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An Assessment from Tuberville | The Defense

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I'll go ahead and admit this now.  I'm pretty sure that I'm reading way too much into head coach Tommy Tuberville's Q&A with FSSW's Brian Smith, but there's a lot there that I thought should be highlighted, in part because I think he was being really honest in his assessment of Texas Tech. There are a few things that really worry me when I'm listening to a head coach, and one of those things is when a coach isn't being honest about what this team needs and for the most part, I think Tuberville's thoughts coincide with most fans' assessments of the team.

Today we'll focus on the defense and later on, we'll focus on the offense.

Improving the Pass Rush

Without much of a prompt, one of Tuberville's answers as to his impressions of the team after spring was that he wanted to improve the pass rush and be better in the secondary:

We made a few changes defensively. We brought in Chad Glasgow from TCU. I thought he did a very good job. In his first year, the thing that we wanted to do is improve our pass rush and get better in our secondary, in terms of our man and zone coverage. Those were the two priorities on the defensive side of the ball.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that yes, the defense was horrific, no matter how you cut the statistics, the pass defense overall was putrid. Smith follows up with a question about former DC James Willis and the 3-4 expirament:

A little bit of it was personnel, but we probably ran as much four-man front last year as we did three-man front. Whatever you base out of depends on your personnel. We didn't have a lot of defensive linemen last year, so we pretty much had to base out of a three-man front. We had no choice. Now that we've got more defensive linemen coming in, I think we want to base out of a four-man front, but still play as much three-man front because your blitz schemes, your zone blitzes and all those things you can do. We're not changing our philosophy; we're just changing what we base out of. I think that's the only difference.

I plan on going in to this in more detail in the offseason, but Tuberville is correct in terms of the defense pretty much running a 4-man front the entire season, that he was short of players, mostly due to injury, and that the philosophy isn't changing, but the base is different. First, the defense did run a 4-man front pretty much the entire year. The OLB at the time, Brian Duncan, had his hand on the ground and the 3-4 that Willis ran wasn't your traditional 3-4 that you would see in the NFL. I think all Willis did think that Duncan should be an outside linebacker and rush the passer. I think this worked for all of two games.

And the idea of Duncan at OLB is somewhat troublesome in that Willis seemed to miss on at least three evaluations of talent and where he thought they needed to be on the defense: moving Duncan to outside linebacker, not moving Bront Bird to defensive end, and moving D.J. Johnson from a nickel back to cornerback. I will agree that Duncan may have had to play Duncan at OLB because of all of the injuries, but Willis had Duncan slated to start at OLB before the season. I don't know that Willis had many other options at cornerback, especially as LaRon Moore was injured and Will Ford was out with a hamstring injury for a good part of the season. Despite this, I wouldn't be shocked if Johnson's ego is a bit bruised as a result of his struggles and after considering this for the offseason, I think that Johnson was put in a lose-lose situation.

And when asked again, the answer was the same:

I would probably stick with our pass rush. We're still not a good pass rushing team. It's got to transfer over to stopping the run, too, but our pass rush has got to be much better.

As I look into my crystal ball, I think the defensive line will be better . . . if . . . some JUCO's make it and DE Scott Smith's suspension is lifted sooner rather than later.  And I don't blame Tuberville for suspending Smith.  If he did something wrong, then fine, he's suspended and it doesn't bother me that we don't know what he did.  But one of the few people that it hurts in suspending Smith is Tuberville.  Smith was obviously this team's best pass-rusher and by suspending Smith, Tuberville handcuffed his own defense into playing a lot of freshmen and redshirt freshmen.

More, after the jump.

How It All Will Work

This bleeds a bit into the next heading, but here's Tuberville talking a bit about how new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 defense will work:

What I've always done and been a part of since I was at the University of Miami is play a four-down front and play small linebackers, guys that can run. That's no different than what we're doing here. We're pretty much playing one linebacker, which is our middle guy. Then the other two guys are defensive backs. You play five or six defensive backs almost every play. That's how you have to play in this league because everybody throws the ball so much. You have to have those guys on the field, and they've got to be able to make tackles on the run, but they've also got to be able to cover wide receivers and backs out of the backfield. So I think it's a great scheme for what our conference brings at us.

Again, I keep promising this, and some of what Tuberville says may be true and some of it may not be true. If you go take a look at TCU's defensive depth chart from last year, take a look at the size of their linebackers.

Not going to do it?

Fine. Here's the Cliff Notes version is that both of TCU's linebackers are about 6-3/240. In other words, TCU's linebackers weren't small and the idea of using another defensive back may be more a result of Tuberville wanting as much speed on the field as possible and some of this makes sense to me, but on the other hand, there is something to be said about having a bit of size at the linebacker position. If this team struggles against the run, I think you need to start looking here. And Tuberville is telling the truth in that he's intent on playing 6 defensive backs as the SLB position is being filled by former safety, Daniel Cobb. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see a linebacker with a bit more size than speed inserted in the lineup given the particular opponent.

Players Stepping Up

Tuberville has been asked this a handful of times and he's had the same or similar answer each and every time. When asked about the player that's stepped up the most, he's almost always said that S Terrance Bullitt has made the most improvement from last season to this season:

I'd say Terrance Bullitt made the most improvement of anybody on defense. He's in one of those safety positions that approach the line of scrimmage.

And Tuberville continues to tout the freshmen who enrolled early:

We've got Jeremy Reynolds, a cornerback, who will probably play . . . Blake Dees, a linebacker, he'll play. So we're not to the point where we can just bring guys in and say, "It's going to be two or three years before you can play." There's a lot of possibilities of young guys coming in to play. I think that was the reason that we had a lot of interest in coming to Texas Tech this year. Guys come and say, "I can go to Texas Tech and play in the first year. I can make a difference."

One of the things I really like is the idea that Tuberville wants to push the talent on the team with the new incoming talent. I always say this, but it's true, one of the true motivators for a collegiate athlete is playing time. There are players who have been in and around the program for a handful of years that are being passed up by redshirt freshmen and true freshmen. Take a look at the depth chart after the spring game (PDF) and note how many sophomores are on that depth chart on the defensive side of the ball. Of the 22 spots available on the defensive 2-deep, there are 11 sophomores listed there. That's a young defense and it wouldn't surprise me at all that this defense takes a baby step forward, but not a huge step. I think it takes time to recover from that type of defensive performance so my expectations of a top 40 defense will need to wait until the next year.

And I know that's not a popular sentiment, to wait until next year, but I'm trying to be realistic and I'm trying to temper expectations about what I hope happens and what I think will happen. I'm still confident that Glasgow is the real deal, and I think the 4-2-5 defense is going to be easier for the defense to learn and it's going to be simple for the players to figure out how it all works. The neat thing about the 4-2-5 (again, wait unitl the offseason) is that it makes adjusting to the offense a simple process.

Speed, Speed, and More Speed

In addition to being honest about the defense, Tuberville said overall that recruiting this year was about speed:

We had to go out and add to this class in terms of speed. We didn't look in particular in terms of height or weight; we knew we had to add speed on both sides of the ball because that's where you win big, win championships. That was our number-one priority, and I thought our coaches did a good job.

It's something that I think we all know, but Tuberville continues to mention that this team has to have more speed on the field on both sides of the ball.  I think the lack of speed was more evident defensively and my guess is that adding speed to the defense is his #1 priority.  This is why you'll have freshmen pushing the juniors and seniors.  I think one of Tuberville's most important tenets is that speed can cover up a lot of deficiencies, especially defensively.  We'll see how true that belief is this year as I think that DC Glasgow will sacrifice size, as mentioned above, with speed in the hopes that with the additional speed, the defense will be able to make-up some of those shortcomings.