While everyone knows that Coach Brian VanGorder is headed to Auburn as their new defensive coordinator, it is still unclear to some if this is a good match. Many college football fans do not know what type of defense VanGorder prefers and what talent is necessary to carry it out. Other interested fans of college football wonder if the correct type of talent is at Auburn to carry out his defensive scheme.
The one factor that is very clear about VanGorder is that he was an exceptional recruiter at the collegiate level and his vast experience in the NFL should only add to this ability. It is easy to predict that any talent lacking at Auburn for his defensive plans will be there very soon.
Before getting into a comparison of the talent at Auburn compared to what VanGorder has used, it is first necessary to analyze his defensive style. This is easily done as there is a very long and successful track record of his defenses.
Coach Brian VanGorder is a proponent of the 4-3 base defense. This is the base defense currently in place at Auburn. The primary positions of the base 4-3 defense are as follows:
The following players usually begin each play with their hands on the ground in a base 4-3 defensive set.
Defensive Tackle 1: This player usually plays the role of a nose tackle. His job is usually to stuff the gap between the offensive center and offensive guard. This player is often the heaviest and strongest player on the defense.
The most effective players at this position require the attention of at least two offensive linemen to contain. This creates a numerical advantage multiplier for the defense inside.
Defensive Tackle 2: This player usually plays one of two roles. Sometimes referred to as the three technique tackle, his job is usually to stuff the gap between the offensive guard and offensive tackle.
This is a very active player that is used sometimes to collapse the pocket and attempt to disrupt the offensive play in the backfield. On occasion this player is used to drop back and cover both gaps between the offensive guards and tackles. This is where the terms “one gap player” and “two gap player” are used in analysis.
While at Atlanta for the 2011 NFL season Coach VanGorder had Jonathan Babineaux (6’2” 296 pounds) at one position and Corey Peters (6’3” 295 pounds) starting at the two defensive tackle positions.
Auburn started Jeffrey Whitaker (6’2” 312 pounds) and Kenneth Carter (6’4” 290 pounds) for most of the 2011 season. There are also Angelo Blackson (6’4” 325 pounds) and Gabe Wright (6’3” 316 pounds) available on the roster. All four players had significant playing time in 2011.
Defensive End: This position is sometimes referred to as the strong side defensive end. His job is usually to stuff the between the strong side offensive tackle and tight end. His job is usually to force play back inside in the run game as well as contain the quarterback inside the pocket.
Rush End: The position is sometimes referred to as the weak side defensive end. His job is usually to apply pressure on the quarterback and contain the run between the tackles. The rush end usually plays the side devoid of an offensive tight end. In some cases a team will utilize a balanced set with two tight ends, in these cases this role reverts to one similar to the defensive end.
For the 2011 season the Atlanta Falcons started Ray Edwards (6’5” 268 pounds) and John Abraham (6’4” 263 pounds) at these positions.
For Auburn the strong side was played by Nosa Eguae (6’3” 258 pounds) and the weak side by Corey Lemonier (6’4” 245 pounds). There are also Craig Sanders (6’4” 260 pounds), Devaunte Sigler (6’4” 275 pounds), Joel Bonomolo (6’2” 240 pounds), Ladarius Owens (6’2” 237 pounds), Justin Delaine (6’5” 240 pounds) and Dee Ford (6’2” 245 pounds) available on the roster.
The following players usually play off the line in a standing position in the base 4-3 offensive set.
Outside Linebacker: This position is sometimes referred to as the SAM or strong side linebacker. His primary assignment usually consists of covering the tight end and containing play outside the defensive end. Both outside linebackers in a base 4-3 must be able to play this position.
Weak Side Linebacker: This player is responsible for covering the gap between the offensive guard and offensive tackle. He usually moves along the line until play is forced by an offensive blocker. This position also requires good pass coverage skills to oppose opponents short passing attack. Both outside linebackers in a base 4-3 must be able to play this position.
The Falcons started Sean Weatherspoon (6’1” 239 pounds) and Stephen Nichols (6’3” 230 pounds) at these positions for the 2011 season.
During the 2011 season Auburn started and played several players at these positions. These players include Jonathan Evans (5’11” 225 pounds), Jawara White (6’2” 230 pounds), Daren Bates (5’11” 205 pounds), Justin Garrett (6’1” 205 pounds) and Harris Gaston (6’2” 236 pounds). Also available on the roster is Kris Frost (6’2” 215 pounds).
Middle Linebacker: This player is sometimes referred to as the defensive quarterback. He defends against the run in the gaps between the center, guard and guard, tackle. He is usually responsible for getting the defensive front aligned properly by recognizing the offensive formation.
The Atlanta Falcons started Curtis Lofton (6’0” 242 pounds) at this position for the 2011 season.
Auburn played Jake Holland (6’1” 235 pounds) at this position in 2011. It is currently unclear if there are any players on the roster that will play this position.
Safety: The two safety positions are sometimes referred to as the strong safety and free safety. The strong safety usually helps with run support and the free safety covers deep passing situations. It is important that these two players be interchangeable in cover two schemes.
The Atlanta Falcons started William Moore (6’0” 218 pounds) and Thomas DeCoud (6’0” 193 pounds) at these positions during the 2011 season.
Auburn played Erique Florence (6’1” 187 pounds) and Ryan Smith (6’2” 208 pounds) at these positions in 2011.
Corners: Cover the split end (wide receiver) on the weak side and flankers (wide receiver) on the strong side of the offensive formation. They must cover these players for the full route in press coverage (man on man) and must cover them through their area of responsibility in zone coverage.
Atlanta started Dunta Robinson (5’10” 182 pounds) and Ben Grimes (5’10” 181 pounds) at these positions in 2011.
Auburn played Chris Davis (5’11” 188 pounds) and Jonathan Mincy (5’10” 180 pounds) at these positions. Auburn has Jermaine Whitehead (5’11” 183 pounds), Robinson Therezie (5’9” 192 pounds), Ryan White (5’11” 192 pounds) and Jonathan Rose (6’2” 185 pounds) available on the roster.
Anyone that has followed recruiting over the last several years knew the Auburn roster was loaded with top quality talent. What some did not know is that this talent was recruited with exactly the defensive scheme Coach VanGorder runs in mind. There is no team in college football with higher quality recruits that fit his defensive system better.
Auburn fans can expect Coach Brian VanGorder to utilize a base 4-3 defensive scheme which is by far the most commonly used defensive scheme in the NFL.
This base set will likely be supplemented by the Cover Two and Tampa Two defensive sets along with a Nickel Package and maybe a small amount of Dime Package in certain circumstances. Fans can also expect some Cover One and Cover Three packages in certain situations. The wide variety of coverage shells without a huge loss in power up front is one of the strengths of the 4-3 defensive set.
The hire of Coach Brian VanGorder by Auburn appears to be a huge homerun for Head Coach Gene Chizik. One never knows how chemistry will be until a staff comes together and performs for a season, but the odds are high that this hire will pay huge dividends on the plains for 2012.