Why Additional Defensive Line Depth is Critical for Texas Tech

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Tech defensive line was paper thin last year and it was evident during a five game losing streak. Defensive coordinator has hopefully addressed the depth issue with additional defensive line help.

Hello. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Texas Tech defense.  Thankfully, our very own DoubleTFaithful has produced some wonderful work this offseason about the defense and I'm going to expound on that just a bit.  Recapping and summarizing a bit and thinking through things.  I’m not the best at explaining things like this, but I’m going to do my best.

There’s two different types of 3-4 defenses. There’s the 3-4 defense that you’ve seen at Pittsburgh and New England, which is a two-gap defense. What this means is that the three down defensive linemen are essentially responsible for two gaps, on either side of the center and on either side of the two tackles (inside shade, it can get more complicated than that, but I want to keep the concepts simple for now). The three defensive linemen must be three immovable objects for the most part, planting themselves and allowing the linebackers to make plays.

The other type of 3-4 defense is a one-gap 3-4 defense. I think I promised a post on this last year, but I’m sure I got busy writing about other things. In a one-gap 3-4 defense, the concept is still pretty much the same in that the nose guard is lined up over the center and the tackles are also inside shade on the tackles, but the difference is that the tackles and the nose guard are all supposed to be slanting towards a particular gap.  Just one gap.

The key to this is that with a one-gap 3-4 everyone on the line essentially gets a gap. You get a gap. You get a gap.  And you get a gap. Everyone takes a man, or slants, including the linebackers and are responsible for a particular gap so that there’s not any holes in the defense. In theory, this works in that there aren’t supposed to be holes in the defense. The problem is when a player doesn’t do their job and everything falls apart, we’re talking about huge running plays that get into the secondary really quickly.

Things also tend to fall apart when the linebackers don’t hit their proper gaps because they’ve gone somewhere else.

I went back and watched the Holiday Bowl and really tried to focus on the defensive line and the linebackers. I really wanted to focus how that all worked together. Schematically, it really is supposed to be a pretty simple deal. Everyone flows the same way, everyone gets in the right gap and a play gets made.

In watching the tape, I keep trying to think about what sort of things can we watch, in a relatively short period of time to tell us what’s happening. I’m always trying to make things easier to digest, especially in the course of a game and I think I have a couple of things.

The first thing is that the Bandit linebacker spot (this is Pete Robertson) is supposed to line up opposite the strength of the formation, but this isn’t always true. It’s true a lot of the time and sometimes it’s not real easy to tell where the strength of the formation is. Especially if there is some sort of Pistol look with the running back lined up behind the quarterback and two receivers on each side of the field. I think I'm still trying to figure that out.

The middle linebacker (this is Sam Eguavoen this year) is also on the strong side of the field usually lined up right over the guard. The weakside linebacker is pretty much lined up in the same area as the middle linebacker. I think I used to get confused about what a weakside linebacker really was and in a 4-3, the weakside linebacker is just lined up on the non-strong side of the defense and pretty much in the B gap. I guess I also think that in a 4-3, you had four down linemen and those four down linemen took up more space, so it freed up the linebacker which makes sense would be more able to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage. In this instance, the weakside linebacker needs to fill that gap.

I'm sure that I talk way too much about the size of the player and at some point I'll get tired of writing about it.  Still, for this post, we're talking about depth and last year, Texas Tech field a optimal line of Branden Jackson at 250, Kerry Hyder at 280, and Dartwan Bush at 250, with Jackson Richards subbing in at 275 or so. These are all large men, much bigger than me, but there’s also the idea that with a one-gap 3-4, this means that each of these linemen are going to be expected to win one-on-one battles with players that have sometimes 50 pounds on some of these players. It's tough to ask a player that's giving up 50 pounds or 30 pounds on the inside to win a play-by-play battle for an entire game, much less an entire season.

We saw last year about how big of an issue it was when Bush went down, the defense suffered greatly, we essentially saw that the defense was not just thin, but paper thin in terms of overall depth because there really wasn’t anything worth playing after that other than a walk-on defensive tackle from Midwestern St., Bennett Ofor. Think about that for a second.  The back-up option at defensive end was a walk-on from Midwestern St. That’s sort of a problem.

Players transferred or simply left or were turned away when Kingsbury was hired. Delvon Simmons and Michael Starts are just two, but you get the idea.

So here we are a year later and Texas Tech has recruited four defensive linemen.  Some linemen that will hopefully give Matt Wallerstedt more options. The reason why Texas Tech was able to run a one-gap 3-4 defense is because there didn’t need to be immovable objects, but guys that could get to gaps, but even when they did get to gaps, the players still need to make sure that they can beat their man and I think that was a bit problematic last year on each and every play.

Now, Texas Tech could have at least one immovable object in Rika Levi and depending on who is on the field, there really can be some options in regards to having some two gap responsibility for some of the linemen.  I can’t really figure out if this is something that Wallerstedt will do because I don’t think he really knows what he has until the players show up. Even if he can play some players with two-gap responsibility, I’m not sure if he is going to complicate things by introducing that concept. Even if Levi, Thorpe, McElrath and Smith can play two-gap, it is largely irrelevant if they can create issues by beating their man, forcing offensive linemen to chip, which frees up other players and there's your improved defense.

But this is really about depth and what was here when the coaching staff hit the field against SMU.  As mentioned above, you had four guys that you could count on for your defensive line.  That's it.  That's not going to cut it.  With Hyder moving on to the NFL, most likley as a productive player because he works hard, he just couldn't carry the entire load and when one player went down, the house of cards completely fell apart.

Now, at least at this point, you hopefully add four additional options in Levi, Thorpe, McElrath and Smith. Plus the hopeful maturation of Demetrius Alston, Anthony Smith and Donte Phillips.  Now, rather than a group of four defensive linemen that simply could not afford an injury can at the very least, sustain some injury, create some additional depth and give Wallerstedt many more options.  Wallerstedt has essentially gone from four linemen that he could choose from, to having ten at his disposal.

Having additional depth isn't sexy.  It's not like Texas Tech can boast having some dead-sexy pass-rushing defensive tackle that disrupts everything, but at the very least, Wallerstedt should be able to send these guys in waves if necessary.  Again, this assumes that they can all contribute some. It would be fantastic if one of these guys decides that it is his time and emerges from the pack to lead the defensive line.  We'd be all bout it bout it and so would Wallerstedt.

But I think Wallerstedt didn't go into recruiting the 2014 class by thinking he needed to get just one pass-rushing super-star because that would have been incredibly shortsighted and he would have been in the same position he was in for 2013.  Wallerstedt needed players and options.  Obviously, he went after the best ones he could sign, but he knew that he just couldn't hinge his job or one player. This has to be a team effort on that defensive line.

To somewhat study up on this subject, I read a handful of articles to help me figure things out, including Strong Football Coach on the one-gap 3-4 defense, Hogs Haven on one-gap vs. two-gap explanation and Dawgs By Nature on the one-gap and two-gap schemes. They are all terrific resources and enjoyed reading all of them. And I didn't even touch the idea of having a partial two-gap defense and one-gap defense as presented by Dawgs By Nature. Pretty interesting.

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