Coach's Mailbag

In what is quickly becoming my favorite series of Irish Eyes, the board coaches do another fantastic job of explaining your questions about football. I hope you enjoy the lastest in a great series, and please send any questions you might have for the coaches along and they'll answer them.

Question 1: Last year it seemed the Apache LB usually lined up behind the WDE (weak side defensive end). If the Apache LB is a safety/LB hybrid intended to strengthen pass defense, and the WDE is usually a pass rush specialist, it seems this puts our weakest run defenders on one side of the ball. OSU repeatedly abused us on that side, and got very little anywhere else on the field.

This puzzles me. If the SDE (strong side) is nominally lined up with the TE, wouldn't you want the pass coverage LB over the TE as well? In addition to being in position to cover the TE, this also balances run/pass strength.

Response 1:
Without having done some intensive video analysis it is difficult to respond to the premise of this question. However, I would ask the submitter if he took into account the hash mark on which the ball was placed. Remember that ND plays a field/boundary scheme as much as(if not more) than it plays a formation based scheme. So, if the offensive set was putting the split end side into the wide side of the field, it would then make sense that the Apache LB(the adjuster) would align to the wide side of the field, not simply where the TE was.

Response 2:
I am not sure that I totally understand the question so I am sure it is a good one. Keep in mind that the SS is lined up on the TE side also. Although the linebacker has to pick up a TE on a release and defend the run, the SS is there to contain the flats against the run, provide support against the TE also, and needs to be able to drop back to defend the pass. Every position on the defense is critical, but in my opinion, the SS may be one of the hardest. Some folks think that you can take a slower FS and move them to SS. Those folks in here that have played football at the Division 1 level will all tell you that the speed on the field is unbelievable. Imagine having to contain against the run yet not get burned in a deeper zone against a team with the speed of Ohio State. TZ's game has developed extremely well during the past few years. He has the aggressive play of a linebacker, excellent tackling skills and the required speed to drop into deeper zones against lightening quick WR's.

Question 2:
I have a question also for the coaches. I don't remember if it was answered in a previous edition, but, what are the advantages/disadvantages of playing smaller, quicker guys on D positions as opposed to slower stronger guys…especially S and LB. Like the SEC/ACC defenses seem to bring in CBs and move them to S, safeties to LB, LB/TEs to DE, and DE to DT. Would you rather have a guy who could defend the pass exceptionally, but could get blown up defending the run sometimes? Or do you mix and match?

Keep in mind that football is increasingly a match-up game with a diminishing emphasis on the run over the pass in terms of the ratio of play types called. If I have a 50/50 chance of a pass play being called vs. a run play, and generally the average gain per pass is greater than the average gain per run, then it becomes very important that I limit gain to the number of yards between QB and the WR at completion. Faster guys get to the ball earlier and increase my chances of limiting gain on the pass. Also, assuming fast guys can avoid run blocks as proficiently as big guys can shed them, I should be able to remain as efficient against the run as I was with big guys and more efficient vs. the pass. Bottom line is that you still have to play the match-ups as the last question implies.

Question 3: How are plays typically called in? Are adjustments made at the line of scrimmage by the players?

Plays may be sent in via messenger or signaled in. I've done both.

The advantage of sending them in is far fewer delay of game penalties during the season, and no chance of your signals being stolen by an observant opposing coach or player. The disadvantage is the messenger or the QB sometimes loses something in the translation. It would be a safe bet to say that many timeouts during the season are caused by confusion on a play sent in by the coach. If you send them in via messenger you need to be very organized, the players that you're using alert, and distractions of other coaches suggesting things needs to happen only after the message goes into the QB.

Signaling the plays in is far easier to me, especially if you have some type of numerical system contained in the sleeve of the QB's wrist. By numerical system I mean that the QB has the played numbered on his wrist sleeve. A simple method would be signaling the formation and then the play number, which is a number of plays determined by the game plan, not the whole playbook.

Adjustments are made at the LOS by the OL making their blocking calls, the QB reading the defense, possibly changing the play or the blocking scheme, and the WR's reading the coverages. Hopefully, all mesh together and the play is successful.

Question 4: What is the philosophy behind stunting?

Response 1:
Stunting is used to disrupt OL blocking, create a change-up to the base defense, force the OL to adjust, counter wide splits, and hopefully to surprise the offense and create a big play. A common type of stunt is when two DL switch responsibilities by changing gaps. One DL slants into the other DL's gap while the other DL loops to the gap vacated by the slanting DL. The destruction of the OL blocking, and hopefully allowing some defender to come clean to make a big play is the goal of a stunt.

DL's may also be involved in stunts with LB's and DB's. There are many ways to stunt.

George Pereles, as defensive coordinator of the great Steeler teams of the seventies, made significant use of stunts, and the Steeler teams of that era initially just destroyed people, posting many shutouts, but the offenses caught up in the continual chess game that is football.

A good OL handles a stunt with precision and often it leads to big plays. If you have a tape of the Sugar Bowl of 1992, aka the Cheerios Bowl, you see a good, determined OL blow Florida's stunts out of the water in the second half.

Response 2:
The most basic answer to this is to generate big plays on defense either by creating a play that loses yardage or to upset the timing of a pass play to create an incompletion or an interception due to a bad throw. This is the strategic philosophy. Tactically, the philosophy is to attack the blocking scheme of the offense by either overloading one side of the offensive formation or to disguise gap responsibility and thereby finesse the OL into incorrect execution of their assignments. Defensive coaches vary widely on when they like to call stunts. Some (Bronco Mendenhall) like to send seven or eight guys all the time, others like to pressure a ton on third down passing situations (Philadelphia Eagles), some guys (Tony Dungy) are not big users of pressure and prefer very limited use with high efficiency. There is no wrong or right answer as long as you are putting your players in position to do what their talent allows them to do at maximum efficiency.

Question 5: What tips off defensive players of a run/pass?
Reads and keys tip off defensive players as to what is coming their way. Reads are basic football situations. Keys are from scouting reports and film study. Both vary from player to player based on position.

A simple read, such as how the SS reads how the TE blocks the defensive end on a running play, gives a SS a clue to where the ball is going. If the TE blocks the DE to the outside, then the ball is coming inside, and the TE tries to seal the DE to the inside, the ball is coming outside. The SS will run support based on what the read tells him.

Keys may be as simple as formation. A team may almost always pass from a split back set, and almost always run from the I back set.

Question 6: What sorts of weapons does a defensive coordinator have at his disposal when he knows his team is at a disadvantage in terms of speed, size or raw athletic ability? To what extent can scheme mitigate opposing talent?

Response LTD: Better recruiting is the best weapon. LOL. Couldn't resisit.

Question 7: With some of the rumors floating around that ND may go to a 4-2-5 (with Lambert being the 5th DB and taking the place of an outside LB)--what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of this scheme compared to a traditional 4-3 alignment? Is a 4-2-5 essentially a defense in full time nickel coverage? True or not, with all the talk of a disappointing Spring from the LB corps, would it make sense for ND to adjust their scheme in this way?

Change schemes? I doubt it. That would require, at best, the back seven position players to learn a new scheme, and it would be the third defensive change in the past three years. Such a change, like the oft surmised 3-4 by some ND fans, would require a consideration as to whether ND has the personnel to fit such a scheme.

Question 8: How hard is it to have a player change positions? There has been a lot of talk about Travis Thomas moving to LB, it this was to occur what are some of the major obstacles that the coaches and Travis would face?

I have seen many players in my coaching/playing career year successfully switch positions. This year I took my best DT, moved him to LG out of necessity. He was hating me for moving him to offense but now is loving life and knocking guys all over the field as our best OL. I myself switched from FS to WR and finally to QB at the college level. In my opinion, the switch completely depends on the athletic skills of the player, football smarts and the position you are switching them too.

For example, look at Tommy Frazier and Tony Rice. There is no question in my mind that both QB's had the physical skills as well as the knowledge of the WR position to have been excellent if they didn't stick at QB. Arnaz Battle made a pretty fluid transition from QB to WR also. They have the physical skills as well as the knowledge of the position. D-backs and linemen switch positions quite frequently, usually at the high school level. The transition from corner to FS is not a difficult one if the physical tools are in place. However the transition from any safety position to corner is very difficult due required speed and technique, some of which can not be taught. Many star high school athletes have played multiple positions by the time they get to college.

Regarding Thomas, he has a good football mind, has been reading LB's his whole career, and has the speed and frame to be effective at a LB position. His success, if he makes the transition, will be based upon his coaching as well as repetitions in practice. He will have plenty of time and the leadership to help him make the move. I would evaluate him based upon his general football smarts, speed, size/frame to add pounds and his desire to play the role.

He is used to getting hit and would probably be pretty physical out there. Never have met him, I have no idea of his personality but I would assume that he has the "edge" in his mindset that I believe is critical for any linebacker. My final comment is that I have read on this board many times posters who discuss moving players like chess pieces. When evaluating a position change, coaches have to take into account a player's desire/willingness to switch. A happy player will give you a 100 percent effort. My guess is that if this move is seriously under consideration, Thomas believes that the move will better position him to play at a higher level if that is what he chooses.

If you have any questions for the board coaches, please e-mail me at: Top Stories