04 April 2011
Sorry about that, football. With all the basketball-related news rightfully dominating the month of March, I've been neglecting you. It's not right, but thats just how it is. Well no more.
Time to give spring practice the love it deserves. Today we'll get caught up with the defense, then move to the offense later this week. Hopefully I'll have more comprehensive coverage going forward.
With all of the focus on instituting a "high octane" offense, it's easy to look past the big changes on defense. While less sexy than transitioning from the pro-style to a no-huddle spread, changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4 should also provide some growing pains. Zeise explains what the new defense should look like:
But the offense isn't the only side of the ball where changes are being made -- the defense will go from a traditional 4-3 look to a 3-4 which more often than not will morph into a 3-3-5.
That means there will be only three down linemen instead of four and a player such as Brandon Lindsay, who last year was a defensive end, will likely move to the outside linebacker position and become basically a stand-up defensive end.
And there will only be two traditional linebackers on the field (as opposed to three) and at least one "hybrid" kind of player.
All of it will be designed to get the most speed on the field as Graham said he favors a defense that attacks and creates havoc because it fits the personality of the team he likes to coach.
"On defense we want to attack. Our approach to defense stems from our offseason training," Graham said.
The emphasis on speed on offense is carrying over to the other side of the ball:
The pace is initiated by the offense, but that means the defense has to play just as quickly, without huddling up. The defense lines up and gets its instructions from the sideline. Donald said the practice tempo should help, since the Panthers will see few Big East offenses that play this way.
"Our offense is moving so fast, we'll already be built to that," he said. "We're just speed, speed, speed."
And as the spring goes on, Pitt hopes to get up to speed in its new style of play.
The definition of what a defense should do is night and day from Wannstedt to Graham. Wannstedt took the traditional approach - that the defense's responsibility was to prevent the other team from scoring points and pin back the opposing offense. Pressure is important, but it should be accomplished by the defensive line with the secondary in bend-don't-break coverage. Graham has a different, more aggressive approach: the defense's job is to get the ball back for the offense. And to accomplish that, the defense has to generate pressure, but perhaps more importantly, generate from pressure from all over the field:
Pitt defensive lineman Chaz Alecxih said Saturday the philosophy is more fun and a lot less predictable. Opposing offenses will have no idea where the pressure is coming from.
"We knew that if the defensive line didn't get to the quarterback last year, nobody was going to," Alecxih said. "We didn't run a lot of blitzes last year, although coach [Phil] Bennett was a genius with our defenses. But this year it is different because the linebackers can get pressure, they can step up and make our job a lot easier up front.
"That makes it a lot more fun for us."
Alecxih said that although the Panthers will blitz more -- they have shown a number of zone blitzes this spring -- that doesn't mean the defensive linemen are off the hook.
He said Graham has made it clear that all 11 players on defense are responsible for what he calls "impacting the quarterback."
I was agnostic on blitzing more under Wannstedt. Pressure wasn't the issue under the Bennett defenses. Yes, it was vanilla, but how some thought that blitzing a corner or a linebacker - who were often times already overwhelmed in coverage - was the answer is beyond me.
But one guy who should get plenty of play in the backfield is Bryan Murphy. The sophomore defensive lineman turned "Panther" linebacker is one of the undisputed kings of the spring:
Murphy, a sophomore, is filling in for Brandon Lindsey, who is recovering from shoulder surgery after earning second-team, All-Big East honors last season with 10 sacks.
At 6 feet 3, 245 pounds, Murphy has arms like logs, and he said he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds. Such gifts and a hungry attitude have forced coaches to figure ways to get Murphy and Lindsey on the field at the same time.
Graham has praised Murphy's effort daily since practice began March 15.
"You draw up what we want in toughness, and he epitomizes it," Graham said. "The guy is tough. He's physical. He's disciplined. He is a guy you trust sending him across that white line.
"He does not stay blocked."
With Brandon Lindsey probably locked in to the starting the job (and a favorite for all-conference honors), it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff uses Murphy this season. He seems destined to take over the position next season, but perhaps they'll move him to another linebacker spot in order to get the best players on the field. With the way he's playing, it doesn't seem like there's any alternative.
The defense has certain statistical goals as well as simply getting the ball back. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson explains:
Patterson said Pitt's defense will have three goals every game: Nine tackles for losses (which it accomplished Saturday), seven three-and-outs (they had four) and three turnovers (they had one).
The goal is simple: If Pitt forces seven three-and-outs and gets three turnovers, that will be 10 possessions where the defense will have completely shut down the opposing offense.
"That's how we measure success on defense," Patterson said. "We talked to the kids about the fact that we did a lot of good things, but we left the game in jeopardy because we forced only one turnover and we had only four three-and-outs."
I'm not going out on a limb to suggest that if the defense does those things, Pitt's going to win a lot of games. Those seem like video game type of numbers and I'd be surprised if they hit all of their targets in any game this season outside of Maine or Buffalo.
It's good to have goals, I guess.
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