Coach's Mailbag

The coaches of Coach's Mailbag have experience playing football at the high school, college, and the semi-pro level. Our coaches have coached, or are currently coaching, junior high, high school, and semi-pro. They have experience as scouts, recruiting for semi-pro, as position coaches, offensive coordinators, and defensive coordinators.

The coaches of Coach's Mailbag do not profess to have all the answers. We go to clinics and we pick the minds of other coaches believing that no one coach knows it all. Like Coach Weis we learn from others.

Question 1: During the build-up to the NFL draft I heard several analysts comment it was a strike against Vince Young that he worked almost exclusively from the shotgun during his career at Texas. As I recall, the comment made was that -- in order to play the NFL game -- Vince would need to learn to work from under center -- and to develop the ability to read defenses, etc. as he drops back into the pocket. What is unique about the NFL game verses the college game that would make the shotgun less effect? Seems to me (at least in Vince's case) the shotgun is used very effectively at the college level...

Answer:

It's not just the NFL, but all QB's who have been exclusively shotgun QB's are under suspicion when they progress to the next level. It begins with taking the snap from center, then there are various handoffs, and several drop-backs that shotgun QB's haven't shown they are capable of in game situations. Also the pre-snap reads must be read from a different perspective under center than as a shot-gunner. Add to that the under-center QB must make reads while moving into his various drops. Certain reads must be made by his first step and it progresses from there. Again, there is no basis to assure that he can do this when all a QB has been is a shotgun QB. Witness the problems that Alex Smith had with the 49'ers. When all is said and done Young has the ability to do the physical aspects of an under-center QB, but like all NFL rookie QB's, the question will be whether he can absorb the mental aspect of Pro Football. I'd say it rests on the mental capabilities of the individual.

Question 2: Is there a good layman's guidebook to football? Something that's not too technical or in-depth, but explains what is a draw play, what is Cover 2, Strong Side vs. Weak Side, etc. Blue Gray Sky has had a few posts in the past, but a "Football for Dummies" type book would be very helpful as I try to educate my two young boys about the game. I've seen a few in the bookstore, but if the coaches have one they recommend, it would be great to know.

Answer

A good book, in my opinion, would be "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Football", by Joe Theismann. I've seen it at Barnes & Noble. It covers college, the pros, positions, strategies, and gives some insider information. Theismann, being a Domer and a pro, does a good job for the layman. Unlike many coaching books, Theismann's book is indexed, a major plus for the layman.

Question 3: If you were in charge of the Notre Dame defense heading into '06, what would you do to improve production on that side of the ball?

Response No. 1

First of all, the defense will get better when the talent level is increased in certain places and overall depth improves. Trevor Laws, Derek Landri, and Victor Abiamiri are excellent at their positions and would start for most of our opponents. We have no weakside rusher among the upper classmen. I imagine Morrice Richardson and Kallen Wade will get plenty of opportunity to get on the field in this role. There is a significant problem at one of the safety positions, and based on what I have seen, the solution has not yet emerged.

In terms of scheme, the number one thing I would like to see is something similar to what OSU did in the Fiesta Bowl, where they played three DL and ran tons of zone blitzes, which seemed to confuse the offense a little bit. I think you could play a set with Laws at nose, Frome or Landri at weakside end, and Abiamari at the strong side. Find your best pass rushing LB/Safety type and put him on the weakside and mix up dropping and blitzing.

I haven't watched every game from last year in great detail, but I do not remember that they mixed up fronts very much. I think ND through the last two defensive coordinators has been too static and are always in a 4 DL front just mixing up the alignment of the strong side DE but not doing much else. Minter also likes twist games and the like, but our best pass rush last year was letting Landri line up in the gap and blow thru as quickly as he can. It is not ideal that your best pass rusher is in a double team gap all the time. There are other ways to bring pressure off the edge than a corner blitz. I think it is worthwhile to consider that if you can't put a good weakside end on the field then look at getting him off and check LB/DB combos. I think that OSU made it clear that we can't put a decent end over there unless Frome is back and 100 percent. Justin Brown and Ronald Talley don't appear to be the answer yet are not very stout and not very quick.

Response No.2

I'm intrigued by Stephenson returning to DE, as I believe him to have more speed than Frome, Talley, or Brown, and in my opinion he has the potential to be a better pass rusher than the others from what I've seen. The question remains on whether he can handle the run to gain playing time. Will he beat out Frome, or at least gain playing time as a pass rusher in certain situations? What I'd do is create defensive packages, like Coach Weis does with offensive personnel. Certain down and distances and specific offensive personnel coming into the game would dictate which packages I'd employ.

Essentially, baring injuries, the defense will be better up front and in the secondary based on experience alone. The lack of a pass rush is being addressed, so hopefully it will put more pressure on the opponent's passing game. Despite the numerous big plays against the defense last year, the secondary exhibited marked improvement in technique, and based on what I've seen, they are even better this year as a unit.

The key aspect of this year's defense will be how the LB corps plays this year. Their play will be a major factor in ND's success defensively.

Response No. 3

After watching two practices and the BG game, I have no question this group is extremely well coached. Coach Lewis is one of the best I've seen (if not THE best).

He pays attention to every detail, every step, every movement. At the high school level, we don't have the time to focus on things to that degree. But at the college level, each false move, poor angle, or simple mis-step can mean the difference between an interception /deflection or a completion / touchdown.

I don't think many can argue with the improved technique of the corners last fall. Notice I commented on technique, not the ability to read plays. The corners, for the first time in a few years, played the ball and showed promise.

Both safeties, especially No. 9, did a good job of making big plays. Once again, technique wasn't the major factor.

My two cents: Our DB's might benefit from additional time reading play-action, route combinations, and seeing the overall "big picture." I've never made it a secret in my posts on the board that I believe our DB's will improve next year. I believe DB's benefit more from experience than any other position. Once a DB has seen certain releases, routes, moves, etc., he is able to react rather than think and react. Additional reps against play-action and the like might help some "lights go on" in the heads of our DB's.

All can be taken with a grain of salt, as I am but a grasshopper compared to the master we have as our DB coach. But if my DB's at the high school level were having the difficulties ND's have experienced, that would be my course of action.

Question 4: Please explain the difference between the SDE and WDE. Does the placement of the ball between the hash marks have a bearing on which side an end plays, is it determined by the personnel of the offense, or both? What physical attributes make a given player a better candidate for one position versus the other?

Response No. 1

A SDE is the strong side defensive end and the WDE is the weakside defensive end. In the basic alignment the SDE lines up to the strength of the offensive formation, the TE side, while the WDE would line up to the opposite side. Also the WDE, supposedly a better pass rusher, would align on the QB's blind side. Film study of the opponent would dictate any changes from the either norm. Again, the WDE is supposedly the better pass rusher, and the SDE is better versus the run.

Physically, in an ideal sense, the WDE is a speed rusher, a Justin Tuck type. Then again, some teams don't switch their DE's at all, nor use the designation of WDE and SDE, expecting both DE's to play their position as the total package.

Response No. 2

We board coaches are fairly passionate about this topic. Any of you who have wandered into a late night chat on IE may have stumbled upon a heated discussion about the differences between the two positions.

The SDE is a very difficult position, and requires a superior athlete. Many of the coaching clinic talks I've attended over the years have labeled the position the "Stud" position. Most coaches don't throw out compliments easily, so obviously the player at this position has our respect.

Just as the first coach's reply stated, the SDE lines up to the TE side, if a TE is present in the formation. This makes his job very difficult. The SDE has numerous responsibilities, depending on the play call. He might be asked to line up heavy on the TE, controlling him on a strong side run, or stalemating him and impeding his downfield progress on a pass play. Or he might be placed in an inside shade on the TE, still "chipping him" on a pass route, while controlling C gap (the gap between the T and TE) on a running play.

The difficulties he faces are the numerous blocking schemes he will face. He might be double teamed by the T and TE. He might be down blocked by the TE, in an effort to "wash him down" inside. In a zone blocking scheme, he will usually be facing two very good run blockers, each trying to control him and get to the next level. The SDE has to react to the blocking schemes he is facing, fight pressure, and control his gap.

Conversely, the WDE only has the QT (quick tackle) to deal with, unless it is a "double tight" (2 TE) formation. I don't mean to discount his importance in the defensive scheme, but he rarely has to deal with multiple blocking schemes. Every team loves to have great speed at this position, as he has an easier route to the QB. He often doesn't have to read before he reacts, and he can pursue in a flat line down the line of scrimmage on a running play away from him, hopefully making plays in the backfield.

A simple tactic our high school uses to counteract an obvious "SDE-WDE" scheme is trading the TE. Our TE lines up (without placing his hand on the ground), and at the first cadence motions to the other side of the formation. This puts our opponent in a situation where their two DE's are not in the positions their DC wants them. Some teams will try to "flip-flop" their DE's when our TE goes into motion, but they are 18 year old kids, and often they will collide with each other trying to realign, or look a bit flustered trying to align and read their keys.

Let's consider the NFL. It's not easy to name more than a few SDE's who are superior pass rushers. Most "sack artists" come from the weak side. Two of the best who came from the strong side in my memory are Michael Strahan and Reggie White. Most of the NFL's other sack leaders are WDE's.

These are two very different positions. Personally, I am a big fan of our current SDE (Victor Abiamiri). If he is healthy this fall, I believe he will have a huge year. Remember, that might not mean he registers tremendous sack numbers, but the SDE position requires much more than just sacks. Owning the "C" gap is a big win for the defense.

Answering the question, the WDE is more of a speed position, while the SDE needs both speed and strength. Recruiting players who have both is the easy way out.

Question 5 : Can you ask the coaches if they could compare the 3-4 vs. the 4-3 defense? What personel do you need to have to run each defense and if they think ND is leaning that way? Or if Minter has a history of running it? Thanks.

Response No.1

First off, I really would be surprised if we switch schemes this year due to the fact that this is an extremely important year to make a run at a NC because we lose some studs next year. In my opinion, we do not have the proper personnel to make the switch to a three- man front and there would be a learning curve involved. I would also fear that switching to a three-man front would hurt us in the recruitment department (less opportunities to play as well as send the wrong message to our current players). Most coaches go to a three-man front either due to lack of numbers at DL or lack of true DEs for the 4 man front. It is often easier to find 3 DT type linemen that play in a three-man line then the somewhat rare qualities (combo of size and speed) found in true DEs for a four-man front.

Response No. 2

The 3-4 defense, more so than the 4-3 defense, usually requires the DL's to engage blockers, freeing the LB's to tackle the runner and blitz from anywhere. Minter may use a three-man line in certain situations, as he has done before, but our inexperience at LB would, in my opinion, preclude any switch to the 3-4 as the base defense any time soon.

Question 6: When talking defense schemes, especially linemen, defensive linemen will have one or two gap responsibility. I've heard from coaches and some of the analysts on the board refer to "this player is more of a one-gap lineman than a two-gap lineman". My question, what are the different attributes you are looking for between and one and two gap lineman?

Response No.1

The two-gapper tends to be a lot bigger than a one-gap DT/NT…..bigger more so in the sense of being stout, not necessarily tall. The added size is not so much to handle double teams, but to totally control the OL that he will be head up on (usually the center). However, size is not really what distinguishes a good two-gapper. What sets him apart is the ability to feel pressure (the block), then read the play from where the pressure is coming from, and then react to it. Since his key is feeling pressure, a good two-gapper then can cover both gaps on either side of him (no visual reads), thereby leaving a LB free run to the ball and be more aggressive rather than be tied up with a gap assignment. To be able to control the center (and often a G also) enough to feel pressure and then fight through it, he must not only have great size and strength, but also really know how to use leverage, and then be very skilled with his hands to separate from the blocker and then shed the block.

In the NFL, big Ted Washington (A.K.A. Mt.Washington) is the best I have seen. Washington does not use leverage well, but he does everything else perfectly, great size-strength, and the best hands I have seen on a NT. He also has surprising quickness. If you look at Vince Wilfork from the Patriots, you can see what happens when you try to make a one-gapper, three-technique player (as he was at Miami and very good at it), into a two-gapper . . . he has the size and quickness, but lacks the hands and the acute ability to sense pressure and is therefore pretty ineffective as a two-gapper.


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