Nittany Notes: Special Delivery

Wednesday, FOS took a close look at the linebacker unit, considered by many to be the best in the nation. Now we look at how defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and his crew are expected to use the athleticism and speed of their 'backers to cause confusion and create disruption for opposing offenses.

With experience and speed scattered throughout Penn State football's defensive backfield, the coaches have been at work trying to devise how they can leverage their talent and expand upon the blitzing approach that had teams like Ohio State and Florida State confused last year.

We've already told you about the situational 3-4 shifts that the team has been working on with the likes of Tim Shaw and Jerome Hayes playing the hybrid upright DE/LB position. Well, the coaches are working to add another layer of complexity onto the scheme.

As one observer explained, "It's rare when you have a linebacker unit come together like this one. These guys are athletic, strong, fast and super-smart on reads. The staff knows they can add a whole new dimension to the defense if they use them effectively."

Penn State used a variety of blitz packages in 2005, which were designed to "confuse and disrupt" quarterbacks and offenses. "Watch the Ohio State game; the 'backers were constantly moving in and out at the line," one observer said. "[Bradley] would call choice packages, which is where two 'backers would move in and out at the line opposite each other for two-second durations. Whoever was up on the line during the snap was the one who went in on the rush. Watch for more of this."

There were other looks from this formation, too. Sometimes both 'backers would rush. Other times they'd both settle into coverage. The key to the package's efficacy was "continual movement to keep the QB guessing."

How to improve on that? The coaches have been working what is described as a "rotation blitz," where two to three players (primarily linebackers and safeties) will take turns moving quickly up to the line, which are similar to the packages that were thrown at OSU last year, for example.

However, the staff is looking at possibly making these blitz package incrementally more complicated by inserting a "pattern" into the mix.

As an example, let's say you have four players on the package rotation:

1: Linebacker Paul Posluszny
2: Linebacker Tim Shaw
3: Linebacker Dan Connor
4: Safety Donnie Johnson

Keep in mind that these pacakge types can include two or more players from a wide array of positions. This is one example that was shared with us.

In this case, the quarterback steps to the line. Players 1 and 3 jump up to the line, hold two seconds and pull back. Players 2 and 3 then jump up to the line, hold and pull back. Player 1 then jumps up, holds and pulls back. Then players 2 and 4 jump up, the ball is snapped and both pressure the pocket.

The players who join the rush depend upon who is up on the line when the ball is snapped and if there are any "hold" calls in the formation.

For example, they may call a "three hold" pattern, which has player 3 as part of the pattern, but dropping back into coverage no matter if he is up on the line or back.

This complexity adds contiual motion and, hence, confusion for the QB. He may by chance be able to recognize the pattern, although it shifts with different plays, but he still can't be sure of which side is coming or if both or none of the players are coming. The offensive line also has to prepare for this and communicate the pressure points as quickly as the shifts are made, which can prove to be very challenging.


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