Board Coaches Chime In

We spoke recently with our board coaches and asked them to offer their opinion on how to fix some of the problems the Irish currently face on both sides of the ball. As always, the board coaches did a nice job of breaking down the problems and giving possible solutions. Today we'll take a look at the defense.

Opinion #1:

Notre Dame's struggles on defense in '06 came from many factors. I believe ND suffered from a combination of poor coaching in some areas, lack of talent at some positions, and lack of depth in others. I believe 2007 will be an interesting season for us as fans, and I hope to see some variations on defense, as well as an influx of young players who use the next eight months to develop their size, strength and talent.

I would like to see more than one alignment up front. While our DL was talented, they suffered from a lack of depth and a lack of surprise. The lack of depth often resulted in our DL playing tired and losing their collective burst.

By lack of surprise I'm referring to our base defensive front, which was rarely changed. When an OL has time to focus on his blocking assignment as he breaks the huddle, he is at a distinct advantage. Different fronts (odd or even) and stemming (movement by the D before the ball is snapped) take this advantage away from the OL, as they are forced to change their blocking responsibilities on each play.

Our linebackers are a problem position. Only one seems to be a natural, and our size disadvantage was a factor nearly every game. When you add the uncertainty of their responsibilities on each play (checking wristbands and looking to each other for help just before the ball is snapped), their speed to the ball went from adequate to poor. I'm hoping for improved communication (or maybe less communication) and more fire from this group next season.

As for the secondary, I'd be in favor of a few more coverages being played in each game. I would assume multiple coverages are practiced each week, but either due to personnel or other weaknesses, the secondary didn't show multiple schemes often enough in my opinion.

When a QB gets a valid pre-snap read; his life is much easier. Rolling from a cover 2 look to a cover 3 puts a safety in the middle of the field, and allows the fourth DB to either blitz, rob a curl zone, or jump the flat. Cover 1 allows various blitzes while still keeping a safety deep. Of course, both of these examples require a ball-hawking FS. I don't believe a defense needs dozens of coverages, but it needs to have enough to give the QB some problems, and those coverages need to be perfected.

I believe our corner play improved over the previous coaching staff (I realize we can all think of instances where it did not, but overall I believe it did). The influx of talent at the corner position should pay off in the next few years, as competition for starting positions raises each player's intensity and level of play.

The safety position is a major area of concern to me. I can only hope one (or two) of the younger players "gets it" and makes a major push this off season. I worry the instincts needed for this position aren't there.

Opinion #2:

It is my opinion that Notre Dame's primary defensive weakness last year was an insufficiency of talent at some, but not all positions. This was magnified by a static defensive scheme, which did not seem inclined to maximize the athletic skills some of the players did have. However, last year is behind us. These thoughts are about the future of the Notre Dame defense.

In terms of scheme, in my opinion, ND needs to become much more multiple in its fronts. They should mix up even/odd front and also just by some unusual alignments. The purpose of this would be to create some indecision and confusion for OL and QBs as they are making running scheme and pass protection calls.

Also, multiple front defenses add some pressure on practice time for the offense because the coaches have to teach double the number of schemes. This is very frustrating for players and coaches. The front four were arguably the most talented players on the defense, but were not able to leverage that into the expected levels of production. Perhaps more movement and differing alignments may have created more opportunity to make plays.
,br> At the LB level, I believe strongly that ND has talent issues. I think they played pretty uninspired football for most of the year. I will leave it to the reader to interpret beyond that. There are many things that need to get better here.

I think that ND needs to develop a more complete cover 3 zone blitz package out of a four DL and a three DL front. This allows a defense to disguise blitzes more easily, confuse QBs on their checkdowns and confuse OL on pass protection assignments. It may make you more susceptible to the run, but ND had plenty of speed and quickness on the defense to get players running to the ball and making the tackle.

Finally, and very simply, ND was an atrocious tackling team this year. There are many possible reasons for this, and frankly, I don't care what they are. This must be an area of focus and the player's need to step up and start to tackle like they should. Any defensive coach worth his salt would be ashamed by the tackling display of the ND defense this year.

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