Nittany Notes: Defense

With preseason practice into the second week, the Penn State defense is starting to dial up the intensity and complexity of its drill work during the two-a-day sessions. See how the defensive staff is looking to leverage the experience and speed it has.

THE SCENE: With extensive experience and impressive speed throughout Penn State's defensive backfield, the coaches are working with the unit to leverage this talent to expand upon the blitzing schemes that had opponents confused and on edge last year.

"Blitzing is like war — the element of surprise gives you an invaluable edge," one observer explained. "The only real way to get this advantage is through disguises.

"I used to say it was rare to have such talent in the linebacker unit, but now it sees pretty common for this team. You lose a guy like Paul [Posluszny] — Mr. Everything — and you'd think the unit would be scrambling. This is the very definition of reloading, as the talking heads put it."

THE TOPIC: Defensive schemes.
Penn State's linebacker unit, led by Dan Connor with assists from Sean Lee and Tyrell Sales, is described as "an all-out unit that will take your head off with a smile." The linebackers like to use the word "reckless" when describing their play. As another observer said, "They love that word. It's like controlled chaos — you play with an all-out, tear-it-up style, but with control."

With such athleticism, speed and instincts throughout the unit, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and company are looking to build off the work they put together last season and focused on in their Outback Bowl preparations.

Penn State has used a variety of blitz packages over the past few seasons, which are designed to "confuse and disrupt" quarterbacks and offenses. "It's all about using constant motion to confuse and concern the quarterback," an observer explained. "In tape of any given game — take Tennessee — you'll see Poz step up for a three count, then Sean will move in with Poz moving back. Then Danny will step up on opposite ends with Sean still up on the line. [Volunteer QB Erik] Ainge and his line had no idea which way the pressure was coming from."

Sometimes these sets are by design, other times they are "choice" packages where the in and out motions are timed at set intervals, but whoever is up on the line at the snap is the blitzer. "This takes a lot of communication," according to one observer. "The guy calling those plays is your middle 'backer. It's nearly impossible with a fresh face in there, so part of the decision to move Connor in [to the MLB spot] was his mental grasp of the scheme."

In practice earlier this week the defense started to work and expand upon these packages. The defense is working sets that can have one or two blitzers. The challenge is "staying alert, getting the interval down and making your movements quickly. If I am up and you're back and we switch, I'd better be back by the time you get up or you have a coverage issue."

The players are also working their way up to what is described as a "rotation blitz." Here, there are two to three players (primarily linebackers and safeties) who will take turns quickly shifting in up to the line. These packages can get increasing complicated. "They'll start off basic early on and then as the players get comfortable a wrinkle will be added — like a delay blitz. You could have a set where your two outside 'backers are up tight. Now on the snap, I am looking to dump that ball to a screen or swing route. But on the snap both backers go wide and choke the wings. Your middleman is playing center field. So the QB is focused on that dump but then the strong saftey come flying in on a delay and BAM, lights out."

However, these schemes can be risky if there are breakdowns. Here, another example of a blitz set was shared by an observer:

1: Linebacker Dan Connor
2: Linebacker Sean Lee
3: Linebacker Tyrell Sales
4: Safety Tony Davis

These packges can include two or more players from different positions.

The quarterback steps to the line:

1. Players 1 and 3 jump up to the line, hold two seconds and pull back.

2. Players 2 and 3 then jump up to the line, hold and pull back.

3. Player 1 then jumps up, holds and pulls back.

4. 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.

Despite the overall physical talent of the linebacker and secondary units, the blitz packages take intelligence to execute. "It's cerebral. People who don't think football is a mental game have no clue," according to an observer. "You can have the best athlete on the planet and if he can't grasp this and get the counts down you can have a disaster."

The preseason practice content continues to fly around here at FOS. To help you keep track of it all here is a running list of the practice reports we have around the site:

FOS TV: JUCO Transfers
In Focus: JUCO Players
FOS TV: Jay Paterno
Nittany Notes: Rookie Report
Nittany Notes: Starting Lineups
FOS TV: Chris Bell
Nitany Notes: Scrimmage Report
FOS TV: War of the Words
FOS TV: Scirrotto One-on-One
Photo Gallery: Team Group Shots
First Look: Meet the Rookies
FOS Audio: Paterno's Media Day PC
Nittany Notes: Kickin' It
In Focus: Dan Connor
In Focus: Austin Scott
Nittany Notes: Drill 6 WR Report
In Focus: Derrick Williams
Nittany Notes: Power Line (OL)
Follow Up OL Player Notes
Nittany Notes: Position Battles
Nittany Notes: Opening Day Notes
Preseason Kickoff (Schedule, Plan)

Stay tuned to FOS for continuing exclusive reports on PSU's preseason practices.

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