Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash did more than teach a new scheme this past spring. Playing defense is about learning offense, too, something the Hogs improved at in 15 workouts.
Defenders must understand offensive schemes and how to use what you see to make things easier. They've got to find the clues to what's about to happen.
"That's understanding formations, backfield sets, wide receiver splits, stances of offensive linemen," Ash said. "Is it going to be a pass or is it going to be a run? We made a lot of progress from that standpoint. It isn't about the kind of schemes we are running on defense, just the mental part of the game.
"We improved drastically from that standpoint, because from the first day to the last day, our on-the-field communication improved dramatically. We were able to recognize backfield sets, stances and then being able to communicate that as a defensive unit, we got a lot better."
There was structural development of a basic scheme, but not all of the details.
"I wanted them to understand some aspects of our scheme," Ash said, "but we could not even come close to putting in a total package because the first thing you have to do is learn the fundamentals, communicate formations, sets, splits, things like that -- it takes a lot of time. So we were very limited in the calls we put in. I wanted them to come out feeling good about one or two things and we did that. I feel a lot better about where we are in all of those things after practice 15."
It was a small package.
"You get asked about where we need to go, we have a long way to go," he said. "To be a competitive SEC defense, we have a long way to go. We've got a lot more defensive package to put in. I'm not a volume guy as far as package. I want to be an executor, not an innovator. I don't want to wow you with all the defensive calls. I want to execute the things we do call. I think for what we did this spring, we got to that point. But we don't have near enough in.
"How much potential for improvement do we have? I think a lot. We have a fairly high ceiling. Maybe it's not as high as some of the other top teams in the league defensively, but we have a high ceiling and have a lot of room for improvement with these guys. Hopefully, when we come back in the fall, there's a lot of retention of what we did in the spring, the fundamentals of each position and the offensive recognition -- we've got those two things installed. So when we come back in the fall, we can come back with some more schemes and develop the package a little more.
"We've got a base, we've got a foundation that we've built through 15 practices. Now, how many bricks and layers can we go up from there is yet to be determined until we get back from summer break."
But it wasn't as much about technique, fundamentals and scheme as it was about a mindset change. There had to be a belief that the new staff knew their stuff and players would join forces.
"The first thing that had to happen was the buy in," Ash said. "There was a process of change. We talked about that a lot. The results of the defensive unit have not been very good in awhile.
"I'm not being negative, we all know it. That change is not going to happen over night. I tell the players this all the time, there is a process of change. It's not going to happen just because we came here from the University of Wisconsin. That's not it. They are going to have to go through it step by step, day by day, week by week process.
"They have to make every day their master piece. We talk about that all of the time. Don't worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Make today your masterpiece. As long as you do that and you are better than yesterday, that's all I care about.
"I'm not concerned about anyone else, anybody else in the league. I'm concerned about our daily improvement. As long as we do that every day, we'll make improvement. I don't have a lot of goals on paper for number of points, number of yards. None of that stuff matters to me right now. I'm concerned about daily improvement that we can make and the buy in. If they buy in what we are selling and believe in the daily improvement, work that process of change, we'll be a lot better.
"We will get to goals. But we have to be a competitive unit before we do. Hopefully, we get there at some point in training camp. Right now, we are no where near being a competitive SEC defense. We are not. I tell the kids that al the time. They get it. We watch film all the time of what we did at Wisconsin and film of some NFL teams, other top teams in the country. We are not at that level right now. I'm not concerned about that right now. I'm concerned about us and our daily improvement."
When Ash is finished with the masterpiece is not clear, but it is clear that he knows how to paint the picture. The strokes are being applied with sharp and solid strokes.
State of the Hogs: Defense, Part II
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