2011 Cougar D: Back to the base

THE COUGARS HAVE had to go away from their base defense on multiple occasions the past three seasons due primarily to two reasons -- injury and because other schemes better fit the personnel. But based on how this spring has unfolded, says defensive coordinator Chris Ball, the 2011 campaign is shaping up to be different.

For starters, it means more 4-3, cover-4 at Washington State in 2011.

One of the longstanding football coaching bromides is you never ask your players to do something they're not capable of doing. It's why the Cougs at various times the past three years have shifted to the 30 (a 3-3-5) and 3-4 looks on defense.

But the Cougs have more talent, depth and speed than they've ever had since Paul Wulff and Ball returned to WSU in December of 2008. Is the personnel now in place to allow the Cougs play more of their base?

"No question," said Ball. "I feel much better about it – it's as good as we've had since I've been here."

That doesn't mean WSU will abandon the nickel packages or the 30. You can't. Not with today's offenses.

And WSU this spring is missing three d-linemen (Travis Long, [shoulder], Brandon Rankin [shoulder] and Jordan Pu'u-Robinson [knee]) and so in certain instances, running the 30 makes a helluva lot of sense. But basing those schemes out of their 4-3, cover-4 is a significant developmental step for the Cougs.

"Nowadays, you see so many types of offenses, you have to be multiple," said Ball.

And that's what Ball likes so much about the cover-4.

"It's multiple," said Ball. "With the checks, it fits up against anything people throw at you -- it has checks to cover every formation, every personnel group. It's very, very sound against a lot of things."

In the most simple of terms, the cover-4, also called quarters, has the four defensive backs covering zones dividing the field into fourths. But there's loads of different offshoots. You can adjust to have nine guys in the box but still cover four vertical threats. One of the adjustors can rob a particular route, you can have unaccounted for run defenders on both sides of the field, while still matching up on the receiving threats. And on and on.

The primary goal on defense is a simple one -- to get the ball back, by creating turnovers and by creating three-and-outs. The best way to do the latter is to stop the run. Cover-4 is great at accomplishing that, because in a balanced formation there are two safeties who are flat foot readers from depth. That allows them play the run downhill and to be deep enough to cover the receiving threat.

In the end, says Ball, the Cougs on defense are looking to do one thing in particular, and it's not a change.

"We want to find the best 11," said Ball.

It just so happens that those best 11 now fit far better into their base defense than in the past.

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