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Coleman Feeley

Chalk Talk - Breaking down DL play in the spring game

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submitted Today, 02:37 PM in Texas Longhorns Football By Coleman Feeley
 

The defense Vance Bedford showcased at the Texas Spring Game was complex, aggressive, and full of surprises. Coach Bedford utilized zone blitzes and stunts regularly while disguising coverages on nearly every play. Part of this complexity is Bedford’s utilization of the ‘Fox’ end, enabling him to shift his defense from a 3-3 to a 4-2 very easily (Fig 1). These shifts helped the defensive line, along with freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson, become the most productive group of the scrimmage.

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Over the course of the game, the Texas defense intercepted the ball several times and forced a few fumbles – each of the turnovers was forced while Texas was executing a zone blitz or a pre-play shift of responsibilities. Unpredictability from complex defensive schemes keeps an offense off balance; however, it also puts added pressure on each defender to maintain his responsibility.

In Bedford’s schemes, defenders must think in terms of the ‘gaps’ between players more than the alignment of the players themselves. When blitzing it’s vital that each defender gets to his assigned gap or the offense could take advantage and rip off a big play (Fig 2). For the most part, the defensive line played fairly well and maintained a high level of intensity throughout the spring game.

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The ‘first group’ of defensive linemen for the spring game was composed of Quincy Vasser (#92), Paul Boyette Jr. (#93), Jake McMillion (#96), and Bryce Cottrell (#91). The ‘second group’ was made up of Naashon Hughes (#40), Poona Ford (#95), Hassan Ridgeway (#98), and Shiro Davis (#1). My expectation is that the ‘second group’ will be the ‘starting group’ come fall – the best performances came from the more familiar players: Ridgeway, Ford, and Hughes.

Ford maintained his gap integrity almost the entire game and played with great explosiveness. With the ability to reach top speed within only a few steps, Ford’s quickness is crucial because defensive lineman only travel between 5 to 10 yards on any given play. Ford was not only impressively quick, his stout punch and solid base allowed him to handle double teams and zone combinations well.

Despite Ford’s best efforts, the top performance involving strength belonged to Ridgeway. Physically, Ridgeway doesn’t appear much larger than last season, but he does seem more explosive and powerful. Ridgeway also plays with great technique, consistently keeping blockers locked-out and away from his body, allowing him to separate and make the tackle.

When playing defensive line it’s vital to control the blocker in front of you with your hands. If defenders allow blockers to get close there’s less chance of separating from the block to make a tackle.

Run Defense

Texas’ offense made it difficult to judge how effective the defense will be against teams that use traditional run-based systems. However, when given the opportunity to defend against Texas’ run game, the d-line was very effective at stopping runs up the middle (with the exception of improvised QB runs). Ridgeway, Ford, and Boyette consistently shed blocks and were involved in tackles at the line of scrimmage.

The biggest struggle for defensive linemen was complex stunts and blitzes (when linemen were forced out of their gaps). The ‘Feast or Famine’ mentality comes to mind when watching this Texas defense. While many of the stunts played to the defense’s advantage, on several occasions the defense was caught out of position resulting in huge gains (fig 3).

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Pass Rush

Texas’ pass rush was persistent and aggressive. Coach Brick Haley has clearly been working on the D-line’s hand placement and ‘hand fighting’ (refers to the movement and placement of hands).Pass rushes remained steady and active even when met with double teams and perfect pass blocking technique.

In addition to zone blitzes that required defensive linemen to exchange gap responsibilities, ‘stunts’ and ‘twists’ were also used. A ‘Twist’ refers to two defensive linemen exchanging responsibilities by swapping spots during a play. A ‘Stunt’ refers to movement of the entire defensive line (fig 4).

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Coach Bedford didn’t use many twists in the spring game, but he did use stunts frequently. Frequent stunting resulted in d-linemen with hands on hips and heaving chests late in some drives. Coach Haley touched on this recently in a â€œMic’ed†up video of practice by telling his players, “When you get tired, don’t you start to lose your mind!†The movement of a defensive line creates a great deal of opportunities, not only for the linemen themselves, but for players like Malik Jefferson, Duke Thomas, and Jason Hall to make plays.

Similar to the way an offensive line propels a team’s skill players, the defensive line provides countless opportunities for their teammates. If a defense can supply an effective pass rush with just four players, it takes a lot of pressure off linebackers and the secondary.

Defensive linemen can provide a great deal of support in the run or pass game by holding offensive linemen to the first level. By freeing up linebackers to make tackles, or better yet, by making tackles themselves, defensive linemen can control an offense’s attack. 

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