Earlier this spring, someone asked about essentially changing a game plan halfway through the season or for a particular opponent, essentially changing schemes from one week to the next, running a 3-4 and switching up to a 4-3 in a given week. My initial reaction was that this just didn't seem all that realistic or that this was appropriate given the fact that this team has had to change schemes every year for the past 5 years, but that seemed like an unfair response when I've done that sort of thing, so I decided to take a look at a couple of different things to find out how realistic it was to change defensive schemes from week to week.
I ran across this article from the New Yorker about football intelligence and I'm actually going to use this article for another post later on, but one of the first quotes was about how legendary football coach Marv Levy talked a bit about changing game plans from week to week and the desire to do so:
The crucial portion of the game plan is a selection of new plays and modifications to old ones the coaches have created for the current opponent. N.F.L. coaches are deft and obsessive probers of game film; they live to devise. The problem is that there’s a limit to how much fresh information most players can absorb before each Sunday. Marv Levy, who coached the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early nineties, told me he always fell back on something the legendary Notre Dame coaching innovator Knute Rockne once said: "I never ask if a player has the will to win. I ask if he has the will to prepare."
I'm not going to question the "will" of these players. I think there's plenty of motivation there, but it's the idea that there are limits to what you can do, especially given the limited practice time that the team has.
I also recall reading one of my favorite football books, Pat Kirwin's Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look. It's really a fantastic book and something that you should all read in watching football. In any event, I'm lucky enough that Kirwin released a part of his book about game planning in the NFL world and you really should read the whole thing. In any event, there's a pretty good idea there about how it takes pretty much an entire offseason for the install. Again, this is the NFL, and things are a bit more complicated in the NFL, but you still get the idea. In any event, Kirwin writes that once that initial process starts, implementing a particular "system", a coach is pretty much committed to that for the rest of the year:
As a team's personnel changes and its personality evolves through free agency and the draft, the overall game plan is steadily refined. Through organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamps, coaches whittle away at their playbook, identifying the plays that best fit the team they'll have to work with. They try to maximize the strengths they see emerging, eliminate the obvious problem areas, and anticipate the matchups they'll be facing. Coaching staffs meet after practice every day, debating the pros and cons of every play they can imagine using in a game situation. The accumulation of those plays becomes the playbook for the next season, and by June 15, that actual playbook goes to the printer. A coach is now committed to his philosophy for the year.
So, I was pretty sure that things wouldn't change and that this idea was pretty much an impossibility, but then I found where Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly says that the Fighting Irish are pretty much going to change defensive game plans from week to week:
"I think it just really depends on who we’re playing," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly on Monday after the team’s first spring practice. "It’s so easy now to get in and out of the three-down (lineman) and the four-down defense, that’s the way we’re going to construct it.
"It’s really going to be week-to-week."
The Fighting Irish were suited for the 3-4 with big bodies in the middle who could command double teams, such as Louis Nix. With no real space-eater like that on the roster this spring, as well as the onus that is put on recruiting large tailor-made nose tackles, Kelly has made a move towards bringing in and developing players who can be moved inside and out on the defensive line or around the front seven.
Kelly obviously makes it sound like it's just an adjustment of personnel, which I could envision with Texas Tech a bit. I'm pretty sure that I thought that this would be beneficial last year, running out a line of Branden Jackson and Dartwan Bush at the two defensive end and/or outside linebacker and then Kerry Hyder and Jackson Richards at defensive tackles. Jackson could have been essentially be your stand-up linebacker. The same thing this year, assuming that Brandon Thorpe could be at one defensive end and Jackson at another with Richards and Rika Levi manning the inside. Running a one-gap sort of defense, where guys really just need to be filling the right gap, this didn't seem too far off, but defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt has been reluctant to utilize this set of personnel (maybe he's never used it before).
So let's hivemind this. Do you think that switching schemes is realistic in a given year, switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 for a given week and run it properly or do you think you have to stick to what you start with at the beginning of the season? Also, if you did decide to go with a 4-3, how would your personnel change? Who's playing defensive end and do you move Robertson to another linebacker spot?
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