Ron Zook's Coaching Philosophy: Defense

Ok, we have a new football coach, and everyone is excited about the possibility of improvement in Illini teams. But what is Coach Zook's offensive and defensive philosophy? Illinisports gives an overview of what we might expect from the new regime. In this first part of a two part series, Illinisports will look at Ron Zook's defensive philosophies.

Illini football fans are eager to see what type of offense and defense new coach Ron Zook will run. And they look forward to seeing how much excitement can be created and how many victories can follow. Of course, we won't know for sure until we have evaluated one or more seasons. But we can speculate based on previous tendencies and the results from spring practice.

Most people want to see more offensive fireworks on the field, and there is a good chance Coach Zook's offensive style will generate a great deal of excitement. But it might be best to evaluate Zook's defensive tendencies first since he has been a defensive coach most of his career.

Certainly, Illinois needs to improve its defense from previous seasons. Unfortunately, while there is some talent on the defense, it is extremely young by Big 10 standards. So the big question is, do we have enough talent among the younger players to offset the lack of experience? The answer to that question may depend on Coach Zook's ability to instill confidence and aggressiveness in players who have not had much previous success.

Much of defensive play depends on athletes playing with confidence and flying to the ball. No matter what defense you run, and Illinois will use multiple formations, success depends on the confidence and freedom of movement that enthusiastic coaches and a few wins can create. If Zook can get our returning players to forget the past and look with optimism and eagerness to the task ahead, we will likely have some success on defense. A few early wins can go a great way toward improving a major problem.

Coach Zook appears willing to use any defense that can be effective against the team he is playing. He uses a base 4-3 defense like Ron Turner did in the past. But much of the spring was devoted to variations on that theme. It appears Zook's main philosophy is to put as much speed on defense as possible and put his speedy players in a position where they are free to make plays.

Thus, some of the time he will use just three down linemen, two or three linebackers and a fifth and/or sixth defensive back. This is especially true when playing against opponents who use a spread offense or incorporate much passing. In this way, he can put more speed on the field than is possible to find among linemen and linebackers.

This use of extra defensive backs will not be as effective against the power teams in the Big 10, so that is the time for more down linemen and linebackers. In either case, Coach Zook prefers an aggressive style that puts as much pressure on the opposing quarterback as possible. A number of blitzes and line stunts will be employed, with cornerbacks being required to play man-to-man much of the time.

We may play some zone in the secondary as well. But we won't see any cornerbacks ten yards off the line of scrimmage when a man defense is called, unlike in the recent past. Safeties will have much run responsibility and can be used to put extra forces near the line to deter running plays.

From all indications, the one common denominator in Coach Zook's philosophy is the speed and aggressiveness of his defenses. That aggressiveness will get burned by a great play, but it will also put much pressure on opponents. He will recruit safeties to bulk up and become fast linebackers, linebackers to become fast defensive ends, and tight ends and defensive ends to become quick defensive tackles. When the talent is in place, the defense will be an effective one.

In the second part of his look at new Illinois Football Coach Ron Zook's philosophy, Illinisports will look at what Illinois fans should expect on the offensive side of the ball from the Illini.


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Illinisports, illinisports@illiniboard.com


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