The Black Knights return only four starters to a group that ranked 29th in the nation in total defense. In our interview we discussed how the coaches work together, each defensive position, recruiting and more.
ArmySports.com: How does the sharing of defensive coordinator duties work on the practice field and on game day?
Payam Saadat: I am in charge of the defensive line, so the five guys up front. (Note: In the flex the whip linebacker is grouped with the defensive line) Chris handles the back end, which is the six guys, the linebackers and the defensive backs. So in the practice environment we are separated in what we have to do in respect to the front end and back end positions. On game day I'm on the sidelines signaling for Chris as he calls the plays (from the booth). I help make the adjustments on the sidelines.
ArmySports.com: You both did a nice job the last two years molding the talent you inherited into an effective unit that ranked 29th and 16th in the nation. This year you're losing all your major impact players on defense. After spring practice how do you feel about this group?
Payam Saadat: Speaking up front Jim, we can help minimize the blow of losing that leadership and experience on the back end by making things happen on the front end. We're just going to have to be simple. We're going to be very concise in what we are asking our guys to do. Not bog them down with them having to think too much up front. If we can do that I think we can still reach the levels of what we've done the past couple of years even without a Mike Gann and Josh McNary. From the front standpoint I know we're going to have to make fewer mistakes. The athletic ability we had in Mike Gann and Josh McNary allowed themselves to get back into position to make a play if they made a mistake. We can't count on that right now with the guys we have up front. We can still accomplish what we want with the front five we do have in place.
ArmySports.com: Big concern to me is lack of size on interior defensive line after graduating Gann and some of the recruiting attrition from last year. In the flex traditionally you can play smaller players on some positions like quick end which line up in a seven technique or the bandit tackle in a three technique where you can be smaller. The nose tackle plays two gap in the flex. Are you concerned about the lack of size upfront right now?
Payam Saadat: No, size is relative. All we are concerned about is playing fast. If you play fast that conversation about size is not a discussion point but if you are small and you play slow; yes, absolutely, all you are is small. We have to make sure we are playing fast all the time. What we ask our guys to do up front does allow them to play fast and not think. It's one reaction to a stimulus and get going type of approach.
ArmySports.com: So even though your nose tackle is smaller he can play two gap as long as he plays fast and with leverage. Do you feel you can still be as effective in the middle at stopping the run?
Payam Saadat: Yes, absolutely!
In part II of our six part series, Saadat and Smeland will discuss the defensive line.