#STINGDAILY: Streamlining the Yellow Jacket Defense

Oct. 19, 2012

Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

These have been trying times, but a certain question brought a smile to Quayshawn Nealy’s face. We’ve all heard about how Georgia Tech has simplified its defense after coordinator Al Groh’s firing. So, what does that mean, what will this help defenders do?

“Play ball,” the sophomore inside linebacker said. “ It makes it a lot easier to just play ball, and get downhill.”

Sorry if the answer brought to mind the image of a snowball rolling from pebble size into an avalanche, but the Yellow Jackets surrendered 1,735 yards and 42, 49 and 47 points in consecutive losses. Tech folks are good at math. The Jackets were getting snowed.

Something had to change before this afternoon’s game against Boston College in Bobby Dodd Stadium, and sure enough a lot more is new than secondary coach Charles Kelly serving as coordinator and a few other changes among coaching responsilities.

Actually, there’s a lot less of everything. That’s exactly what head coach Paul Johnson wants. He’s done more than drop in on defensive meetings recently. He’s made suggestions, vetoed a few ideas, and shepherded a mass parsing.

There was so much going on before. Tech’s defense was so multiple that at times even fans could see that the Jackets were being asked to do too much. These young men are smart, but unlike NFL players they don’t spend 40+ hours a week at football.

“We don’t need 80 calls,” Johnson said earlier this week. “You don’t need a buzzword on everything . . . There’s got to be some communication, but when one guy goes in motion, it doesn’t have to change seven [defenders].”

The buzzword now? Streamline.

Here, “get downhill” is a euphemism for think less and react faster.

All that running around before the snap, where the Jackets were re-arranging themselves to try and match the re-arrangements of the opposing offense? There will be less.

“We’re definitely not running around a lot,” Nealy said. “Our safeties are moving for us so we can stay in the box. It’s simpler for everybody.”

And those buzzwords? There will still be pre-snap adjustments, but they’re going to be simpler and involve fewer defenders.

Rather than over worry about trying to get every defender in, “supreme, perfect position,” as Johnson suggested that the Jackets were struggling to do, Tech will most of the time line up, maybe chase a motion man, and let it rip. They’re not going to try to match wits; they want to tackle the guy with the ball.

The goal is do that by reducing players’ responsibilities for pre-snap diagnosis of formations and to cut the analysis required to then produce a call.

Cut the cerebral clutter and reduce the risk of making a wrong read (or no read) and relaying an incorrect call (or no call), or not making the right call loud enough, or somebody not hearing or seeing a signal.

“No doubt there’s fewer buzzwords,” Nealy said. “Sometimes, we would still be installing [coverages or front seven stunts] in games. We had base, nickel and dime and it was every bit of at least 30 or 40 a week. Now, it’s maybe 10 or 12. You still have to make adjustments, but they’re very simple.

“The defense that we ran [previously], we had to make a lot of adjustments with a linebacker moving in and out of the box, you had to cover the 3 route up the middle, and play the run game. Now, there are fewer coverages, and a lot simpler keys for the inside linebackers. You don’t have to worry about the two-gap. It’s mainly one-gap.”

There’s some high-level football chatter. Simply put, in a two-gap system most defenders are responsible for a gap on either side of an offensive lineman or tight end should the ball end up there. To further simplify, a two-gap call generally requires a defender to shed a blocker to cover whichever gap he needs to on a play.

Often, that means first stalemating a blocker while reading to see which gap will require coverage. Often, that turns into a wrestling match. Often, bigger dudes win those scrums, which is why big nose-tackle T.J. Barnes said, “I didn’t mind the two-gap.”

In a one-gap, a defender knows which gap he has to get to so he can do whatever he needs to do to get there quicker than if he has to wait longer to check two gaps. Plus, theoretically at least, if your gap is empty you can move quicker to help elsewhere.

Barnes goes about 6-7, 340+, Nealy about 6 feet, 230. Which do you think he prefers?

“My strength isn’t my size so . . . one-gap helps me a lot,” he said. “Just letting the D-linemen do their jobs, looking for my gap and plugging it with my speed.”

Even more than that, Nealy likes the bottom line.

“We can move around and play a lot faster. In practice, I’ve been a lot faster. You can really tell. It’s very easy to understand.”

Boston College isn’t very good, but today should be telling nonetheless. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com. Twitter @mwinkeljohn.

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