Florida will likely see the names of Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Bryan Cox, Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, Marcus Maye, Teez Tabor, and Quincy Wilson called when the NFL holds its annual draft in April. That is a whole lot of talent missing from a really good defense. Toss in the expertise of someone like Collins, and there would seem to be a lot of questions regarding that side of the ball.
A lot of those questions and concerns seem to be lightened by the fact that Shannon is now in charge. Shannon has a rich history of being an outstanding defensive coordinator and the job he managed in the Outback Bowl with the number of injuries the defense had in the big win over Iowa, is one that has reassured most that follow the Gators.
Shannon will do things a bit differently, but he knows there is a lot to do this spring to get the young guys ready to go.
"You know, we've got a long ways to go,” Shannon said post practice on Tuesday. “We're working at it. One thing about it, guys that are here are hungry. One thing when you have young guys and guys who are new to a system, they want to improve. They want to get better. We lost a lot of great players but we have a lot of guys that we looked at in the bowl game who played in the bowl game, so that's a plus for us. Just got to get better and keep going.”
Shannon isn’t ready to say it is his stamp on the new defense.
“I don't know if it's a stamp, it's a stamp of what we want to get done,” he said. “There’re a lot of big standards at the University of Florida, and we've got standards that we have set for what we need to get done in the spring. We're achieving… but sometimes we fall back. We've got to keep moving forward."
For Shannon, simpler is better. The thing he wants is for his guys to play fast. To do that, he wants excellent communication, all of his guys talking to each other on the field, and then just go play the game of football.
"What I did was just make things more simple,” he said. “We haven't changed anything, just more simple in what we do so guys can understand and play fast. Because I think the most important thing is that when you play fast there’re a lot of things that you can cover up. We did a lot of great things with Coach Collins last year. We just keep improving on them this year."
“We're trying to get everybody knowing strengths and weaknesses with certain calls, certain fronts, certain coverages, certain blitzes. If they know the strengths and weaknesses, then we can get better."
A few players have made it a point this early spring to say that one thing different in the way they are running the defense is that they are all calling the plays. It isn’t just the responsibility of the middle linebacker. They are all communicating with each other.
This is what Shannon wants. If 11 guys know run the same play, there is a better chance that the play will go well.
“We always said if everybody's wrong, everybody's right,” Shannon explained in simplest terms. “So if everybody's on the same page no matter what we call, we're all gonna play the same defense and we'll play fast. So we may line up in a formation and everybody knows the formation, this is what we're going to. So everybody will check at the same time. So it's like, not just the safeties knowing what we're doing, but the whole defense knows what we're doing. So everybody makes it easy."
The main difference is that now the players are all focusing on the alignment of the offense and calling the play based on that alignment, instead of hearing a single call from a coach and running with it.
“It's a little bit different because we were more of a coverage team and a front team,” he said about a year ago. “Now we're more of a formation. You know, same calls, but formation. They know what we're going to as soon as the formation comes up."
The middle linebackers will still be the original vocal point of the defense, the key is the response from the other 10 guys on the field.
"They’ve still got to line us up and make the calls,” he said of David Reese and company. “But it's like anything. Anybody can make the calls. They don't have to be Reese. Here's the thing. And the reason why we're going to it is because it's like the NFL. If you're in the game and one guy makes the calls and everybody's looking like, 'that ain't the call', that means this guy's got a concussion and we need to call a timeout and get him out of the game. So if everybody knows the call and knows the adjustment, then you don't rely on one guy. Because one guy can really make you not be successful if he doesn't know exactly what's going on."
One thing the new philosophy intends to bring is a reliance on the talent rather than the perfect play call. One of the things that the defense intends to do is develop some bona fide pass rushers. Shannon wants to rely less on blitzing and pressuring and be able to get to the quarterback with guys on the edge that can just beat their man when they need to.
"I don't know if (the scheme is) any different, but there’re some certain things that we may do coverage wise, certain things that we may do blitz-wise schematically that we may change and do things like that,” he said.
Shannon really wants to develop the pass rush and believes they have the guys and the coach up front in Chris Rumph to make it happen.
“That’s because it’s what we believe in,” he said. “Here’s the thing. If you develop pass rushers, you can always blitz. But you can’t blitz and then say OK now we’re going to develop pass rushers. Because you have to have some form of (guys that can get after the quarterback). If you’re doing a lot of blitzing and all of a sudden you’re not getting there, then your DB’s are hanging on the line.
“I remember one year when I was at Miami, we played Virginia Tech. We blitzed the first 28 plays of the game. In some way, form, or fashion, it was 28 straight blitzes. Don’t know why I did it, it just happened. Now two weeks later, we just went four-man rush the whole game. So, it’s developing your pass rushers first and then you can go and do other things.”
“If you can get home with four, you’ve got it good.”
And it further simplifies things for all the guys on the defense.