That was one of the advantages for Muschamp, but new position coaches Travaris Robinson and Lance Thompson didn’t have that luxury, making the offseason program and meetings a vital part of the preparation for the spring. Now on the practice field and installing basic parts of the defense while also getting a look at players in different roles, Muschamp said so far things have gone well through two days of practice for the Tigers.
“I think we've done a nice job in our offseason because of the new rules being able to meet with them more on football,” Muschamp said. “We were much more prepared coming in. This is about my sixth time doing this, as far as implementing a new system. A lot of trial and error through those years, and figuring out probably the best ways to get things taught in a timely manner for the players.
“All I told them is, 'Listen, effort's on you right now. The execution's on us, and eventually you've got to learn to execute within the scheme and what we're trying to do. Just give us effort right now and we'll coach the rest of it. Right now, I've been somewhat pleased. Much better day two than day one.“
Learning the execution of the defense is going to be difficult in the beginning for several players as Muschamp has guys like Derrick Moncrief and Javiie Mitchell working as both linebackers and as nickel defensive backs. With Tim Irvin working as a safety in addition to his role as a nickel and even Johnathan Ford doing double-duty as a safety and cornerback, Muschamp said because of the previous defensive scheme they have some players that will have to fit in different roles moving forward.
“There was a lot of hybrid guys,” Muschamp said. “They played the Star position, which was a nickel for us. But we ask our nickel to do a little bit more coverage in our scheme and system. But Moncrief and Mitchell and some of those guys are playing the Sam/nickel for us right now. We're still trying to roll guys in and play different roles.
“Y'all know me, we're going to cross-train a bunch of guys at different spots,” he added. “It's more about teaching the concepts of what we do and how we do it, not necessarily putting a guy in one spot because you're going to have some injuries. You never want to be in a situation of just putting the next guy in because that's where he's repped. You need to put the next best player in. That's what we're kind of gunning for right now as we teach our system.”
Derrick Moncrief brings athleticism to the linebacker group for the Tigers
Versatility is always important and that’s what the freshman Irvin brings to the table for the Tigers this spring. An outstanding athlete capable of playing offense and returning kicks if needed, he’s getting a baptism by fire this spring at two spots for the Tigers. While he should also be a good fit at safety for the Tigers, Muschamp said his first role could be at the nickel as the fifth defensive back.
“He does a nice job,” Muschamp said. “He's got a really good feel in the slot. Tim had really good return skills coming out of Miami with the ball in his hands. He was a running back also in high school, but he's got really good instincts on the field. The work ethic and all that, it's just a real hard transition coming mid-year, especially coming into a new situation.
“It's good for him because everybody's hearing it for the first time new. But we've just got to continue to build his stamina and his endurance, but he's going to be a good football player. He's got a long ways to go but I've been pleased with his playing nickel.”
The ability to play multiple positions is also something Ford has shown in his first two seasons on the Plains. Playing some running back in addition to cornerback his first year, Ford switched to safety last fall and led the Tigers in tackles with 93 in his first year as a starter. This spring he’ll be back at corner at least part-time as Muschamp and Robinson Look to find the answer opposite veteran Jonathan Jones.
“Right now, he’s going to have to play some corner for us in spring,” Muschamp noted. “Everybody talks hips and all, I could care less. We play in a half-turn. We’re opened up and running or we’re playing bump and run, one or the other. He’s a physical, tough player and he can really run on the top end and can match up against some of the bigger receivers in our league.”