A Message to College Football's Struggling Defensive Coordinators

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A Message to College Football's Struggling Defensive Coordinators
Michael C. Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

If you haven't picked this up from reading me so far on this platform, I love football. I'm not keen on rooting for any one team; but ultimately, when it boils down to it, there is one element I always root for.

Defense.

You see, unlike most folks out there who love point-a-minute football and think juke moves and wide-open receivers are the bees knees, I love stops. I want stops. I told you all that when I started here. I hate the forcing of new rules to "open the game up," and I despise the forward progress ruling with all my heart because it's merely designed to screw defenses to the floor.

So with that said, this current season of college football has been hard to watch. Painful. You see an awesome juke. I see a defender who doesn't come to balance, use the sideline as an extra defender, get his head across and make a tackle. You see a great throw to a wide-open wide receiver. I see a busted coverage because the safety and corners didn't open their mouths and communicate.

This was brutal to see

I want to fix it. I want to grab West Virginia and Miami and Baylor and Washington State and just shake them. Here's one man's plea:

Folks, let's get simple to get better.

Start with tackling. You all have to get back to teaching tackling. I don't care what sort of pitty pat, touch football crap the offense is doing on their field; you have got to get back to tackling. That doesn't mean everything has to be tackle to the ground, but Tuesday and/or Wednesday between individual drills, 9-on-7 and team versus scout periods, you have to work tackling in.

And guys, that doesn't just mean the stupid "form up" phone booth talking.

Guys need help with angle tackling

It means working angles, working pursuit and ultimately working on tackling the ball-carrier to the ground. As it stands right now, plenty of tackles are missed before they are even attempted. Players take crap angles and end up having to dive or they're overrunning the play and reaching back for a terrible arm tackle.

Either way, the ball-carrier is not on the ground.

Work angles, work rabbit drills, work getting off blocks with a ball carrier coming. Do not just work "forming up" a guy. Work the entire process of a tackle because even if you can "form up" with the best of them, if you can't get to the ball carrier with a purpose, then you can't help your team play defense.

Poor angles, poor tackling form, poor coverage technique. Just bad, bad, bad.

This is not about bashing brains in or doing Oklahomas to see who the tough man is. This is about building football players that can actually do their job. If you're not teaching these things, then it is your fault that your team cannot do them.

Which brings us to our next point: accountability. 

I just said that teaching these things is your responsibility. Know what else is your responsibility?

Making sure they are doing what you teach them.

Offensive coaches don't let quarterbacks play who throw interceptions all the time. They don't let linemen get in the game when they can't block and don't know the protection schemes. Running backs don't get into the games when they are fumble machines.

Yet defensive coaches let guys get away with terrible, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad play. So what if the guy behind him is slow. Slow doing the right things is better than not slow doing the wrong things.

Call me nuts, but I'd rather have the one step slow safety who covers his deep half in time to make the sure tackle than the blazing fast guy who plays cover three when everyone else is in two and then misses the tackle because he's diving at ankles.

Coaches have to hold those guys accountable. Players learn. They take issue with being pulled from games. They don't like seeing a guy that they are better than playing ahead of them.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
William Gholston has been out of position quite a few times in 2012

Telling a guy, "Son, you can't keep ducking inside and diving at the ball-carrier" doesn't hold much weight when he's allowed to keep doing it and stay on the field. Put his backup in, and odds are, he gets the "stay outside and come to balance" message after standing next to you for a series or two.

The same goes for practice. Blown coverages are not to be glossed over. Guy blows a coverage, it is not about getting it next time. It's about running it back until doing the right things are part of the natural progression. Defenses have to be on the same page; especially when tempo and personnel packages play such a huge role in offenses' attack.

Preach "11 hats to the football" everyday. Count the guys in your frame during practice film review. Count the guys in the frame during game film review. Look for guys that are loafing on the opposite side of the field. If these guys aren't going to bust their behinds to get to the football every play, then they can't play for you.

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Manny Diaz has a great scheme, but his guys don't tackle well.

It's about teaching and accountability. You can have a million dollar scheme, but if you don't teach tackling and you don't require your guys to tackle then hell, you're 2012 Manny Diaz.

And our last point is this: Stop trying to out think everything and being cute. Tempo is huge now. Formations are huge now. Offenses are trying to catch you with your pants down and embarrass you on television.

Stay basic.

If your kids cannot understand the basics of your defensive schematics, why in the heck would you think that they could adjust to Every little formation and every wrinkle that some hot-shot offensive coach throws at them? Stop trying!

Stay basic.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
No Washington State player is actually in position to make a tackle.

Adjust to match formations, but don't get overly ambitious. Those guys you're trying to play half coverages with are the same ones who don't understand why they have to hammer or splatter in a given defensive scheme. They're the same kids who don't understand the difference between Cover-2 and Red-2.

If you had to fix collegiate defense, where would you start?

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Stop confusing them and making them think so much. Let them get out there and play. Keep it simple and let the guys run to the ball and make tackles. Play your picket-fence coverage. Play your man scheme. Let them decide what the most comfortable way is to handle crossers. Find what they are comfortable doing and then let them get really good at that.

Everything doesn't need to be exotic. Sure, it sounds great that you have a wide array of "exotic blitzes." But if the players cannot get their minds wrapped around what they have to do in a game situation, then they do you no good. 

In summation, coaches, get back to basics, both in your teaching and in your approach to the game. Sure, they are college kids who should know how to approach a ball-carrier and make a tackle. You've all seen the film. It doesn't matter what they should know; it's clear in their actions that they don't know. Teach and re-teach them how. Then make sure they're practicing what you teach.

With those teachings, send them out on the field with a toolbox they can use. Tools to tackle and get ball-carriers on the ground, and no mental clutter that slows them down when the game goes live. Less thinking, more doing. Especially when the "doing" part of this equation is tackling.

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