The Larry Coyer Era Begins in Indy

Justin JavanCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2009

DENVER - JULY 07: Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer of the Denver Broncos leads the defense in a practice during minicamp on July 7, 2006 at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre in the Dove Valley Business Park of Englewood, Colorado. Head coach Mike Shanahan has a few new coaches leading his team. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Part 1 - Larry's Background: From Denver to Tampa

Before I begin my discussion of Larry Coyer, his background, and the kind of mindset he is going to bring to Indy, a brief explanation of the zone blitz scheme is needed.

The zone blitz was conceived in the early '90s as a way to place extra pressure on the quarterback without using the high-risk cover 0 or cover 1 blitz schemes.

One of the basic tenants of the zone blitz is that the blitz can come from any direction, at any time, and from any player. The other facet of it is that defenders switch roles. For example a defensive tackle may drop back into pass coverage while a cornerback may rush the passer.

The whole idea is to confuse the offense and the quarterback, a task made easier by the fact that this scheme is so easy to disguise. Before the snap, the quarterback might think he is reading a three-deep zone. He snaps the ball and the DT, who is in a three-point stance (do not confuse this with a three technique), drops into a hook zone. This confuses the offensive lineman, who identified him as a pass rusher because of his stance. Next, the Will backer sweeps around from the weak side, and shoots through the A gap.

That's the basic idea of the zone blitz. There are numerous variations that are used. Dick Lebau and Rex Ryan are the masters of the zone blitz.

If you really want to learn about it in depth, I suggest reading about Dick Lebau. He is credited with being the inventor of the zone blitz , also known as the "fire zone" blitz.

To understand what Larry Coyer is going to bring to the Colts defense we have to look first at what he did for the Denver Broncos, where he was linebackers coach from 2000-2002, and defensive coordinator from 2003-2006.

Larry immediately made an impact on Denver's defense in his first year. In 2003 the defense gave up only 277.1 yards per game ranking fourth in the NFL. That year, the team made its first playoff appearance since 2000.

Here is what Bill Romanowski had to say about Larry in his book Living on the Edge: "He was so smart, it was almost as if he learned the game at the shoulder of Vince Lombardi. By the time Coach Coyer had given out each week's game plan to his linebackers, we knew exactly how the opposing offenses were going to attack us. Coach Coyer could break down the other team's offensive strength, weaknesses, and tendencies and predict how they would correlate into Sunday's game."

By the way Romanowski finished first and second on the team in tackles under Larry's tutelage.

In 2004, the Denver Bronco's  ranked fourth overall in defense and fourth in rushing ypg. surrendered (Okay Colts fans at this point you should start getting excited.) In passing yards they weren't quite as good, they ranked 6th.

The 2004 season also included two pro-bowl selections in safety John Lynch and Champ Bailey.

Speaking of safety John Lynch, and to get an idea of how Larry thinks outside the box, let's look for a second at how he used John Lynch. Conventional wisdom at the time Lynch came to the Broncos said a) John Lynch was too old to play safety anymore and b) John Lynch was supposed to be an in-the-box safety. So what did Larry do? He used him in pass coverage. In fact, he asked Lynch to do things he had never done before in his 13-year career, such as covering the slot receiver on corner blitzes. Oh by the way, John was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

In 2005, Mike Shanahan had the brilliant idea of trading for the Cleveland Browns pitiful defensive line. Not just one guy, but the whole line. All of a sudden, Denver's defensive ranking dropped of the cliff. They ended the year 15th in overall defense, 29th in passing defense, but sixth in rushing defense.

The fact that the defense ranked that high, given how bad that line was, is a testament to Larry's coaching abilities.

2005 was the year that Larry really blitzed a lot. It's my opinion that the reason he blitzed so much was because that awful defensive line couldn't get pressure on the quarterback. It also explains why they gave up so many yards passing. However, the one bright spot was the rushing defense.

2005 was also the year that the Bronco's went 13-3, got a first round bye, and beat the Patriots at home, advancing to the AFC championship game where they lost to the Steelers.

In 2006, the Bronco's became much more conservative on defense. Larry cut way back on blitzing. This is pure speculation, but I have a feeling that the order to reduce the blitzing came from Shanahan. The team and the defense started out the first half of the season doing pretty well but faded in the second half. Shanahan in one of his dumber moves fired Larry after the Broncos went 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs.

At this point I need to clear something up that was written on a popular Colts blog: Larry Coyer did not run a version of the Tampa-two in Denver. Larry used a four-three base, with zone blitz schemes, and man coverage (and who wouldn't if you had Champ Bailey as your corner back).

As John Lynch pointed out, there were elements of the Tampa-2 in Denver in 2006. They used a four-man line to rush the passer (unfortunately for Larry it was the Cleavland Browns line), and they had speedy, undersized linebackers. They definitely moved to a mentality of less blitzing, and everyone flying to the ball with great speed, but this is not enough to classify them as a Tampa-two defense.

After being fired by Denver, Larry was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007 as defensive line coach/assistant head coach. In 2008, Larry was promoted to a full time assistant head coach. Jon Gruden wanted Larry to be involved not only with the defensive line/linebackers but also with the offensive line.

Gruden said at the time "I want to have Larry Coyer more involved in our football team. He still will have responsibilities around the defensive line and the linebackers. I want to use him on offense as well. His background and expertise can help us. I think it’s a great appointment for a heck of a football coach."

Larry got the experience to coach with the the mastermind of the Tampa-two: Monte Kiffin. This is where he really picked up the principles and concepts of how that system is run. No doubt he also learned from Monte about making in game adjustments to counteract what the offense was doing.

In 2007, the Bucs' defense ranked second in the league overall and in 2008 they ranked ninth. However, please keep in mind that in 2008 Monte Kiffin announced he was leaving the team at the end of the season. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Monte did this in the middle of the season. It's no surprise that the defense fell apart after that.

As you can see from above there are a lot of positive things to say about Larry's coaching career as a defensive coordinator, and the job he did in Tampa. To be fair, Larry had his faults as well.

The two biggest complaints about Larry's defenses were that sometimes they blitzed to often. The other one was that he was not good at making in-game adjustments. It has been said that once the offense figured out how Larry was attacking them, it was easy to adjust the game plan. The problem was, when the offense changed how they played the defense, he didn't counter by making defensive adjustments.

My personal opinion is that Larry has learned from the mistakes he made in Denver, and there is no question in my mind that he got a good lesson at making in game adjustments from Monte Kiffin.

Overall the stats don't lie. Larry did an outstanding job in Denver as linebacker coach and defensive coordinator. I haven't listed all of them here, but I recommend looking them up. They are pretty impressive.

In the second part of this piece I am going to give an in-depth analysis of how Larry is going to shake up Indy's defense. I know I am right since the Colts are saying he isn't going to change much. Uh, yeah, this is the same team that said Marvin Harrison was better then ever last year.

Stay tuned.



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