French on the Bench: Bud Foster's Gap Defense Part I

French on the Bench is a new series of posts that will take a closer look at the theory, fundamentals, and scheme of Tech's offense and defense. It kicks off by detailing the inner workings of the Bud Foster Gap Defense that has baffled most of the ACC over the last 8 years. My most recent columns can now be found on the right sidebar. -- French

The Hokie Gap defense rose from the ashes of the famed "Hokie Attack" 8 man front of the 1990's. When Foster developed the concept for the Gap Defense, he looked to solve two problems. First, how do they maintain the aggressive variability of the Wide Tackle Six, but second, he wanted to stop the growing use of one back multiple receiver offenses from the West Coast to the Spread. Foster used a simple solution. He retained the terminology and many of the blitz schemes of the Attack Defense, and then moved the rover position back to that of a traditional strong safety. To the uneducated eye, the defense features two ends, two tackles, three linebackers, two safeties, and two corners just like a traditional NFL style 4-3, but Foster turns the 4-3 concept on its ear.

The Gap Defense is grounded in a simple concept. Every defensive player in the front seven has a "gap" responsibility in every defense that is called. A "gap" is an area of space on the field that the defensive player is responsible to "control." Often, in interviews with Bud Foster and other defensive coaches, you hear the term "gap fit" thrown around. Gap fit means when the defensive player hits the assigned gap, he must hold that gap maintaining the proper leverage in order to get off a block and make a tackle. The diagram below uses numbers to identify each gap. (Please note, the Hokies may use letters or other terminology to identify each gap.)

In a traditional one gap 4-3 defense, each player in the front seven has the gap in front of them with few exceptions, with examples being a variety of stunts and run blitzes that are run in small proportion to the base calls. Virginia Tech uses both their base look (which features each lineman and linebacker having gap responsibility for the gap in front of them) or a more radical stunting approach based on the talent Foster has available. On this play against UVA, the Hokies are playing a base front.

The Mike is over the center. The nose tackle is a 1 technique, the tackle is a 3 technique. The stud end is outside eye of the tackle strong side, and the end is outside eye of the tackle on the weakside. Each defender essentially has the gap in front of him. The mike linebacker has no pass coverage responsibility in most of the Hokie defenses. The defensive linemen get into the neutral zone, engage their blocker, secures their gap, and sheds the blocking using a "violent hand motion" (rip, swim, push-pull, or 45 technique). At the snap, Jack Tyler reads a key that sends him flying through the one gap. While he misses the tackle, he allows enough time for the other players to secure their gap and then pursue to tackle the UVA tailback for a marginal gain. Based on the film that I have watched, either Bud Foster calls more middle linebacker run blitzes than any coach in the country, or the mike backer has almost zero pass responsibility. Tyler is almost always coming forward at the snap except when a key has him pursuing playside. Anytime you see the mike backer dropping back, it is change up defense hoping the QB throws to a spot without seeing the mike.

Behind the defense, the Hokies secondary plays a basic robber coverage on this play. Smart Football did an excellent write up on the Hokies robber and 4-4G. In basic terms, normal defenses feature corners playing man with safeties deep to help. In a robber coverage, the safeties actually come forward at the snap while the corners bail out to a deep third. Quarterbacks, seeing the odd space develop, are often easily baited into throwing seam routes against this coverage. We will look at the Hokies pass defense in more detail in a later post.

In the above play, Jayron Hosley backpedals to his deep third at the snap. When the WR's sets up to run block (the WR's total lack of effort is a complete "UVA move"), he immediately comes up in run support. Antone Exum is moving forward at the snap, and both Exum and Hosley end up making the tackle along with Luther Maddy.

Even more bedeviling to teams that use pro-style running games, Foster uses a huge variety of stunts, hard slants, and linebacker blitzes to "funnel" the ball carrier right into an unblocked defensive player. Yet, unlike most stunts and blitzes where the defensive player is trying to shake loose to make a play, the Foster gap defense still requires the players who were stunting to maintain responsibility for their assigned gap. Hokie defensive linemen are required to have a unique ability to sometimes cover gaps that are far from where they line up, while maintaining leverage in order to prevent being knocked backwards by an offensive lineman.

The below diagram lays out a typical Hokie run blitz utilized to stop the zone run to the strong side out of an I formation. The zone run requires each offensive lineman to block the gap to the playside, moving along the line of scrimmage and maintaining contact for as long as possible with the first defender that crosses their face. The running back is supposed to take two strides playside, plant his playside leg (in this case the right leg) and select a weak spot where the defender has overrun the play. Often, a zone play to the right (which on a Madden diagram looks like it would go to the 6 gap) will actually cut back almost over the center.

Each assignment:

  • Stud End (Tyrell Wilson): Pre-Snap, the S end lines up outside eye of the boundary side tackle. The S must loop hard play-side, crossing the face of the tight end without allowing himself to get his outside shoulder blocked by the tight end. He must maintain gap control on the 6 gap and not allow the running back to get outside his outside shoulder. Ideally, the Stud end will be 2 yards deep into the backfield. The running back will see that the Stud has contain, and will not look to pull a "David Wilson" and make a break for the 8 gap. Instead he will look to plant and dive straight ahead for the inside of the 6 gap or the 4 gap, or he will plant and cut back to the center gap.
  • Nose Tackle: The Nose (Luther Maddy): The nose will line up as a 1 technique, on the inside eye of the play-side guard. At the snap, the nose has the daunting task of stunting two gaps, crossing the face of both the guard and the tackle to get outside shoulder gap fit on the 4 gap. While the nose sometimes gets unblocked and can get upfield, more often than not he will make contact with the guard and tackle. Ideally he can maintain leverage without being driven downfield. If the running back looks to go straight ahead, he will see the guard and tackle jammed up and look to cutback.
  • Tackle: The Tackle (Derrick Hopkins) lines up as a 3 technique, outside eye of the backside guard. The tackle will cross the face of the guard and the center, and fill the 2 gap, originally vacated by the Nose. Again, the tackle will rarely be in position to make the tackle, but must minimally plug up the gap, causing the back to look to cut back to the 1 gap.
  • End: The End (J.R. Collins) will stunt to the 7 gap, maintaining contain on any reverse, bootleg, or play-action. This often creates the illusion to the running back that there isn't backside pursuit, making the backside cutback to the 1 gap the logical place to go.
  • Whip: The Whip (Kyle Fuller) lines up wide, but well to the inside of the slot. The alignment is a disguise, as he has no pass coverage responsibility. The Whip blitzes hard from the 7 gap to fly through the 5 gap space. Because the line is flowing play-side, the Whip should be unblocked and should go directly to the ball-carrier.
  • Mike: The Mike backer (Jack Tyler) lines up directly over the center, and blitzes against the flow of the play to fly through the 1-3 gap. The Mike will likely be unblocked, but the running back should flow directly to him, so the Mike essentially has responsibility for the 1 gap.
  • Backer: The Backer (Tariq Edwards) lines at the same depth as the mike but in the guard tackle gap. The Backer disguises, looking like he is scraping play-side, but in reality, he is filling the interior of the 6 gap. Also, in goal line and short yardage, the backer and blitz the gap to try to blow the play in the backfield playside.
  • Free Safety: Free safety starts in a deep third lined up 12 yards off the ball directly behind the mike. The free safety fills play-side to clean up if the running back breaks through the play-side gaps.
  • The boundary, field, and rover all have pass coverage. The Hokies switch between man and cover 3. Once their keys indicate that the running back has the ball, each pursues the ball.
  • The design of the defense is set up to allow the Mike, Whip, or Stud DE to make the play. The movement ideally allows three Hokies to be unblocked, versus depending on the physical ability of the defensive line to beat each of their blocks at the point of attack. The potential risk is that the movement can allow for gashing big running plays if the players can't control their gap responsibility.

    The end result of this 1st quarter play against UVA features Tyrell Wilson preventing the back from getting to the edge, the nose and tackle slant and fill their gaps, and Jack Tyler flies in on the blitz to make the play.

    Next week, we will examine some of the basic blitz packages that the Hokies use for passing down and distance situations. If you have any questions, I will be sure to answer to answer them in the comments. From all of us at The Key Play, get off the bench and in the game.

Comments

Good stuff

I think I understand why our defense is used against us in recruiting. If our defense is designed to "funnel" the ball carrier to certain positions I could see some recruits not liking that. Oh well. I love it anyway!

From what I've heard, a lot of the negative recruiting emphasizes that in Tech's defense a DE or OLB (Whip), for example, isn't a traditional NFL DE or OLB. So opposing coaches will tell a kid he'll have a better shot of making it to the NFL if he plays in a "NFL-style" 4-3. I'm sure our coaches cite James Anderson who transitioned from Whip to NFL LB, and Jason Worilds who played DE at Tech and was drafted as an OLB for the Steelers. It's no secret that Tech uses a lot of "hybrid" type players. More and more NFL coaches are blending the 4-3 and 3-4 concepts and scheme. Playing in a college system that emphasizes skillset diversity is actually a good thing.

Differences?

What are the differences between what Tech does and a traditional NFL 4-3??

It depends on which version of the 4-3. Some teams run a 2 gap scheme (which is much more difficult to get players for.) Basically, it requires two defensive tackles who can each command double teams. They tie up the center and both guards, allowing the middle linebacker to go unblocked sideline to sideline. The doubles on the interior also give the ends more flexibility to get upfield and rush the passer.

The one-gap 4-3 is a little more similar to the Hokies in that each defensive front 7 has gap responsibility, but in the NFL almost never does the radical stunting that the Hokies perform (the NFL lines are good enough to adjust and drive the stunting linemen off the ball.)

The biggest difference is how wildly the defensive responsibilities differ between the gap defense. The Hokies defense requires the DL to essentially "tie up" blockers and hold gaps. They are not supposed to be playmakers (except in the pass rush) but they have to be adept at maintaining leverage while stunting. They recruit nimble, short tackles, which you don't see in the NFL. Also, stud 6'6 265 DE's who want to play in the NFL, not tie up linemen so linebackers make plays. The middle backers have very little pass coverage responsibility, and spend significant time taking on blocks on the interior of a play. The Whip responsibilities seem to change as much as the skillsets of the players in the position. It really is an outlier as far as defenses, as much as Paul Johnson's wishbone is on offense.

This plays out when you examine the Hokies players in the NFL. James Anderson is the only Hokie alumni who is a starter in the front 7 of an NFL team. Worilds was moved to OLB and by the accounts of Steelers insiders, has struggled with the transition to a 3-4 look. Darryl Tapp has been a career backup. Excellent Hokies like Xavier Adibi, Chris Ellis, and Jonathan Lewis have barely had a look. Mr. Hokie Cody Grimm was moved to the secondary (which is funny given that pass coverage was his greatest weakness as a Hokie.) I have no doubt this works against the Hokies in recruiting, but Foster also has archetypes he recruits to for his players. Defensive linemen must be able to stunt and slant while maintaining leverage. Backers and Mikes must be adept at timing blitzes and taking on blocks. A London Fletcher or Brian Urlacher type linebacker would not be a good fit for the Hokies. Neither would a Pat Williams type DT.

Viva El Guapo

Interesting. Thanks

Questions:

1. What do you mean by "radical stunting"? What's so radical about it? What's considered non-radical?

2. Based on what you said, don't the DL's all "tie" up the lines in both Bud scheme and the traditional pro-scheme?

3. Does this really hurt us? If you compare how offensive schemes don't really hurt a recruits ability to make it to the NFL, why should a defensive scheme hurt us too?

Touching on each question: 1)

Touching on each question:

1) I have seen a ton of schemes and I can't remember one that repeatedly asks the defensive tackles to stunt across multiple gaps and still maintain gap fits. Most teams change alignments and will stunt occasionally, but nobody trys so much to funnel types of running plays to linebackers.

2) In a one gap 4-3, the DL wants to get up field and make plays. The dominant defenses in Tampa Bay of the late 90's early 2000's allowed Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice to get up field as the method for controlling their gaps. However, in the Ravens 2 gap 4-3 that they ran in their Super Bowl season, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams only job was to keep the interior line off Ray Lewis.

3) I think it does hurt recruiting elite out of state prospects. Offensive schemes do the same. Look at Florida under Urban Meyer. His recruiting dropped off when it became apparent that players could be great in that system, but the fundamentals they acquire do not translate to the NFL. See Tim Tebow (or Pat White at WVU.) Eventually, the kids who see the NFL in their future realize that going to such a school hurts their chances. Urban Meyer fell behind LSU and Alabama in recruiting, and magically his health is at risk and he gets out. Now, he will get a jump start at Ohio State, where he will always have a talent advantage over the best Big Ten schools.

Viva El Guapo

Good read

I played in the pre-2004 VT defense in HS at Westfield which was also a popular defense with Oakton/Robinson and I guess now South County which has Bendorf. Was a great move on moving the rover back in alignment based on the offenses being seen but thought the Rover always lined up on the strong side away from the Whip but your diagram indicates them lined on the same side.

Hope that VT keeps getting playing making athletic DTs that can get off blocks and penetrate in interior gaps in order to take D to next level.

Joe, In the old 4-4, the

Joe,

In the old 4-4, the rover was always opposite to the whip. In th defense now, the free safety and the whip are essentially interchangable. In the diagram, Whitley (who the coaches called "the rover" last year) is lined up to the twins side, and he motions back to the middle of the field while Exum (who was the "free safety" last year) rotates up towards the line with the motion. Unlike the old 4-4, I think Foster and Gray want the free and rover to essentially be interchangable with the only exception being that the free makes the defensive secondary calls and audibles.

I will touch on this more when I write my column on the secondary play, but I think because Hokies safeties have been victimized in man coverage so much, that Foster is looking at his safeties having less run support responsibility and being better at coverage, hence the change of putting converted corners at safety. In the Michigan game, almost every completion came against the safeties. Boise and Stanford both targeted the safeties. Clemson and Duke are really the only teams I can remember that have attacked Hokie corners and been successful.

I think we see the Hokies playing a ton of 4-4G man this year, with next to no pass coverage responsibility by the mike and backer. I foresee a TON of blitzes on 3rd and long.

Viva El Guapo

WOW!!

French...great new addition to TKP! Love the in-depth analysis. Looking forward to future articles.

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

love this stuff

this is the best stuff and why i love TKP .. i know that teams use our schemes against us in recruiting but i love how the giants and their smaller, more athletic dline core, is being looked at by coach bud. in the long run, if the giants dline continues to dominant with "defensive ends", i think it can be used to pitch to good dlineman. our dline is deep this season and will be dominant. couple that with (hopefully) some VERY strong dline recruits panning out, and landing dhand and/or brown next year, and it seems as if our defense is only going to get better and better

Great Stuff

French-- in your opinion what position in the front 7 is the most important for a successful tech D. Also fwiw if tyler plays every play like those 2 video plays above its going to be hard to keep him off the field especially against gt

UVA: Jefferson's biggest mistake

@pbowman6

So, what does it look like when a Hokie fails to control a gap?

I have had some great question both here and on twitter about some of the nuances of the defense. I want to focus on one, what has made teams successful against the Virginia Tech run defense?

Stanford presents the most unique formula. First of all, they had a GREAT offensive line that was able to block at angles which cut off the stunts from Virginia Tech linebackers. Stanford also used formation to create matchup problems. Stanford understands that the whip most often will line up to the weak side of the defense. So, they would use multiple tight ends to the strong side, then motion one of those tight ends back to the whip side. The Stanford tight ends (who were all NFL caliber blocking tight ends) were then matched up with the weakest member of the Hokie front seven, in this case, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow.

Winslow and the defensive end (JR. Collins) to an X stunt, with Collins going outside and JWG taking the inside (or #5) gap. JWG goes to fill the gap, but the tight end takes him off his feet. Suddenly the gap is open, and the back has a nice hole.

That is really the key to the front. Everyone, especially play side, must at least stalemate their blocker in their gap. Otherwise (because the linebackers don't immediately scrape and pursue to the ball) there will be large holes and tremendous pressure on safeties to make the tackle.

Viva El Guapo

great stuff as always french

I find it interesting how you compare our defense to being as unique as GT's offense. So that got me thinking: how does Bud and Co defend GT differently than a more pro style set? Why are we sometimes successful (last year 2nd half) and sometimes not so successful (09 second half)? I understand explaining that might as well be another post but it would be facinating stuff.

BTW, I dont think I've ever seen a gif used as a legit educational tool and not just an lol.

"It's worth it right? It's worth it to lay it all on the line for your brothers!"

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster (both quotes)

Miami has completely destroyed GT the last few years (if i remember correctly), and they do that by blowing up the GT OL at the LOS. So, I don't think having our DL being smallish gives us a good advantage to counter the GT offense (a la moving our DE in as a DT and then replacing the DE with T. Wilson), since Miami has prototypical NFL DT's and absolutely mauled them at the LOS. Thoughts?

I have told anyone who would listen that I didn't like having Collins moved inside, and that if they did move him inside, he needed to get upfield and disrupt the full back/QB mesh point. Instead, Collins played read and react football and was driven off the ball often, which is to be expected when he is doubled and cut block all night. While the Hokies were able to win, Collins was a shell of himself until the bowl game after Georgia Tech, and I am convinced that was because he was so beat up.

I have not watched any tape of Miami vs Georgia Tech, so I am not sure if they make any specific adjustments from their normal scheme, but they certainly have the Yellow Jackets pegged. It is even more stunning given how horridly Miami's D was against the Hokies. I would go so far as to say Miami was the worst defense the Hokies played all year.

Viva El Guapo

couldn't post during the day

but as mentioned, the type of dt's vt uses are small, quick guys so some guys that might be more nfl types wouldn't fit what bud is asking his guys to do.

Small, and generally stout defensive tackles certainly seem to be the Bud Foster model. The Hopkins brothers, Maddy, and looking back at Barry Booker, Jonathan Lewis, and others all sort of fit that mold. Guys like Acree don't fit, and I do not think for a second that the "four defensive end" alignment that we heard about in the spring will be used at any time other than on passing down and distance plays.Guys like Zach McCray and JR Collins, while big enough to play DT in a pinch, are too long to really be effective on those interior stunts (that is one of the reasons that Nick Acree was never a favorite of Charley Wiles.)

Ultimately, we will see Maddy and Derek Hopkins starting, with Marshall coming in for Maddy on most passing downs. I think they use the same DE rotation as last year, with Wilson and McCray playing every 4th series and Marshall getting some snaps at tackle and end. I am not sure where Antoine fits, but I find it hard to believe he will beat out Maddy with Maddy's excellent spring.

Viva El Guapo

If NFL type DT's wouldn't fit BF's scheme then what's the use of trying to recruit guys like an Andrew Brown? Seems to me it would be a waste of time unless they are going to use him at DE. Also BF has talked about wanting to change the "DNA" of our DL referencing Ala. and LSU's D-lines. Based on what you guys are saying those type of players wouldn't fit into BF's scheme unless he's going to go to a more traditional 4-3. Your thoughts please.

I think that with their recruiting getting better, Foster may change. The wide tackle six and the gap defense were used by Foster specifically because they didn't have the athletes to play SEC style, line up our best athletes against yours, and beat you football. In the seasons that he had great talent, they didn't blitz and stunt as much (the 06 and 07 Hokie defensive highlight films feature much more base defense against the run.)

If they can get Brown and Hand, I think Foster will figure out a way to take their skills and make it work, but I can GUARENTEE you, every recruiter that visits Brown and Hand will tell them that there has not been a Hokie defensive lineman since Foster was hired that has been a productive multi-year NFL starter. Even the best (Brown- moved to LB, Worilds- moved to LB, Tapp- non-descript backup, Engleberger-bust, Moore- bust, Price- nada) didn't make an impact.

Viva El Guapo

That's probably the reason we lost Korren Kirven. I'm sure Nick Saban said the very same thing to him hence his "I don't believe I could achieve my goals at VT" comment. Since we have such a deep and talented DL do you foresee more base defense this year?

Engleberger wasn't a bust. He started 79 games over an 8 year career.

Loria, Beamer, Wiley, Russell, Drakeford, Gray, Banks, Prioleau, Carpenter, Charlton, Midget, Sorensen, Whitaker, Bird, McCadam, Pile, Hall, Wilds, Green, Fuller, Williams, Hamilton, Rouse, Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Whitley, Hosley, Fuller

Nekos Brown & John Graves

Were tallish and relatively lean. I think they were 6'2 or so and 270-280 lbs. Have no idea how that played into Foster's defense, but he has played and started taller more slender DTs.

As for NFL caliber lineman. You can't develop an NFL caliber lineman. They have to have the frame and natural instinct. They've only had a few with an NFL frame, and none of them worked out. I'm pretty sure, if VT could land Hand or Brown, Foster would develop them into 1st Rd D-linemen, even in a gap fitting scheme. While it's currently a knock that VT hasn't developed NFL linemen, it's more of an inability to recruit them onto campus than anything else.

Great write up. A very enjoyable read.

Thanks! Graves certainly was an outlier as far as his girth, along with Jim Davis, but the vast majority of VT tackles are shaped like trashcans. Nekos was pretty average size for a Hokie DE (McCray is the biggest it seems like we have had since Chris Ellis), but neither Brown nor Graves fit the new prototype of NFL type 6'6 265 DE's and 6'4 310 3-4 DE's or 4-3 DT's that we see in the SEC. UNC had those guys, FSU has those guys, and that is about it in the SEC.

Watching film of South Carolina against Clemson, South Carolina absolutely manhandled the Clemson OL, the same OL that manhandled the Hokies in the 2nd half of the ACC CG. Size, strength, and explosiveness were huge factors in that variance. More to come in my next post.

Viva El Guapo

I'd like to see those guys like McCray playing more than that...especially down the stretch with Clemson, fsu, and Miami...fresh legs all round are a gOod thing..

McCray played more against UVA and Michigan than I thought he did, and he had some good pass rush (but he was usually second in the race behind another defender.)

I heard very little about McCray in the spring. Hopefully he has a breakthrough year. His upside is higher than Collins, but Collins is a much more instinctual player at this point.

Viva El Guapo

What is the key?

How will VT defend against teams like Stanford and other NFL caliber offenses? Most college teams are not that good, but if the Hokies want to win a NC we will have to face that caliber of offense. Will having a healthy and complete team be enough?

Oh, and lets not forget the secret weapon. When he isn't rushing for 2000 yards next year, Martin Scales will be the Hokies 3rd down pass rusher and get 10 sacks. #Scales4Heisman

Viva El Guapo

Thank you, French.

Really great stuff. Really excited about the front seven this year.

Row Z forever.
@AdamAbramson

I hope they can return to dominance. I still worry about the whip (watching film of the Stanford game will do that to a guy) and Maddy and Marshall have to take the next step. I have no expectations that Antoine will start this year coming off that injury coupled with his history of not being as hard a worker.

The singular thing that can derail their run defense is getting chewed up physically against Georgia Tech. Even if they win, guys like Hopkins and Collins were just not the same after the GT game last year. They have to get Maddy, Marshall, and McCray in there to dominate rather than having read and react play from Wilson and Collins (at tackle.)

Viva El Guapo

Everything I've read has Antoine starting next to his brother this fall. He was on a roll at the start of last season and his recovery is going really well. I'd have to double check but I'm fairly certain Wiles even said he is the starter going into August camp because his players don't lose their starting jobs due to injury. Maddy is going to have to really step it up to be the starter.

Either way we'll have 3 starting quality DT.

Loria, Beamer, Wiley, Russell, Drakeford, Gray, Banks, Prioleau, Carpenter, Charlton, Midget, Sorensen, Whitaker, Bird, McCadam, Pile, Hall, Wilds, Green, Fuller, Williams, Hamilton, Rouse, Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Whitley, Hosley, Fuller

Great write up French! I have a few questions:

1) With all the extra movement in the "radical stunts", do you see this as wearing down the front 7 more and possibly being the cause for some of the injuries, esp last year, (ex. Hop, Bruce, and JGW) and as possibly causing fatigue later in the year if the guys aren't in shape?

2) This defense also seems to point out a weakness for a athletic, good hands tight end (ex. Ellington) to take advantage of because all of our LB's are trained to be in gap control and aren't prepared to be in coverage. Is this true and if so, how do we strengthen this weakness with out losing run control?

3) Finally, as stated in #2 above, this seems to be a heavy run control D and if we don't have super talented CB's who can cover their man without help we could get burned in the passing game real quick. I think we have had these super talented CB's the past few years but what happens when somebody gets hurt and we have to go to the bench like when Hosley got hurt last year?

Thanks. I don't know recall the plays that Taylor and JWG got hurt, so I am not really sure. Hopkins was hurt slanting if I remember correctly. It defintely helps to have depth regardless of the scheme, but depth and ability in the scheme only make it better. Young guy like Ekanem and Farley, based on film, are perfect fits. Alas, so was Jonathan Allen, and it looks like he will be playing out of position in Alabama. Damn shame if you ask me.

As for tight ends, teams that play tight ends usually end up with the rover or free safety covering them. I think the weakness that was exposed by Clemson is that if a team can set up play action by running the ball effectively, the whip and the safeties have to cover their gap fill responsibility before reacting to a pass route. Most teams go play side or bootleg with play action, but Clemson (in old 1930's single-wing style) would have the Tajh fake, then continue to waggle a step playside. Meanwhile, Dwayne Allen would come BEHIND the line against the grain of the play and pop out the weak side. If you can stop the run with six, the whip or backside safety doesn't have to commit so quickly. This column was more about the run defense, so I can work on drawing up some plays and video that shows how Clemson neutralized the Hokies in a future piece.

For #3, I think this defense actually makes the corners look better than they really are. How many Hokies have become elite corners in the NFL? Flowers, Hall, and Green have been starters. Williams and Harris pretty much flamed out. I think they are well coached. The amount of zone and safe coverages they play really is determined by the ability of the line, mike, and backer to stop the run. If those guys don't need much safety help, then the corners can take chances, bait QB's and mix in robber coverages to get turnovers. If the safeties have to make a bunch of tackles (see Stanford, Miami, Boise, Clemson), then the corners are on an island and at some point, even the best corners will get beat in man coverage.

Viva El Guapo

a couple things

It seems to me that when Bruce Taylor is in the game there's quite a bit more of a mix. Jack Tyler can't cover a rock, so CBF adjusts his schemes and defensive calls to account for that. Last year's defense was an incredible patchwork of adjustments, alignments, schemes and calls designed to hide our defense's weaknesses and it worked in 11/13 games. If healthy, this year's defense is going to be quite different.

Also I totally disagree with your wording about the DL simply 'stalemating their blocker in the gap' and 'not being expected to be play makers'. This is absolutely an attacking defense where every player is expected to #1 maintain leverage/control their gap responsibility and #2 attack attack attack the ball carrier. Our DL has way more play making responsibility in the run game than a traditional 4-3 where at least 2 of the linemen are expected to eat double blocks and free up the linebackers.

Hell Charley Wiles even stated that one thing he was challenging Antoine Hopkins on last August was making plays out of his alignment, i.e. getting after it down the LOS once it was clear the RB was not going for his gap.

Loria, Beamer, Wiley, Russell, Drakeford, Gray, Banks, Prioleau, Carpenter, Charlton, Midget, Sorensen, Whitaker, Bird, McCadam, Pile, Hall, Wilds, Green, Fuller, Williams, Hamilton, Rouse, Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Whitley, Hosley, Fuller

The attack from the DL is the next step, but they have to achieve their gap fit first. Bare minimum is the stalemate. If one DL gets blown out of the hole, it creates problems for every other defender.

Next week will take film from the Clemson game and demonstrate exactly how the Hokies have to maintain a delicate balance between aggressive pursuit and gap responsibility in order to be effective.

Viva El Guapo

And, you are also correct about Taylor. They do not run blitz as much with him in the lineup, however he is used just as much on mike dog pass blitzes (at points he was their most dangerous pass rusher as a blitzer last year.)

Viva El Guapo

Ya. He was a terror up the middle.

And with JGW on the edge, he had to be. When Fuller took over whip, it seemed like that balance flipped, with the Whip finishing on more blitzes and the Mike not filling up the pass-rush stat column as much.

Loria, Beamer, Wiley, Russell, Drakeford, Gray, Banks, Prioleau, Carpenter, Charlton, Midget, Sorensen, Whitaker, Bird, McCadam, Pile, Hall, Wilds, Green, Fuller, Williams, Hamilton, Rouse, Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Whitley, Hosley, Fuller