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Texas Tech Football Offseason Theorems | Elasticity at Linebacker and Safety

LUBBOCK TX - SEPTEMBER 18:  The Texas Longhorns on offense against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT&T Stadium on September 18 2010 in Lubbock Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK TX - SEPTEMBER 18: The Texas Longhorns on offense against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT&T Stadium on September 18 2010 in Lubbock Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Previous Texas Tech Football Offseason Theorems
* All Players Need to Contribute | Finding a Tight End and Utilizing Roster Spots
* Do Not Expect a True Freshman to Make an Immediate Impact | Reworking the Defensive Line
* Dynamic Offensive Playmakers Make a Difference, Part I
* Dynamic Offensive Playmakers Make a Difference, Part II
* Production Rate of the Texas Tech Defense
* Production Rate of the Big 12 Defenses
* Explosive Passing Plays Relative to Field Position
* What is Realistic Improvement on Defense
* Explosive Rushing Plays Relative to Field Position
* Combining Explosive Rushing and Passing Plays Relative to Field Position

The offseason is filled with questions, especially this year. Rather than ask those questions and not offer any solutions, I thought it would be interesting to offer theorems, i.e. all right angles are congruent, and you tell me if you think they're true or not. Here are your previous Texas Tech Football Offseason Theorems.

I can't say that I know that any of this was intentional, but it's the offseason, and why the heck not. Back in April, the NY Times NFL blog, The Fifth Down's Andy Benoit wrote a piece about how NFL defenses will respond to the evolution of the NFL offenses to more spread type of offenses. There were three really good portions of the post about how defenses adjust and I think that colleges, especially in the Big 12, have been adjusting for years. In fact, it feels like that since Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville arrived he wanted more athletic players, even at the expense of size. Personally, I've questioned that philosophy, especially on the defensive line. But is Tuberville a bit ahead of the curve, or rather, has Tuberville essentially maintained what he's always believed about defenses, which is that speed is the most important thing?

The initial part of Benoit's theory is that the easiest way to counter the offensive evolution of the spread is to find more versatile defender:

The easiest – and therefore most plausible – counter to the offensive evolution is to find more versatile defensive players inside. Someone has to be able to run with super athletic tight ends, handle the quickness of smallish slot receivers and stay with a running back no matter where that running back goes. As it stands, safeties generally cover tight ends, nickel corners cover slot receivers and linebackers take responsibility for running backs. Problem is, offenses now mix things up in ways that compromise this formula.

Benoit goes into the example of a player like Darren Sproles and there are players like Sproles in the Big 12 (not saying as talented, but similar) that can be a tough matchup for a traditional run-stopping linebacker, but needs to be replaced due to the fact that this traditional linebacker can't cover Sproles in coverage. Benoit then points to the idea that perhaps future defenders need to be more versatile defensively than one or two down players:

Again, the simple solution is to find better athletes on defense. That’s actually about as easily done as said. The reason offenses have evolved the way they have in the past 10 years is because defenders keep getting more athletic. Unable to out-athlete the opponent, offenses had to find ways to outsmart them. Hence a new emphasis on presnap strategy and complex spread designs. Football’s evolution is like a teeter-totter. Defenses got better, so offenses got trickier. Now, defenses have to get better again. It’s happened many times before. Throughout history, finding defensive talent has not been an issue. It’s just a matter of how that talent is recruited and coached. A defender’s brute strength and speed have less importance now; his flexibility and agility (i.e. versatility) carry more weight.

Speed, flexibility and agility carry more weight.

Tuberville learned this from one of the best, Jimmy Johnson at Miami (as we all know so well), again via The Fifth Down's Jene Bramel:

Those smaller, speedier linebackers would theoretically be protected by a couple of massive but still quick defensive tackles who were disruptive enough to keep the linebackers (and the MLB in particular) clean to stop the run and create negative plays. The edge rushing line and swarming Cover-2 shell was designed to create turnovers against the pass.

I still think that Texas Tech is working on the first part of this process, the "massive but still quick defensive tackles", but are closing on aligning themselves with the linebackers and safety proposition. Back to Benoit, I thought that this last part is what I've been thinking since I read this post, which is that this is what Texas Tech is doing:

What’s most likely to happen is the linebacker and safety positions will blend into one. Linebackers will always play closer to the line of scrimmage, but with improved blitzes and certain offensive matchups, they’ll wind up playing just as much coverage as the safeties play.

Benoit goes to describe Antrel Rolle as being elastic, which is really a terrific word in this situation:

The more elastic defensive personnel can be, the easier it is for the coaching staff to highlight the strengths of all its players.
For a terrific look at the 4-3 Over defense, check out Shakin' the Southland.

There may not be a more elastic defender on the team than Bullitt because he's started at safety the first two years, but was moved to linebacker during the spring. If you look at who is going to play, most of these guys, other than perhaps Smith, Winbush and Dees, are linebacker/safety-types or were maybe undersized linebackers in high school or safeties and eventually converted. In particular, Awe is a guy that's always been projected as a safety, but truthfully, he played outside linebacker in high school. These players aren't that different than the safeties for the most part, other than the third team safeties who should never get on the field. I'd also point you to the left, make sure and read how these players fit in terms of scheme, i.e. the 4-3 Over defense. You can also check out the 2004 Auburn defensive playbook, which is also the 4-3 Over defense and yes, the name Don Dunn should sound familiar, he's on the Texas Tech staff as Director of High School Relations.

Benoit ends his article writing that plays aren't being made in the trenches, but in open space, and it's been this way in the Big 12 for quite some time. In fact, one of the problems I've had is projecting where a linebacker like Payne will play, but maybe the reason why the staff wasn't worried about his lack of weight is because he made a ton of plays in space while playing JUCO. I'd also mention that you might be saying, especially with the link and reference to the 4-3 Over Defense, but think about the Miami coaching tree: Jimmy Johnson is the patriarch, Butch Davis and Tuberville are part of the branches there and Art Kaufman was a defensive assistant at North Carolina and Davis since 2008. Tuberville is clearly, at least in my mind, getting back to his defensive roots, something I wish he would have done when he first arrived. Nevertheless, if you add defensive backs coach John Lovett into the mix and you've three coaches who have run some variation of the old Miami 4-3 defense for decades.

One last point on the versatility or elasticity (hopefully) of the safeties and linebackers currently projected to start at Texas Tech, which is that the STS post is correct in that the 4-3 Over is better against the spread because the SAM in a 4-3 Under is more like a defensive end rather than a linebacker, which would naturally lead to the idea that a bigger linebacker that plays closer to the line of scrimmage will be better against power-oriented rushing teams. Right now, there's really only one team, Texas, that is strictly a power-oriented rushing team I'm not sure how Kaufman will adjust, although I could potentially envision Branden Jackson, a former linebacker in high school, playing the SAM linebacker spot for a game.

Linebackers: Terrance Bullitt (6-3/215); Sam Eguavoen (6-1/225); Justin Cooper (6-0/219); Blake Dees (6-1/226); Zach Winbush (6-1/230); Daniel Cobb (6-0/227); Chris Payne (5-11/188); Will Smith (6-3/228); Kris Williams (6-3/210)

Safeties: D.J. Johnson (6-0/198); Cody Davis (6-2/203); Chris Yeakey (6-3/193); Austin Stewart (6-0/200); Tre Porter (6-0/207); J.J. Gaines (5-10/187); Urell Johnson (5-11/181); Micah Awe (6-0/192)