. And then if you're not tough on defense, I don't know how you play well on defense. So we're constantly talking about toughness and being physical, from the front guys to the linebacking corps to the secondary. Physically tough. Those are our goals and the basic parameters of what we are trying to get accomplished. And it's not an oversimplification. It's what we really try to do. Obviously the package has a lot of diversity and multiplicity in it. From regular to nickel to short yardage to goalline - there's a lot going on there. Pressure calls, both with zone to man. That being said, there is a lot of technical knowledge for them to acquire, but none of that technical knowledge works unless they lineup good and play smart, run to the football on every snap all the way and finish every play, and be as tough as they can be."
You talked about toughness. In the scrimmage there were some hard tackles. Other times there were broken tackles. Is the toughness a mixed bag so far?
"I think what you see is the veteran players, who have played on defense here - they are the ones making the physical tackles. They understand how fast you have to play and how tough you have to be on the tackle. Those young guys are still learning. But that's why we're out here in spring practice. It's a process, and it's going to be ongoing."
Speaking of a learning curve, we see a 3-4 defense this spring, and there was a 3-4 scheme run last year. Is there just superficial carryover in the scheme, or are there some things already here that you are building on?
"3-4 is the basic starting structure, but the first thing I've understood about all the moves I have made is that in a new atmosphere, you try to figure out what they did well. Then build on that and add to it. I'm not going to come in here and call it the same thing. It may be the same exact defensive play they had last year, but it's called something different. Language changes. We kept a lot of the good things, and we want to. They played well in a lot of areas. Then they had some issues. We're treating those issues, trying to build and fix them."
What are the top issues you are addressing with your defensive players this spring?
"First thing we have to understand is that we've got to stop the run, first. No successful defenses that I know of, at any level of play, get it done without stopping the run first. You have to stop the run. Everything we do will be built toward that. Then from there, we obviously want to be a good pass defensive team, as well, by mixing and being multiple. Not just playing one way. Not all zone or all man - we'll try to mix it. Again, the overriding philosophy of learning what to do, playing smart, playing fast, playing physically tough, running to the football - every play in practice, building habits."
I notice the outside linebackers reading the tight end to determine the strength of the offense, but I'm not seeing the defensive ends move around. Is there a true left and right side now, rather than a strong and weak side?
"Right. We just play right and left."
"I would prefer to do that with everybody on the team - right and left corners, right and left outside linebackers, right and left ends. In the 3-4, that's the way I like to do it. But in certain cases, you don't come in here and be stubborn. You realize who can do what, and then you allow a certain amount of flipping and moving with certain people, based on their talent. That's what we're doing."
Are there are any performers or guys who are playing tough that deserve early praise in your eyes on this defense?
"I think our defensive line is doing a nice job. We've got three starting senior defensive linemen, as you know, in Julian Jenkins, Babatunde Oshinowo and Casey Carroll. Those guys are veteran guys, and they act like they're veterans. They're practicing like they're veterans, and they're leading these young guys, which is good to see."
"I think everything is wide open. We're still just trying to figure out who can do what, in this scheme. Again, there is multiplicity there - regular, nickel, dime. There are a lot of assignments that we're trying to check out and see where guys can get plugged in. If you look at it, you have more than 11 regular starters. In the regular defense alone, you would like at least as half as many again, or 22 would be great. The same thing for the nickel. If you can find a guy who can play just on the nickel or just on the short-yardage team, he's a starter to me because he's a role player. We're still looking, so that's why I say everything is still open."
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