Smart Notes – Learning defensive coverages, Bear Bryant’s 1958 D playbook – 8/8/2010

Via Ron Jenkins, learning defensive coverages:

Because I can. Check out Bear Bryant’s 1958 Alabama playbook. Note that playbook designing technology did not advance beyond this pen and typewriter method until apparently around 2006.

Good morning, Dave. Buckeye Football Analysis breaks down Tressel’s favorite play — the “Dave” play, which is what he calls his variation of the “Power O” which he has been running since at least his Youngstown State days. Well worth the read.

The most important thing a college football fan can read: This fall’s ESPN announcer pairings, complete with commentary from EDSBS.

Watch Mark Sanchez make figure eights. This kind of drill reinforces my advice to all young quarterbacks: jump rope.

Good article from Billy Witz of the Times about Dick Enberg. Enberg has gone back to doing play-by-play for the San Diego padres:

But the reason Enberg was here became apparent on a recent afternoon as he entered his small office at Petco Park, arriving four and a half hours before the first pitch with a news release in his hand describing the Padres’ trade-deadline deal for St. Louis outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

Picking out pertinent statistics, Enberg fretted that he did not know much about the prospects San Diego had dealt, but he said that he liked the gumption the Padres, the surprise leaders of the National League West, had to acquire Miguel Tejada the day before.

“We’re getting serious,” Enberg said seriously. It was clear, at that moment and for the rest of the night, that baseball stirred him.

- How badly do you love football? If you’d be happy playing through this, then you probably qualify.

Study on NFL field goal “choking.” From the Sabermetric Research Blog: Upshot is that a study found evidence of choking, but it’s also possible that there are other conclusions to draw regarding difficulty rather than pure mental breakdowns.

Football Outsiders on Rookie Cap Salary Considerations (say that three-times fast). Check it out here. Learn all about the 25-percent rule.

Bleg. In the comments, please feel free to request topics for future coverage on the blog. I’ve got some projects I’m working on but I am always looking for new ideas.

More on the “Pistol” offense

Although I don’t consider the “pistol offense,” as pioneered by Chris Ault at Nevada, so much an offense as merely a useful formation which adapts well to a variety of schemes, there’s no doubt that Ault has had outsized success with it. Last season, Nevada averaged a staggering 344 yards rushing per game, on an even more staggering 7.39 yards per carry. Now, the offense took several games to get going (and against the meatiest part of Nevada’s schedule, no less), but it’s clear that the concept is here to stay and that it can be the foundation for an explosive attack.

Indeed, the pistol has been adopted by other teams as well, as this video from the Big Ten Network discussing Indiana’s use demonstrates (h/t Shakin the Southland):

Shakin the Southland buttresses this video with a lengthy discourse on the subject, drawing on some of my past work and a great American Football Monthly piece by Mike Kuchar. See parts one and two of Mike’s breakdown.

As I’ve said before, however, whether the pistol is a “system” or a “formation” is secondary to the results, and when it works

When the offense is rolling (which it is most of the time these days), the pistol gives a team the best of both worlds: It has at its disposal all the Urban Meyer/Rich Rodriguez spread offense stuff, like the zone read and other gadgets, as well as the advantages of a “traditional” I-formation or pro-style single-back attack. Among these are that the runningback, aligning as he does behind the quarterback, tips no hand to the defense on the direction of the play, and the offense can get both good downhill running and play-action off those looks.

The test of the pistol will be, as it is for all offenses, along two vectors: First, will Nevada break through? But second, what will its ongoing influence be? Regardless of how this season turns out for the Wolfpack, I think the “pistol’s” legacy is safe.

As a bonus, below the jump I’ve got a video of one of my favorite Nevada plays, the “horn play.”

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Smart Links – Nick Saban breaking down film – 8/4/2010

The modern maestro of defense, Nick Saban, lectures crane-necking coaches on how he prepared for the BCS Title game against Texas (h/t to reader Alex Bruchac):

Shocking commentary on how to be an offensive genius, by Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo:

A year of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno followed by a season without them will make you realize things. “I think I have learned, too, you have to have good players,” he said. “I think good players help you win football games.”

“But coach, I need a run up!” Article on dealing with players from the British American Football Coaching Association, i.e. the association for people who play real football in England. The site is worth a visit, as you don’t always see football coaches on this side of the Atlantic poppin’ their collars:

poppin

Eleven Warriors has a nice breakdown of some expansion answers from the Big Ten media days.

Expanded Season Revenue: The NFL’s real math problem, from Tom Gower. An excerpt:

[H]ow much more would the NFL make if the regular season was expanded to 18 games and the preseason was cut to 2 games? . . .

Why is Roger Goodell advocating for the players to play less and make less money per-game? Doesn’t he know that the NFL won’t really make that much extra money from moving to an 18-game season? The question to that is almost certainly yes, so why does he do this?

[T]here really is a level of popular discontent over the 4-game preseason, especially from media people and season ticket holders who feel like they’re getting screwed. These people, especially the latter, are probably wrong. . . . Proposing an expanded regular season allows Roger Rex to make nice with these people.

. . . . I don’t think the NFL is, or at least should be, particularly serious about the 18-game season. If my numbers are close to right, it doesn’t make anywhere near as much money as you’d expect from a basic 16 to 18 game comparison, and the players really don’t like it. It is, instead, primarily a negotiating tactic and media ploy, and should and will be dropped when the labor negotiations get serious.

If Sam Bradford is worth 50 million guaranteed, what is Tom Brady worth? From the Pro-Football Reference Blog.

I’m not a big Fantasy Football guy, but if you read one thing read “Fantasy Drafting: How to Maximize Value by Position and by Round,” by Chase Stuart.

The Itch of Curiosity, from Jonah Lehrer’s new digs at Wired:

Because curiosity is ultimately an emotion, an inexplicable itch telling us to keep on looking for the answer, it can take advantage of all the evolutionary engineering that went into our dopaminergic midbrain. (Natural selection had already invented an effective motivational system.) When Einstein was curious about the bending of space-time, he wasn’t relying on some newfangled circuitry. Instead, he was using the same basic neural system as a rat in a maze, looking for a pellet of food.

Defensive back fundamentals, from Brophy. One of my favorite things about Brophy is he is a big believer in “show, don’t tell.” Watch the clips already.

– Finally, below the jump a great catch by Arizona State’s Kerry Taylor. Make sure to watch the full video (h/t Offensive Musings blog). Also, it’s a great example of a “sluggo” route:

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Me on the Solid Verbal Podcast

Check out the 7/14/2010 Solid Verbal Podcast, “Smart Football,” hosted by Dan Rubenstein and Ty Hildenbrandt. It was a lot of fun and I really appreciate the invite to do the Solid Verbal.

Did the spread really evolve from the single-wing?

Brian Cook thinks so, but I’m not so sure. The idea that the spread, or, even just Gus Malzahn’s offense in particular, “is a modern-day version of the single wing” is overdone. (To be fair, the Judy Battista’s NY Times piece focuses on the wildcat, which I do think has a great deal in common with the single-wing.)

But Cook’s point is broader and, I think, flawed. He gives several reasons why Malzahn’s O in particular is like the single-wing, saying the single-wing

  • incorporates many possible different ball carriers that head in different directions.
  • uses misdirection as the primary way to acquire big plays. It’s not “keeping the defense honest” so you can run your bread and butter without the opponent cheating, it’s an attempt make the defense confused on every play.
  • often features a primary ball handler who spins wildly to set up playfakes heading in opposite directions.
  • depends on sowing confusion and can be vulnerable to teams that are well-drilled at stopping it.

These reasons assuredly apply to Malzahn’s offense, but do they apply to the single-wing? Not really, or at least they aren’t its foundation. The single wing was primarily (though not always, of course) about using overwhelming force to one side of a formation. So the spread’s major similarity to the single-wing is mostly relegated to the shotgun and the fact that the quarterback is not an irrelevant handoff man, but instead has an active role in the run game. (H/t for the image FootballBabble.)

single

And the rest of Brian’s points don’t seem to apply. The single-wing was not a big play offense (have you seen the scores from back then?), instead relying on steady gains from its power runs. Indeed, most plays resembled rugby scrums, which made sense given football’s original roots. Some single-wing teams used a lot of ballcarriers — and I guess everything uses “a lot of ballcarriers” if the comparison is a Woody/Bo I-formation offense where one guy gets 35 carries a game — but it wasn’t a major feature. Playfaking was important but no more so than in other offenses, and certainly not as much as it is to offenses like the Wing-T. (And I don’t know about  the single-wing being known for fakes involving “spinning wildly,” though various forms of the “spin” offense were invented decades later). And, although defensive discipline is helpful against any offense, the cornerstone of the single wing was the “student body right” type play behind the unbalanced line and blocking backs to the “single wing” side. There’s no misdirection to be snuffed out by a disciplined defense there; it’s called bowl your opponent over to get four yards. Below is video of an older school single-wing; I think it’s evident that it’s a little more straightforward than Brian’s four points would imply.

The upshot is that yes, the single-wing was a shotgun formation, yes it used some misdirection (all offenses do), and yes it’s old, but that doesn’t make it the sole inspiration for today’s spread or even Malzahn’s offense. Modern fans, including Brian, have understandably mapped their understanding of the offenses they see on a weekly basis onto the past and see a direct correlation, but it’s not quite that straightforward. Certainly, the coaches who developed today’s modern offenses, like Rodriguez and Malzahn, did not spend their time meticulously studying the single-wing tapes of yesteryear. Instead, if there are similarities it’s because those coaches stumbled onto the same ideas through trial and error.

So where did the spread come from? The basic answer is simple, though to catalogue all the influences would go on for days: the spread is a synthesis of most of the great ideas that came before it. It owes some principles to the single-wing, but it also owes its debts to the double-wing, a few Wing-T principles, the veer option squads, the run and shoot, and modern pro-style passing attacks. This makes sense, given that defenses, once they have countered something, do not forget, though at the same time an offense’s effectiveness is often contingent on how experienced the opponent’s coaches and players are to facing it. The “spread,” which is an overbroad term anyway, puts a new twist on a lot of what came before it.

But to say it is confined to being the “modern day version” of any one of those past offenses ignores too much football history to be a plausible interpretation. Like much football commentary, the analysis isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete.

Strategery round-up – 6/21/2010

Good links all related to football strategy, though we begin with a video of Gus Malzahn’s Auburn O, via Offensive Musings:

Defending the bunch. If a defense plays a lot of man coverage, you can bet that the offense (if they have any sense, anyway) will quickly start using “bunch” or “compressed” formations. Anyone who has ever played backyard football can give the answer: it’s much easier to get open if your defender can get “screened” by congestion of some sort — either your teammate running a “legal screen” (versus, ahem, an illegal pick which no one ever does, right?) or even some cluster of receivers and defenders. Defenses, not to outdone by such offensive wizardry, have responses, summed up well in posts by RUNCODHIT and Blitzology.

Unsurprisingly, discipline is a key factor. Blitzology covers some mechanics, while RUNCODHIT adds some background:

[Y]ou can’t run press-man on both WRs[;] alignment won’t allow you to. Also, to run straight man against reduced splits is suicide. The offense will pick you off and open-up a WR to the inside or outside. Because of this threat, defenses have to stay in pure-zone or combo-man coverage.

And,

versus the run 3-way [coverage] places the [strong safety] in a position to force the ball inside. The corner is assigned play-pass responsibility, and the [free-safety] is a flat-foot read player . . . . Against the pass the . . . [strong safety] has the first man to the flat. If no one attacks it, he sinks under the first WR outside. The corner[back] has the first deep route outside — he is going to [back]pedal on the pass and read the WRs. The FS has the first man deep inside. His technique is essentially the same as the corners’. If a deep receiver does not show in or out, then they play a “zone it” technique and help their partner.

3-way coverage

Bonus: Check out RUNCODHIT on “Pattern Reading vs. Zone Dropping” and Blitzology’s series on attacking BOB or Big on Big pass protection. (I’ve described the principles of this protection here.) Series parts one, two, three, and BOB vs. the 3-4 defense.

Think you have what it takes to be an NFL guy? Check out this Slate article on the work ethic of NFL coaches. The answer — it’s about managing people, as much as it is about strategizing and ideas:

What exactly does a head coach do for 23 hours every day? . . . Imagine telling George Halas that he should have worked 20-hour days. He would have laughed you out of his office, then gone back to inventing the T-formation. No matter how many variations on the spread offense you come up with, it’s still the spread offense, not Fermat’s Last Theorem. . . . The guy with the biggest whistle has a fleet of coordinators and position coaches that handle all the grunt work, from conditioning to game-planning to skill-training. . . . Instead, the coach functions as a sort of CEO, coordinating large-scale strategic planning while ensuring all members of his organization perform competently. Viewed through that lens, this endemic insomnia shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, CEOs fetishize waking up early just as much as football coaches. . . .

Screenery strategery. If you’re going to spread the ball out or throw the ball at all, day one is usually spent working on the basics of passing: timing, quarterback drops, rhythm, catching, and the basic routes. Day two, however, goes to screens, those little gadget plays that, particularly at the lower levels, make being a pass first team really worth it. These impressive little suckers manage a quite impressive trifecta: (1) they are easy to complete (and maybe should be thought of as runs rather than passes), which can build your quarterback’s confidence and allow you to get the ball to your playmakers in space; (2) they are often your best weapon against aggressive, blitzing defenses, which can otherwise overwhelm young players just learning how to throw the ball efficiently; and (3) unlike a lot of passing-related concepts, these make heavy use of misdirection, that great equalizer between teams of greater and lesser talent.

In that vein, two great primers out there are Mike Emendorfer’s UW-Platteville screen presentation and this recent post from Brophy’s blog.

Football and math, oh my. Good post on the basics of “football math” — i.e. who and where do you attack. Here’s a test: Where would you attack in these two situations?

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Smart Links and Notes 5/24/2010

Apologies to all for not posting much recently — the usual confluence of other commitments intervened, as did several commitments to write for Maple Street Press publications. Those are (mostly) done, and I have a variety of ideas for the site, and I hope to write those up and get them on the site. But for now, linkage:

Two very important posts on fourth downs. First, the Mathlete’s breakdown (available at mgoblog) of fourth down decision making is worth it for the graphs alone (see below). Also Brian at Advanced NFL Stats reposts his powerpoints about when to go for it on fourth down.

Fourth down decisionmaking chart

NFL players channel MC Hammer. I may have previously linked to this, but I recently stumbled on it again. It remains shocking:

The 78 percent number (i.e., 78% of NFL players go bankrupt within two years of retirement) is buoyed by the fact that the average NFL career lasts just three years. So, figure a player gets drafted in 2009, signs for the minimum and lasts three years in the league: He will have earned about $1.2 million in salary. Factor in taxes, cost of living and the misguided belief that there will be more years and bigger paydays down the road, and it becomes a lot easier to see how so many players struggle with money after their careers end.

Runningback by committee? TheDoc notes the apparent end of Southern Cal’s “runningback by committee” system. He quotes Lane Kiffin saying:

“We would rather not be in a big committee thing,” Kiffin said. “As a running back, you get better throughout the game because you get used to what’s going on, how is the defense playing, are we able to get the backside cuts, how are the D-tackles playing the different blocks.

“You have to get a rhythm, and so I would rather find one or two guys. So that’s our job, to figure out this fall who are those guys going to be.”

I don’t really agree; I’ve always been fine with the runningback by committee (though, admittedly, I was never a runningback forced to play in such a committee). I think different backs have different talents; wear and tear on backs adds up; I don’t believe there’s much evidence proving that runningbacks actually “improve as the game goes on” (though I’d love to see contrary evidence); and you don’t hear much complaining about a “committee approach” to rotations at other positions, especially defensive line. Moreover, I think freshness is underrated, but, in the end, at long as the backs are close in talent I don’t think it makes much of a difference (except to the players, as in a single-starter system one will reap all the benefits while the others will be relegated to back-up status). Finally, as evidenced by this post from the Mathlete, not having a returning starter at runningback doesn’t seem to hurt your chances of success at all, thus one can fairly say that, holding talent equal, the difference between using one back or another is small (though that comparison is a bit of apples to oranges).

The Wolfpistols. Holly previews the Nevada Wolfpack over at Dr Saturday.

High school athletes and concussions. From the NY Times.

- Do you know who the all-time leaders in receiving yards per game are? From the Pro-Football reference blog.

Charles Goodell: Senator, opponent of Vietnam, father to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The worst run defenses in NFL history, by the numbers.

Why do colleges have football teams? This debate rages, but I’m still waiting for hard evidence of the good (or bad) reasons for it. One view: “The evidence is mixed, but some papers find a connection between athletic achievement and student quality, or athletic achievement and alumni donations. I suspect the donor connection is the key, but we also must ask what exactly colleges and universities seek to maximize.” I suppose, having already graduated, I shouldn’t really care anymore because, even if it is bad business or scholastics (not saying that is so), I enjoy football (obviously) and get to be a free rider on whomever is paying for the team, like fans, students (many universities now require students to automatically buy in to a ticket program), donors, etc.

On those awful advertisements for colleges played unnecessarily though out football broadcasts: “If you like our football team, you’ll love our chem labs full of Asian students.”

- Is watching football worthwhile? You know, metaphysically speaking: “Dissatisfied with the academy’s somewhat elitist dismissal of sport as just another capitalist banality, Gumbrecht wants to argue that there is more to the roar of the crowd than mere tribalism. To Gumbrecht, the current mass appeal of sports represents more than the manipulation of the masses by advertising corporates. There is something almost transcendental about sport; some aesthetic quality that unites us with the Greeks, the Romans, even with the gods themselves as we admire the movement of a body, or revel in the million to one victory.” Plus, you know, you get to watch people get hit.

How QB-like does Michigan’s Denard Robinson look to you? I, like many, think that for Michigan’s offense to score like Rodriguez wants it to against in-conference foes it will have to be Denard Robinson that becomes a real quarterback. So, behold, every snap of his from Michigan’s spring game. Is he there yet? I’m not sure, though I did like the pass off the bootleg action from the under-center I at around the .40 second mark — turned his shoulders nicely on that one. (H/t mgoblog.)

Football and religion: Is the hand of God evident in a well designed screen pass?

Smart Links 4/16/2010

- Jon Gruden with Tim Tebow: Nothing too dramatic here — and who knows if it will hold up when the lights are on — but Tebow’s throwing motion looks pretty smooth here to me. If nothing else just further evidence that the kid will work to improve anything you tell him is a weakness. Again, we’ll see if he can really fix a motion he’s had since he was at least 16, but he’s clearly worked at it. Footwork looked pretty solid too. (If I was running a team, I’d consider him as a third-to-fourth rounder and get him into camp and make him work on this stuff for the next year.) As a bonus, see here for Gruden tearing Colt McCoy down pretty good. And he’s right — even about the accent stuff — though there’s no reason the NFL playcall should be as long as it is. (McCoy remains a better pro prospect at the moment than Tebow.)

Do football writers know football? To be fair, reporters need to be experts on different things, and being a beat reporter and Xs and Os guru is not really realistic. That said, one reason I write is to try to provide a window into strategy and analysis, and that is important to the average fan is because so much sports commentary is about assigning credit and blame, if you don’t understand what the coaches were trying to do or you don’t understand what the players were being asked to do, it is hard to know who to praise and who to chide. (Also see this post for Orson Swindle.)

Can Charlie Strong succeed at Louisville? I say yes, but (a) it will take a few or two to undo the Kragthorping, and (b) Strong will find that he and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford (former Utah OC with Meyer) won’t be able to just run the Florida O at Louisville; it’ll have to evolve.

– The secret of the Airraid: “distilled offense.” (H/t Brophy.) Lede: “Talk to a few players and you’ll get the impression that Louisiana Tech’s old playbook was the college football equivalent of War and Peace. The new playbook? It’s more like a pamphlet. That’s if you could even call it a playbook. The players don’t necessarily refer to what they’re running as plays, but ‘concepts.’ Change a few details and a single concept grows into an offensive attack that looks overwhelming to opposing defenses, but could be executed by the Bulldogs with their eyes closed.”

The “greatest play in football”?

Why yes, the NCAA is quite interested in Reggie Bush’s testimony.

Tips on running the option.

– The West Virginia Mountaineers will honor the 29 coal miners killed in the Upper Big Branch explosion by wearing helmet decals with a white circle with 29 in the middle. (H/t WizOfOdds.)

Defending the counter-trey. (You can find a quick primer on the counter trey here.)

Why blitz?

Did Ohio State steal Oregon’s signals in the Rose Bowl?

Doc Sat on Brian Kelly.

Sorkin vs. Krugman

– And as an addendum, I have a lengthy piece on the NFL for the NY Times online on Monday; I will link to it when it is up. I also have some other topics I’d like to finish this weekend and schedule this week. Once I do I will post a schedule of what to expect on the blog this week.

Smart Notes 3/30/2010

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart singing is, well, a, um, sight to behold (h/t EDSBS):

- Nick Saban to use Julio Jones some at safety. Seriously. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. As high school coaches have long recognized: your best players have to play.

- How cold are Big Ten football games? The Daily Gopher concludes that “[t]he words “freezing” and “frozen” were completely inappropriate for describing Big Ten football in 2009.”

cold

But — what about a comparison with other conferences? And, as a Big Ten alumnus myself, I can say I’ve been to some very cold football games. Finally, I think one thing that skews the analysis it that in the midwest it simply gets colder sooner than, say, the southeast or west coast. As the chart shows, on October 10th, hardly the dead of winter, there were two games in the low 30s and three more in the 40s. If it’s 65-70 degrees in Georgia or Miami, it’s still fair to say that it’s cold in Big Ten country.

- Speaking of Big Ten country, will Paul Petrino be able to turn around the Illini offense? Last year I speculated about whether former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Schulz, newly hired from TCU, would be able to improve upon or expand on Mike Locksley’s success (I use that term generously) with Juice Williams. It turns out the answer was a resounding no (while TCU seemed to hardly miss Schulz, who was banished to Middle Tennessee State). The Zooker has kept his job, and managed to score what I thought was a pretty good pick as offensive coordinator: Bobby Petrino’s brother, Paul Petrino. This move made more sense to me for Zook than it did Petrino, as another dismal season and Paul’s hopes of joining his brother as a head coach of a BCS school might be seriously derailed. (Though I’d wager there’s always a position open on Bobby’s staff, just as there was for former mentor and Michigan State cast off John L. Smith.)

Petrino brings to Illinois a pro-style offense, and one that actually deserves the name because of the heavy resemblance to the pros and multiple nature. And if outgoing coordinator Schulz’s modus operandi was to “spread the wealth,” the brothers Petrino have summed up their offense as “FTS — Feed the Studs,” something that probably would have worked better with Arrelious Benn around. I have to think Illinois will improve on offense simply because Paul will bring more coherence, but with so many stalwart players gone and the state of the Zooker’s program being so perilous, it’s hard to say.

But who knows, maybe in the Janus-like Big Ten, where teams are either spread-happy or old school grinders, a pro-style, multiple attack can work wonders.

- Socialized football? Not that football. From The Guardian: The British “is to unveil radical proposals that would give football fans first option to buy their clubs when they were put up for sale and require clubs to hand over a stake of up to 25% to supporters’ groups. The ideas, due to be included in the Labour manifesto with a promise of action in the first year of a new government, are designed to give fans a far greater say in how their football clubs are run and overhaul the way the game is governed.”

Brian Cook takes neither side in the Tebow-Fowler dust-up, and thus comes out ahead.

Josh Cribbs is very romantic. And by that I mean, well, not really very romantic.

- David Warsh gets meta about bloggers and journalists. It’s a good piece, though I fear it’s that time of the year when the offseason really hits and everyone wants to write about writing and blog about blogging.

- Go Kentucky: The entire U.S. population in 1790, a bit under 4 million, is less than the 2008 population of Kentucky.

Smart Notes 3/9/2010

The Tao of Christian Okoye:

(H/t Clay Travis).

2. Talking 3-4. It seems the big trend this year is for teams to move to a 3-4 style defense, and Texas A&M is no different. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, most recently of Air Force, talked some shop:

Q: What’s going to be difficult about the transition from A&M’s defensive scheme last year to your 3-4?

TD: They did some of that stuff last year, they ran little bit of a 3-3 package, so the transition that way helps a little bit. Our [run] fits are going to be a little bit different, but the fact that they ran some four-man and some three-man fronts helps in the big picture. Our terminology is going to be different, so they’ve got to learn a new language. But the fact that they played some quarters last year is also going to help us. Those things, when you talk about the transition, we’re not starting from ground zero. It’s a chance to kind of build on what they did before, and it doesn’t have to be a wholesale change.

DU: Back to Von for a bit. What were your early impressions of him once you saw him up close?

Q: So how does [Von Miller] fit into your system?

TD: We’re going to use him in a couple of different ways. He’s going to play what we call a Joker position, which is an outside linebacker who does a couple different things. He’s going to be a guy who’s in the rush at times, and then drop [into coverage] at times. We’re going to put a lot on his plate and see if he can handle it, which I’m sure he’ll be able to. He’s a very sharp young man, and again, I think, hopefully he’ll give us a chance to play multiple fronts with some of the personnel that could give people problems.

If I had to pick one trend right now, it would be teams trying to find a player they can use in ways similar to the “Joker” position DeRuyter described above, as a guy who is a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. The reason this is so useful is that you can basically play entirely different defenses — or at least give very different looks — using the same personnel. And when he discusses “fits” or “run fits,” he is referring to the gaps and responsibilities defensive players have on run plays.

3. Jim Tressel does interview with LGBT magazine. This is last week’s news, but is still worth mentioning. (H/t EDSBS.) People have emphasized several quotes (available here), but I thought this one in particularly was wise, as it obliquely hinted at the pressures on an athletes to understand themselves in a world where everyone defines them early based on their talents:

“What we have, quite often, with our athletes, and with a number of young people in any sport, is that from the time they were 6 or 7 years old, their identity has been through sports. You’re the tallest, you’re the fastest, you’re the best player. All their feedback has come in terms of their role as a player, and they are often hesitant to go beyond that narrow role. … The greatest achievement we can have as coaches is that a young man leaves us with a concept of who he is, what he wants from life, and what he can share with others — someone who is ‘comfortable in his own skin,’ and that identity can go in a number of directions.”

In typical Tressel style, he is speaking in somewhat fuzzy abstractions, but here that’s okay. Indeed, it reminds me of the Myron Rolle issue, where in many cases it is simply not okay to be both a football player and anything else.

4. Okay, Coach. Mike Leach is set to be deposed Friday. I haven’t said much on this, because (a) I don’t know anything non-public, and (b) I’m a little worried about the direction it will go. Leach is clearly upset, and I think it’s also clear that Texas Tech used the situation and the James family to give him the heave-ho. I don’t know whether that constitutes a violation of his contract or anything else, though the most likely result will be a settlement. But this kind of thing has to make you wonder (h/t Blutarsky):

Meanwhile, Leach’s attorneys have subpoenaed documents from Frenship Independent School District. They are seeking any correspondence between F.I.S.D. and Texas Tech University and/or Tech’s new head football coach, Tommy Tuberville. Court documents imply that Leach’s legal team is especially interested in any conversations about enrolling members of the Tuberville family in the school district.

Obviously they want to know if Tuberville’s family moved in before he was officially fired, as that could show all manner of bad faith on behalf of Texas Tech. But I’d be surprised if they did find anything. I think it was pretty clear that Texas Tech took the approach to Leach that Leach so often used on opposing defenses: shoot first (i.e. “fire” away), and ask questions later.

5. Goodbye, Donald; Hello, Oregon. Disney has relinquished its hold over Oregon’s mascot after sixty-years: (more…)