"There's no question in my mind that they've progressed," Tenuta said of his linebackers. "They understand the system, they understand what I'm trying to ask them to do, and they work harder everyday."
Many considered former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to be the biggest get for Weis and his staff this recruiting season, and why shouldn't they? From his start in 1981 as a graduate assistant at Virginia, Tenuta has found success everywhere he's coached. In his last four years with the Yellow Jackets, Tenuta's defense was ranked in the top 30 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, and rushing defense. The Virginia graduate has coached current NFL players such as Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Ahmed Plummer, and Nate Clements. While Tenuta undoubtedly expects great things from this Irish team, he said that this squad doesn't remind him, in particular, of any of his previous teams.
"To me, every team is different, players are different," he said. "Guys want to try and compare this guy to that guy. Everybody's different and everybody has their strengths and weaknesses and you have to develop their weaknesses to make them better football players."
As attacking as he defenses are now, Tenuta said they were even more aggressive in his early days of coaching. As time went on, though, he adjusted his philosophy slightly to avoid getting burned.
"My attitude going into it was that I was going to go full board no matter what," he said. "And then through mistakes and experience and based on who we played against, if we got a chance to play them again the next year, so on and so forth, it helped me develop more of a mature concept of how to approach certain people."
However, he hasn't changed that much. Tenuta said he believes in bringing pressure "75 to 80 percent of the time."
Tenuta has shared the task of improving the Irish defense with second-year defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. There were question marks coming in as to how Tenuta's attacking system would mesh with Brown's philosophy, but both coaches have said that not only have they coexisted, but that they have learned a great deal from one another.
"I think we're both good students because we're both good listeners," Tenuta said. "I think for anybody to be a great teacher or a good teacher you have to be a good listener and I think we're both good listeners. That to me is what makes it even easier to communicate with as we go into meetings, practice or whatever."
Brown said that before coaching with Tenuta, he liked to mix his blitzes in with other coverage schemes, whereas the new coach prefers to bring pressure on a regular basis. Brown, though, hasn't had trouble adjusting to the new system.
"I wouldn't say that's not what my style was, I just didn't do it regularly," Brown said. "Anything that works, I'm going to be comfortable with."
Tenuta has also been trying to unlock the knowledge that Brown already has from his playing experience at Michigan and in the NFL. Tenuta talked about Brown's ability to relate practices from his playing days into his coaching schemes.
"There is no substitution for experience, good, bad or indifferent," Tenuta said. "And he has it, let's just keep going, you know. And like he said, in the numerous conversations that we've had, just let it fall into play and now put it into down and distance by personnel and so on and so forth. Once you understand the menu, then everything falls into play."
By all accounts, everything seems to be going well at spring practice so far.
"It's awesome to me, I love coaching," Tenuta said. "When you get a chance to teach and coach, it's outstanding."
The Columbus, Ohio native is famous for his hard-nosed approach to coaching, something that has definitely been noticed by his former players. Fifth-year senior defensive end Justin Brown said he "maybe saw [Tenuta] laugh once."
"He's going to let you know what you're doing wrong and he's not going to let you know what you're doing good because he doesn't want you to get content," sophomore linebacker Brian Smith said. "And I like that."
While he may have a bit of a rough personality, Tenuta's aggressive style has gotten good reviews from all angles so far in the Irish defensive huddle.
"We're gonna rattle you," junior defensive end Morrice Richardson said. "So that's kind of what he's bringing here to the table."
As for Tenuta's impressions of his players, while he said that everyone had made progress, no one player has stood out so far to him this spring, and that he was just focused on the defense getting better as a unit.
"I like all my guys," he said. "As long as they stay healthy and do what I'm asking them to do, I think everyone of my guys in my room have gotten better. They may not think so, but I think a lot of those guys have developed and become a lot better players and a lot more involved in what we're trying to get done so it makes them more aggressive themselves."
That progress has allowed Tenuta to tinker with different formations, such as moving Harrison Smith up to linebacker, or playing a 3-2 with six defensive backs — a formation he refers to as the "dollar scheme."
Being so famous for his aggressiveness on the football field, one can't help but wonder if Tenuta applies that same philosophy to all aspects of his life. When asked where that ideology comes from, he said, "It's my personality." Although, he added, that personality only applies on the football field.
"My wife's in charge at home," the father of three said. "She runs the roost with my boys there."
Fans coming out to the Blue-Gold Game on April 19 will be treated to a taste of Tenuta's style. Even though the spring game has no-contact rules for the quarterbacks, expect to see at least a little bit pressure in Jimmy Clausen's face.
"It's whatever coach [Weis] allows us to do," Tenuta said. "I'm sure we'll bring a couple of fire zones here and there, but I don't think we're going to do very many."
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