Down and Dirty with the D-Line: Part III

The Vanderbilt football team has seen a dramatic improvement this season thus far, and a lot of the defensive improvement is owed to better defensive line play. Earlier this year, I talked with several members of the Commodore defensive line, defensive line coach Rick Logo and Coach Bobby Johnson about the defensive line play.

Four weeks ago in part one, you heard from the defensive tackles.  Two weeks ago, in part two, you heard what the ends had to say.  Finally, in part three today, you'll hear from the coaches.


Coach Rick Logo


Rick Logo played four years as a defensive tackle at North Carolina State for Coach Dick Sheridan.  Three current Commodore assistants were on that staff—Robbie Caldwell, Jimmy Kiser, and Ted Cain.  Logo was named as a team captain as a senior in 1992, and he earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference accolades and 3rd Team All-American honors.


He signed a free-agent contract with the Detroit Lions, but a career-ending knee injury in his rookie season forced him to quit playing.  He turned to a coaching career, working seven years as an assistant at UT-Chattanooga, one year at Western Carolina, and three seasons at Troy, where he was co-defensive coordinator last season.  He was hired as Vanderbilt's defensive line coach in March of this year.


Vandymania: What is the biggest adjustment the high school player will face when he comes to college?


Logo: The biggest adjustment for those guys is they were the star athletes in high school, and now they have to transition to being able to play guys that have the same amount of talent as them.  They have to go through a little growing period when they get here.  Things they could get away with in high school, they cannot get away with in college.  Technique is much more important.  It's a day-to-day process for them, and they have to experience getting knocked around a couple of times to realize this isn't high school ball they are playing.  They have to start learning how to work their technique and hands.


Vandymania: What is the hardest thing for them to learn before they can be ready to play college ball?


Logo: The game is much more physical at the college level.  The guys they will be facing are stronger than them and can hold their blocks longer.  In high school, the defensive line stars can run over their offensive line opponent, and in college, they are going to have to rely on technique.  Technique becomes a major factor in whether they will be able to play.  It doesn't matter if it is stopping the run or rushing the passer; technique separates the average player from those that are good.


Vandymania: Today's short passing game is similar to the old "three yards and a cloud of dust" offenses of the 1950's and 1960's, where teams would try to nickel and dime defenses for sustained drives.  How do you prepare for the quick passing games many teams use today?


Logo: It is definitely a different pace game than it was a few years ago, from the standpoint of what defensive linemen have to do.  Clockwise, it is a faster game.  It is harder on defensive lines to have to cover the run, the short pass, and rush the passer.  It is a more exciting game similar to the NFL, with all the throwing of the ball.  Fans like to see the ball in the air.  It is more exciting for defenses too.  We can blitz a little bit more.  We can drop some guys in coverages, and disguise some things.  The newer passing games makes defenses more creative in coming up with the strategies to defend it.


Vandymania: How would you compare the defensive philosophy at Vanderbilt this season with what you implemented at Troy?


Logo: Certainly, there are some things technique-wise that have been carried over from that Troy defense to Vanderbilt.  I think they can help our kids have more chances to be able to make some big plays.  The biggest thing we have to realize is when you lack size, you have to make up for it with speed.  A lot of our kids are faster and quicker than they were last year.  We asked some of them to lose weight, so they can run and move quicker.  This allows us to disguise some things and move up front rather than playing a lot of base defenses and getting knocked around.


Vandymania: Would you compare this type of defense with what Coach Jim Leavitt has done so successfully at South Florida?


Logo: There are some similarities as far as the front is concerned.  The disguises in what we do from a zone blitz may be a little bit different, but it comes from the same package and family of what we are doing here at Vanderbilt.



Head Coach Bobby Johnson


Vandymania: How would you rate this year's play by the defensive line?


CBJ: I think we are getting better.  We are better defensively than we were last year, and our guys are working extremely hard to execute our defense.  I think they have a lot more energy this year.  The only concern in the defensive line before the season was a lack of depth, but since the season has begun, we have seen a little bit of depth develop, especially at end.  Steven Stone and Broderick Stewart have given us a couple of very capable substitutes at end.  Inside, we've gotten pretty good play out of Gabe Hall, but tackle is still a little bit of a concern.  Those guys are getting better, and we won't hesitate to put them into the game.


Vandymania: Which players showed the most improvement from spring practice to the start of the season?


CBJ: Chris Booker had a very good preseason.  At the start of the season, he was completely healthy, and that helped a bunch.  Steven Stone and Broderick Stewart have gotten better.  Ray Brown is healthy, and he's playing better.  Gabe Hall lost some weight, and he is in better shape and playing better.  Curtis Gatewood missed spring practice with a broken foot, and he's playing really well.


Vandymania:  What would you say is the toughest part of transition from high school to college ball for a player?


CBJ: He's got to perfect his technique.  A lot of guys in high school are just charging upfield  and beating blocks easily because they were better players than what they were playing against.  They didn't have to rely on technique.  There is a lot of technique involved in playing defensive line in college. Top Stories