The first practice of the Spring is in the books, and while it's far too early to draw any true conclusions about the new look LSU defense, Miles also outright addressed scheme questions:
Les on a base defense: "It’ll be something you guys have seen here before. Some things we did back when Bo Pelini was here." #LSU— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) March 7, 2015
In Rome's full piece he added the full quote:
"We’ve talked about our base defense right away," Miles said. "It’s something you guys will have seen here before. Kind of some of the things we did back when we were with Bo Pelini and really John Chavis for that matter. You’ll see there’s some carryover in both spots.’
Miles' quote seems to indicate that 2015 will be a lot more of the same. That said, opting to cite Pelini before Chavis is interesting. Pelini's defense, while operating from the same base, is quite a bit different than Chavis. Chavis prefers leaner, more athletic types up front. Pelini oft stacked the depth chart with big bodies, something that Chavis had to work to overcome in his first couple of seasons in Baton Rouge. Add to that this tidbit:
Les on Bower/Clark at DE: "Both guys had nice looks today. Bain jumped in there and looked good. End spot will be well-manned." #LSU— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) March 7, 2015
Quay Bain is listed at 6'4", 299 pounds. That's a jumbo DE, one built much more like your prototypical 3-4 DE. Finding quality DE depth is one of the main questions Steele needs to answer this offseason, and I'm not sure I saw Bain being the answer there. Bain is an athletic guy, who was a good basketball player in HS, but he looks more like a true 3-tech DT than, say, J.J. Watt.
What does this say about Steele's defensive leanings? To me, it's further evidence that he's seeking to transition toward the 4-3 Under Scheme I addressed in Part One of this series. The key word there is transition. LSU, as currently comprised, isn't ready for a dramatic scheme shift. Steele can tinker with some of the parts, perhaps altering roles to maximize the talents while also gradually shifting into the new scheme.
Let's take a look at key roles of the defensive line in the 4-3 under and what LSU players might fit them.
Over at FieldGulls, our Seattle Seahawks brethren, Danny Kelly has done some great work illuminating the masses on the intricate details of the Seahawks defense. Kelly is an absolute must follow for you X and O geeks, out there. I'll rely heavily on his breakdowns to help inform my piece here. Here's the full presser (I highly recommend you read) Kelly pulls the below quotes from.
You can read Kelly's full piece here. Naturally, his piece revolves around Carroll's philosophies, but it's a great resource nonetheless. First, consider this:
The basic philosophy, as Pete Carroll put it, involves the idea that, "The more the attacking oriented the defense is the better off it will be. Obviously when you come off the ball, sometimes it is run and sometimes it is pass. We like to be in the mode of attacking the line of scrimmage, so when it is a pass we will get pressure on the quarterback."
Sound familiar? Here's Steele in his introductory press conference at LSU:
So you have to be creative with the ways that you generate pass rush, that you generate big plays or negative plays for offenses and prevent big plays, and we'll be relentless in our pursuit to do that.
Steele's reputation for being more aggressive with blitzing illustrates one example of his preference for generating pressure.
Let's go position by position on the line, now.
Under Chavis, the 5-tech lined up on the weakside, hence the difference in an "Over" and "Under" front. The 5-tech lines up on the outside shoulder of the tackle. Chavis' ends never flipped sides either, so Rasco almost exclusively lined up, as LDE, while Hunter played RDE. Their alignment would be dictated by how the offense lined up.
In the Under front, this player will line up on the same side as the TE. In the Chavis D, this player maintained responsibilities for both run and pass. In the Under, the role is different. Carroll says, "The defensive end to the tight end side needs to be a defensive player that can play the run. He does not have to be a big time pass rusher." The 5-tech will go to strong side exclusively, rather than sticking to a pre-ordained "position" as we saw with Chavis.
Hearing this, it would begin to make some sense that Steele would feel comfortable moving Quay Bain out to DE. Bain is an athletic guy on the inside, that could probably provide some interior rush, but less so coming off the edge. At 6'4", 299 pounds on the outside, he more naturally slots as a run stuffing 5-tech.
Historically, LSU featured smaller ends that fought in the run game, but were more susceptible to being pushed around. This player will be a two-gapper responsible for setting the edge in the run game. Bain makes a ton of sense here since he's not likely to be a dominant inside rusher, but can more easily plug as a run stuffer. This player will ideally have bulk and length.
Potential Roster Fits: Quay Bain, Greg Gilmore, Christian LaCouture, Quentin Thomas
The nose tackle. Here's Carroll on this player:
The nose tackle plays in the A gap to the tight end side of the field in our defense. We have done a number of things with this position based upon the opposition at times. We have put him right in the A gap, we have cocked him on the center at times, and as needed we have even played him in a direct shade technique right over the center at times. The way we play him on base defense is as an inside-foot to outside-foot alignment or a 1 technique on the center to the strong side of the alignment.
At Nose Tackle you have to find a player who likes to mix it up. We want a big guy in there who likes to get down and dirty. He is going to get doubled a lot on the run and pass and is going to get down blocked a lot. He has to be a tough player. This guy can be a short and stubby type of player.
In Carroll's system, the 1-tech is the plug in the middle of the defense. He doesn't need to be an explosive player, nor even one with great length, but he must be strong at the point of attack and willing to do dirty work in the middle.
Potential Roster Fits: Christian LaCouture, Trey Lealaimatafao*, Travonte Valentine, Quentin Thomas
The three tech lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard. Glenn Dorsey is probably the premier 3-tech in LSU history. He's an ideal player for the role, in that he's strong enough to handle the run, but was the team's best interior pass rusher.
The prime spot on the defense to the weak side is the B gap player. He is an inside-foot to outside-foot alignment on the offensive guard to his side. He is a 3 technique player. He has B gap control but he can't get reached or hooked by the defense due to the way we align him. The whole scheme of this defense is predicated upon not getting hooked.
The 3 technique player should be your premier interior pass rusher. He is going to get a lot of one on one blocks as it is hard to double team him because of where he lines up.
Easily the toughest position to find on the entire DL. This player needs a combination of quicks and power. He should probably be over 6'2"+ and over 300 pounds. Sacrifice in one area or another and you are forced to compensate in other areas.
Potential Roster Fits: Davon Godchaux, Frank Herron, Trey Lealaimatafao*, Maquedius Bain
*Lealaimatafao is an interesting case. He's short and squatty, like you would want from a 1-tech, but he played more like a 3-tech in HS, exploding up the field and making plays in the backfield.
The team's best pass rusher. He can play standing or in a down position. This what leads many to confuse 4-3 under looks with 3-4 looks. He plays on the weakside, typically aligned in a 7 or even 9 technique, wide outside the OT. Here's what Carroll has to say:
The best pass rusher on the team is usually the defensive end to the open side of the field. That puts him on the quarterback's blind side and makes him a C gap player in this defense. We often align him wider than this in order to give him a better angle of attack and allow him to play in space. We align him a yard outside of the offensive tackle most of the time. He has to play C gap run support but at the same time he is rushing the passer like it is third and ten. He has to be able to close down however if the tackle blocks down on him.
(He) has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around.
Size is not key here. Athleticism is. This player needs to be explosive. This player can be a "tweener."
Potential Roster Fits: Deondre Clark, Sione Teuhema, Arden Key
The biggest key to remember here is that flexibility is key. As you can see from Danny Kelly's piece, Carroll tried a lot of different players and types at these roles. Kelly wrote this piece in 2011 and talks about Red Bryant being a key piece and a "rare player." Bryant is no longer on the roster, and the Seahawks returned to the Super Bowl again this season. Carroll found a way to adapt to new personnel.
The biggest thing here is not asking a player to do things he cannot. That's where many coaches fail. Up front, LSU has players that could fairly seamlessly shift to a different philosophy. The biggest hit would likely come at DE where a player like Lewis Neal, at 6'1", 255 pounds, doesn't really have an ideal role. He's too small to play inside, or as a 5-tech, and not likely athletic enough to play the LEO. LEO is probably his closest fit. Or what about recently signed Isaiah Washington. He's a bigger bodied end at 6'4", 230 pounds, but he's not much of a pass rusher. He's probably at least a year off from giving you quality snaps as a 5-tech, whereas in the Chavis scheme, he's probably big enough to play at DE right away.
Even the roles for veterans get muddy. LaCouture could fit at the 5-tech, 1-tech, or maybe even 3-tech. One thing to keep in mind here is that this is not a problem. It's a benefit. As I mentioned above, Carroll has tinkered with the roles and allowed players to play to their strengths. If LSU doesn't have a true-blue 1-tech, no reason to force the issue. Let your 1-tech play one gap and wreak havoc and make your bones that way.
Again, this is all about asking the players to do what they do best, not about trying to pigeon hole them into some sort of ideal. There's a lot of time before this fall, but I feel confident in saying the 2015 defense won't look the same as the units under Chavis. The transition is happening now. Whether or not Steele is up to the task, well, we can only wait and see.