Down and Dirty: The VU Defensive Line

The Vanderbilt football team has seen a dramatic improvement this season thus far, giving up just 70 points in the opening four games, 10 less than last year's team that started 4-0. With a game against Temple, who ranks at the bottom of Division I-A offenses, the Commodores could have a good chance to post their first shutout in seven years. (Part I of 3)

A lot of the defensive improvement is owed to better defensive line play this year.  Recently, I talked with several members of the Commodore defensive line, defensive line coach Rick Logo, and Coach Bobby Johnson about the defensive line play.


Today in part one, you will hear from the defensive tackles.  In part two, you will hear what the ends have to say.  Finally, in part three, you'll hear from the coaches.


Defensive Tackles


Theo Horrocks, Ray Brown, Gabe Hall, and Brandon Holmes make up the two-deep at this position.  Horrocks is a junior from Fayetteville, Tennessee.  He blossomed last year in the win over Tennessee in Knoxville with five tackles.  Through four games this year, Horrocks has registered 17 tackles and forced a fumble.  He hasn't dumped a quarterback yet, but he has picked up a couple of quarterback hurries.


Brown is a senior from Jackson, New Jersey.  Prior to this year, he was hampered with injuries.  In four games this season, he has made 11 tackles, including one for a loss.


Hall is a junior from Virginia Beach, Virginia.  He played a year after high school at Fork Union Military Academy after not playing organized football until his junior year of high school.  Through four games this year, he has five tackles.


Holmes is a sophomore from Garland, Texas.  He made the switch from end to tackle last season, and he started to contribute by season's end. 


VandyMania:  When you are in the defensive huddle, and you hear the play called, which one makes you the most excited so that you cannot wait for the play to begin?


Horrocks: I love to run the outside stunts where I get to rush outside and the end comes underneath.  Also, I love it when Curtis Gatewood, who is on my side, runs an inside stunt.  He closes it down, and I get a free rush right off the edge.  I come through untouched with a chance to get the quarterback.


Brown: I'm a fan of crossing a center's face and moving around him on a speed rush.  He gets to sitting heavy from me bull rushing him all the time.


Hall: We have a couple of defensive plays where our ends are opening up gaps for us, and the tackles get to come free.  That's the time for us inside guys to show our speed and aggression and get to the quarterback.


Holmes: When we have a blitz called, and I begin to think what gap I'm going through, I get excited about that.  I want to go at it full-speed and hit that gap with a lot of enthusiasm.


VandyMania: In that same huddle, what defensive play call is one you don't look forward to carrying out your assignment?


Horrocks: There are a couple of stunts where I have to rush straight inside every time.  It gets called a lot, and it gets repetitive having to run it over and over again.  I have to shoot the 1-gap (center-guard gap), and I get in there and get closed up with a double team or triple team.  It isn't very fun to shoot the 1-gap, and it's very tough to carry out.  You go in there, and you have a center and a guard sitting on you and waiting, and they just close you down. (Author's Note:  This technique frequently allows a red-dogging linebacker, who is shooting the same gap, a chance to get to the quarterback without facing any resistance.)


Brown: My least favorite maneuver is Theo's favorite one.  I don't like stunting from the outside, because I'm more of an inside guy.  I don't have a problem staying inside and banging it up with the center and guard.  I'm not as quick as Theo is, so I have a tough time getting to the outside; it is a little tougher for me.


Hall: It's hard for us defensive tackles having to take so many double team blocks.  It's tough to stay in there and take on the double team.  If we do our job against this, lanes open up elsewhere for our teammates. Sometimes, you wish you could be one of those other guys who get to come through that open lane.  It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.


Holmes: There's really not one that I don't like to do.  We are a gap-oriented defense, and everybody fulfills their role.  There's no situation where I don't like to be in on the play.


VandyMania: Which play for you is tougher for you to defend—the blast play coming right at you or a trap play to your gap?


Horrocks: Defending a trap play is tougher for me.  You have a guard block out and the center will block away; it leaves you standing there in the gap.  You think you can come through the line completely free, and then that back-side guard comes over and blows you up.  You have to really pay attention and get a good read on that one.  Playing the 3-technique, I face a lot of double teams and power scoops.  It gets rough trying to play those all the time as well.  Very seldom do I ever face a straight one-on-one base block.


Brown: For me, I'd rather face the power play where they're loading up that one side.  I don't have to be as quick; I can play a little more of the muscle game, which is more my thing.  So, I'd rather face the power play than the trap.


Holmes: I'd rather face the offense coming straight at me with a blast play than face the trap.  The way our defense is designed, if they come straight at us, our chances of stopping them are good.


VandyMania: Which type of pass rush do you prefer—a straight rush or a stunt?


Holmes: I prefer the straight rush.  I like getting in a 3-technique and working the edges of guys.


VandyMania: What advice would you give to a top-rated defensive line recruit who has signed to play football in the SEC?


Hall: You've got to bring it every play.  If you don't bring it every play, you will either get hurt, or you just won't play.  That's the bottom line when playing in the SEC.  You have to know your assignment.  In high school, you can get away with free-lancing.  If you don't do your assignment in college football, then you are not going to be a factor no matter how good you are.


Holmes: The Southeastern Conference is about five paces faster than high school football.  It is a very fast game compared to high school ball.  There's also a lot more technique involved in college.  In high school, you can get by on athletic ability and be a star.  Here, from your first step to your last step, technique is critical. Top Stories