Mike Smith is now the defensive coordinator and we really don't know a thing about him. Well, that's not true at all. We know a lot about Smith. We know that Smith graduated from Texas Tech, near or around the time that Kliff Kingsbury was the quarterback. They were actually seniors together. Smith played for a few years in the NFL at Baltimore before giving up the game. While at Baltimore, Smith befreinded then defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan and that's where we get our start.
Smith spent a year in Hawaii, as a position coach and then picked back up that relationship with Ryan, where he went to the NY Jets to be an intern and eventually a position coach. Smith then was essentially hired twice as a defensive coordinator, once by Mike Leach in 2011 and then by West Virginia. Both times he declined and the truth of the matter is that Smith wasn't going to have the responsibility that he maybe desired at West Virginia and declined. All the time, Smith was with the Jets and Ryan. In 2012, Smith was hired by Kingsbury and Ryan even went so far as to visit Lubbock to get Smith to stay with the Jets, but to no avail.
Smith spent his formative coaching years learning the very complicated 3-4 defense from Rex Ryan. Two man fronts. Guys standing up all along the line of scrimmage. Blitzing from all sorts of angles and variations. Ryan doesn't like to keep things simple and it absolutely works for him.
As all of the hub-bub regarding Matt Wallerstedt's resignation was on-going, I noticed a few tweets from FootballScoop about Smith and it wasn't just Smith's relationship with Ryan, but also his relationship with Mike Pettine:
At Texas Tech, Matt Wallerstedt is out and Mike Smith is taking over as defensive coordinator. Different styles. Players love Mike Smith— FootballScoop Staff (@footballscoop) September 18, 2014
Mike Smith, who is taking over as DC at Texas Tech, played & worked for Rex Ryan & Mike Pettine. They both rave about him— FootballScoop Staff (@footballscoop) September 18, 2014
We've all known about Ryan, but I really wasn't sure about Pettine's influence on Smith or just didn't connect the dots. Mike Pettine was the defensive coordinator at the Jets while he was there and now the head coach at Cleveland. And this morning, we get a quote from Smith about how both Ryan and Pettine texted him to congratulate him:
"I got texts from both those guys - Pettine and Rex - and both of them were very excited at this opportunity for me," Smith said. "I hope to spend the rest of my career here. I'm going to give this everything I've got and make this thing work."
We know plenty about Rex Ryan and his sort of defense, but I thought it was interesting to hear that that Pettine, who is thought to be one of the best, be such a big influence with Smith. I didn't know as much about Pettine as I did Ryan, hence the reason for this post.
Without a question, Smith can't get fancy. Not now. There's no time for fancy. I get the feeling that Ryan doesn't know simple and I know that he really runs a true 3-4 most of the time. I've advocated that Texas Tech really doesn't have that sort of personnel. One of the things that I thought was great from looking at some Pettine stuff is that he does run a 3-4, but his version of the outside linebacker, at least in Buffalo where he was a defensive coordinator for a year, is that OLB has his hand down and in upstate New York, that was none other than Mario Williams. This resembles more of a traditional 4-3 to me, but what do I know. My general thought was that this wasn't exactly your prototypical outside linebacker or not at all similar to Pete Robertson. In Pettine's defense, that OLB needs to be a, "blend of power, edge rushing skill, speed, and size".
Now, Texas Tech really doesn't have one of those, but they do have bigger players than Robertson, someone like Demetrious Alton, who is more suited to play defensive end and could maybe play that real wide spot, like a 9 technique and let Branden Jackson play that more traditional 5 technique with your more traditional nose guard and defensive tackle.
That would be fantastic.
The other thing is that Pettine really loves versatile players. Guys that can do multiple things and that still leaves lots of room for guys that can do those sorts of things. But, Pettine also believes that you've got to master your job before he asks you to do anything else:
"The phrase comes to mind, 'jack of all trades, master of none'. You don't want to start to push a guy towards learning a second position until he's mastered his original," Pettine said on The John Murphy Show on Tuesday. "But at the same time, the strength of the system is its versatility, that we can have a guy on a certain play play the role of a safety, then he's a corner the next play, then he's a linebacker the next play. Or guys at end can play outside linebacker, play off the ball linebacker. So that's the challenge of it, to make sure they've mastered their first position before we start to give them jobs that other positions might do."
Pettine echoes this idea again, that versatile players are incredibly beneficial in that they can do more than one thing on the defensive side of the ball, and he's not looking for "types" of players because each player is different, but looking for guys who can do multiple things:
"When you look at the draft board, you can't say, ‘Well, we can't take that guy because he doesn't fit us,'" Pettine says. "I've always been of the contention, if the guy's a good football player, let's take him, and we can figure out what to do with him. We don't want to be limited or constrained by our playbook if we have a guy that can be a dominant playmaker in the NFL."
"That's the beauty of it," Pettine says. "There really isn't a set mold of what they look like. Wherever I've been, whether it was Baltimore, the Jets, the Bills, we never really got into body types. We looked for guys that could do multiple jobs and kind of built the system around that."
"It also allows us defensively to almost have a chameleon-type quality," Pettine says. "You can't just rip the cover off last year's scouting report against us."
One other note from the article is that Pettine is big on not telegraphing what the defense is going to do. "Don't let them read the mail." I don't know how much of that we'll see this year, but I expect Smith to have these similar thoughts as he progresses.
It's going to be a bumpy ride. It stinks having to continue to type that year after year, but Smith is as highly regarded as the come and the fact that both Leach and Holgorsen wanted him and Ryan wanted him to stay in New York tells me a lot about his potential. And one last note. I totally get that I'm dreaming here. Big huge changes most likely aren't going to culminate, but dreaming is good.