The development of LSU's defense under new coordinator Dave Aranda has been the biggest subplot of the Tigers spring practices. We've talked about potential changes from a lot of different angles, but on Thursday night, I was able to sit in on Aranda's lecture at the LSU High School Coaches Clinic at the PMAC.
"I don't really have much to talk about besides football."
You could say that LSU's new defensive coordinator had my attention.
LSU's new coordinator provided the room full of coaches a few insights on his background while detailing some of the basics of the 3-4 style of defense and some of the favorite pressures he likes to bring.
"I never really played football in high school," he said. "I played spring football. But I was usually hurt by the fall."
Aranda began coaching in college, and recalled attending clinics like LSU's and trying to gather as much material as he could on the game.
"I had no money, but they had all these tapes and books on defensive line play, or stopping the Wing-T and I had to buy them," he said. "So I'd just go home and be broke for the rest of the month."
That and his family background in boxing -- Aranda's father trained them -- helped to create a mindset of taking the fight to the offense and finding ways to attack protections.
"He wanted me to box, but I had a big head and small hands, so that didn't really work," Aranda said.
He recalled a saying his father had about seeing when an opponent "had knockout in their eyes" as staying with him when it came to avoiding the telegraphing of pressure.
"When you saw that big punch coming, that's when you could really avoid it and that's when the other guy was most open."
Aranda's defense will feature multiple fronts, but they'll all feature odd numbers and linebacker positions like Buck, Rover, Mack and F-linebacker. LSU will align field/boundary (in other words, wide side of the field vs. short side) instead of strong side versus weak with fairly basic coverages that won't change much based on what the offense tries to do.
"The call is the call," said Aranda, noting that he doesn't check much against hurry up/no huddle teams. "You align to the field, not the formation, and you just go."
He's starting with the coverages first in the spring -- quarters, cover-three, cover-two and man -- and then figuring out what his new players do well.
"The ability to play man has always been at the forefront for me," he said. "And I'm really excited about the ability to do it here."
Aranda prefers the odd front because it allows for movement that can force an offense to show its hand in terms of protection. And once he know the protection, he can figure out the best way to attack it -- even though his defenses rush just four defenders more often that not.
"It's that ability to make things look like more than they are," he said. "Whether we're lined up in Okie, or Bear, or just moving a bunch of small guys around. At Utah State we had a bunch of good nickel defenders, so we've move them around so the offense thought it was one thing, but it was another."
Using a four-man rush with a simulated pressure gives Aranda the best of both worlds, he said, because the players, both on defense and offense think it's aggressive and attacking. But as a coach, he can be less worried about giving up the big play.
Aranda discussed the most common protections a defense will see -- basic, slide, turn and play-action -- and his favorite ways to attack them, most of which involve isolating a running back on a player that he shouldn't be able to block, or identifying the offensive line's movement and attacking in the opposite direction. Fronts like "Wizard" will bring a weakside defender, either an outside or inside linebacker, based on the offense lines up in a 2 x 2 or 3 x 1 set (numbers refer to the number of eligible receivers on either side of the formation). Plays like "Boomer" and "Bledsoe" will feature pressure from the boundary, with the Buck linebacker or occasionally the cornerback, while "Favre" brings a nickel back from the field, and is geared more towards play-action and sprint-out situations.
And yes, the references are to quarterbacks. And Aranda has had to explain to his players, both here and at Wisconsin, who Boomer Esiason is.
"All of my movie references are 20 years old too," he said. "I haven't seen anything."
After watching LSU struggle with a lot of checks in the secondary and busted coverages last season, Aranda's approach should be fairly refreshing on that end. In some sets cover-four may shift to three if the offense uses a speed/jet sweep motion. But there's going to be some growing pains for LSU's front -- Arden Key will have to learn to read tackle footwork and other linemen will to be able to call some stunts and loops based on how they identify the protection.
How much Aranda will be able to implement will depend on how the players adjust to what he's throwing at them. Steele's defense was more pressure-oriented, and started to work in more 3-4 principles later in the year so per player interviews the transition hasn't been too difficult to date -- mostly just new terminology. But the bulk of the pressure packages will likely start to come in this fall, and it should be a lot of fun to watch once the Tigers start implementing them.