ITS FOOTBALL SEASON AGAIN!!
Hey....it's football season again and that means it't time to talk football strategy as our Leos start their quest for the 2008 Grey Cup!! As players pound their bodies through 'two a days' at training camp our Leos brain trust has spent a ton of hours in the off-season looking at tape and determing what strategies will result in improvement for the 2008 season. Last year, our defense fell off some, even with the addition of Cameron Wake, as injuries took their toll and our defense was forced to play more vanilla coverages at times.
NEW LEADERSHIP AT THE HELM ON DEFENSE
A couple of key changes took place on defense in the off-season and anyone who doesn't believe coaching changes can he huge doesn't really know the game of football. The players are only half of the puzzle in the recipe of winning. Football, more than any other sport, is a strategy sport. It's chess on turf played by very gifted athletes. Following each play the coach sends in a new formation, a new strategy for the next play. Coaches in other professional sports don't have the same opportunity and when games flow, rather than stop and start, the coaches role is reduced and the players responsiblities increase. In football, it's just the opposite.
This season Mike Benevedes replaces one of the CFL's greatest defensive coordinators of all time in Dave Ritchie. I was a huge Dave Ritchie fan as a defensive coordinator. He was innovative and he, more than any other defensive coodinator, changed the way defense was played in today's CFL. More importantly, I consider Ritchie, the key missing piece, that enabled us to win the 2006 Grey Cup. He changed our defense from a passive, bend but don't break defense into an aggressive, complex defense that created tons of turnoves for our offence. However, Benevedes has been around in Ritchie's system and learned from a master in terms of defensive strategy. Benevedes is smart and highly regarded by his players. He's also need to put his own stamp on our 2008 defense.
Mark Washington is also another coaching change on defense for 2008 as he coaches our defensive backfield. Washington may not have been the best defensive back on our Leos defensive units over the past few seasons but he'll bring a lot of attributes as an assistant coach. He was always considered a leader in the dressing room. He's knowledgeable. He's respected by his former teamates. He knows the CFL game! He was always an excellent hitter and he'll push that aspect of the game to his defensive unit.
LEOS SHOULD IMPLEMENT A 3-4 DEFENSE FOR 2008
First of all, I want to say that I'm not a huge fan of the 3-4 Defense over other defenses. Most of the time I I like balance on defence, alternating even and odd man fronts..as I also prefer a balanced attack on offence. Most college and professional programs use the 4-3. In professional football the 'in' defensive scheme changes. Being one of the first to implement the new 'in' defense usually has advantages in that the opposition offence is not as prepared to play against it.
However, the 3-4 Defense is not new. Calgary and Toronto have used it for a while. In the NFL teams like New England, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the San Diego Chargers utilize it. What is a 3-4 Defense? You have three (3) defensive linemen and four (4) linebackers, hence the name 34. If you had four (4) defensive linemen and three (3) linebackers, you would have the 4-3 defense. Our Leos have used aspects of the 3-4 Defense since Ritchie arrived in 2005. We have often used a three man line to rush the quarterback on passing downs. In those situations we've utilized Floyd and Glatt as two interior linebackers.
WHY RITCHIE WANTED TO USE A 3-4 IN THE PAST AND DIDN'T!
Dave Ritchie wanted to implement the 3-4 Defence when he arrived as our defensive coordinator. He was a fan of the 3-4 Defense. However, while he implemented aspects of the defense in 2006 he waited until 2007 to move more in that direction. However, his plans were changed when Hunt, who he planned to move outside to defensive end showed up in camp 20 pounds heavier. Enter Cameron Wake as a rush end and the plan was abandoned.
However, Ritchie always loved the blitzing opportunities out of the 3-4 Defence and the rotaional opportunites it provided. Our Leos always carried an extra import linebacker for special teams. However, talented defensive lineman that can rush the passer and play the run effectively at the same time are harder to come by. The CFL is also a pass dominated league and rushing the passer and chasing down mobile quarterbacks is tiring. Having a fresh defensive lineman out there is an advantage.
BENEVEDES PLANNED TO IMPLEMENT A 3-4 DEFENCE FOR 2008!
Mike Benevedes planned to install the 3-4 Defense this season. However, we also planned to have an extra import on defense but Josh Boden's departure on offence means we may have to use that extra import on offence. That changes things for our defense unless a Canadian receiver can step into the starting lineup on offence.
WHY THE 3-4 DEFENSE FOR OUR LEOS?
Rammer has pointed out that we usually only use two linebackers on passing downs. However, the key decision on passing downs would be whether to use three down linemen and three linebackers in that situation or whether to use four down linemen and two linebackers. The first is a 3-4 scheme and the second is a 4-3 scheme. On first downs or running downs we often have used the 4-3 in the past. A 3-4 provides a different look and different schemes.
However, I have always believed, rather than forcing players into a scheme coaches should adapt their scheme to the talents of the players they have. I truly believe a 3-4 Defense offers more advantages for our defense in 2008 than the 4-3 scheme. Here's why!
LEOS PERSONELL SUITS A 3-4 DEFENCE
Lets have a closer look at our Leos defensive personell.
1. Middle Linebacker: A 4-3 Defense keys off the middle linebacker position. Javy Glatt is a converted outside linebacker who also had experience as an interior linebacker. He's not a pure middle linebacker. He also doesn't fit a new trend of playing a Canadian run stopping middle linebacker on first downs and then removing him on passing downs. Glatt is an every down player. Glatt is outstanding against the pass and is an outstanding blitzer. He's improved against the run but it's not his strength. Having Glatt play one of two interior linebacker positions would allow us to play the run better.
2. Nose Tackle: The 3-4 Defense has been known to be weak against the run. One of the reasons for that is that the interior linebackers can be blocked with isolation blocks deeper into the defensive backfield. However, that may have been the case with teams like Calgary and Toronto but it isn't the case with teams like New England or Pittsburg and they run the football more down south. 3-4 Defenses have also won all the SuperBowls down south this decade. One key is having an outstanding nose tackle who can occupy two offensive lineman, plug the middle, and play the run. Who do we have for that situation-Ty Williams-who just happens to be the best at that position.
On second down or passing downs we have Hunt..whose speed at the nose tackle position provides penetration inside and the ability to get to the passer. Both played nose tackle last year when we rushed three defensive lineman. It also keeps them fresh rather than having both on the field all the time and we lacked depth on the defensive line last year. The only player we rotated on the defensive line last year was Ricky Foley and we didn't use him a lot because it meant either taking out Cameron Wake or Brent Johnson to do that.
3. Tweeners: Cameron Wake and Ricky Foley are tweeners. They are converted linebackers who play rush end. Wake was a monster last season but we still haven't utilized his talents like we can. In a 3-4 Defense we can use Wake as a linebacker and move him around. Wake would mostly still rush the quarterback but he wouldn't be restricted to just rushing opposite to Brent Johnson. We could line him and Brent Johnson together on one side of the defensive line. We could use Foley as the rush end on the other side when we wanted to get more of a pass rush. We could also alternate by using Hunt as defensive end on the short side of the field on occasion. It would provide us with more opportunties for rotation, keep our defensive lineman fresh, and enable us to use more defensive line schemes than just the vanilla four man rush. We could even give Brent Johnson a breather by lining up with Foley, Wake, Hunt, and Williams on occasion. The rush end/linebacker is the key and with Wake and Foley as tweeners it gives us so many more options
4. Linebacker: Our Leos have lots of depth at linebacker. If we use either Wake or Foley as the fourth linebacker/rush end then we need three more. We have Glatt, Floyd, either Jamal Johnson or Goodwell, and Pottinger. Pottinger can play interior linebacker and so can Goodwell. Goodwell can play outside or inside as can Jamal Johnson. Floyd can play outside or interior linebacker as can Glatt. We have very fast, versataile linebackers.
The major advantage of the 3-4 is that it is very difficult to block because you have more options to send people or blitz people. Mostly, I believe in rushing four players to the quarterback or running back out of the 3-4. The difficulty for the offence is determining which four are coming. You can zone blitz so effectively out of the 3-4. You can drop off a lineman like Johnson or Wake or Foley and rush three as a change up. Johnson had a huge season in 2006 when he dropped off out of the zone blitz for some key interceptions.
In a four man line the offence knows which players are rushing the passer. In a 3-4 it could be any four players of six of our players in our front seven. In fact it could be any seven. On occasion, in could be five or six of them when we send more than four. Another added benefit is the versatility the set allows. Four athletic linebackers on the field as opposed to 3 allow a defense to become much more creative with its blitz and coverage packages.
Blitz packages include 1) outside linebackers both blitz, providing a five man rush 2) Both interior linebackers blitzing in unison with a stunting defensive end or nose tackle to open a gap 3) in zone blitz packages a linebacker or a safety like Miles could blitz the middle of the line while a rush end could drop into the short zone once occupied by the blitzer. 4) a defensive halfback, lined up on the slotback could blitz while either an outside or inside linebacker could run after the snap to cover his vactaed zone or man. In fact the possibilites are endless.
The versatility and possibilities are endless in play calling in a 3-4 Defense. When used correctly, and with the right personell, this defense is suffocating and creates a ton of confusion for opposing QB's.