If there was ever the perfect set-up for a coordinator to earn a spontaneous parade down Telegraph, new DC Art Kaufman has everything lined up. The bar has been lowered to the point where only nanites can still limbo. If he can just put something together that has the vaguest resemblance to an organized, competitive defense, he might get his own statue -- or at the very least, maybe a fast food snack named after him on the Memorial concourse. Let's just hope it's not some variant on "toast."
Barry Sacks(Interior DL)
Garret Chachere(Switches from DE to LB)
Damon Harrington(Strength and Conditioning)
How do these changes affect the Defense?:
Sweet mother of Oski...let us hope we never see the like of '13 again. Coach Kaufman has said that he won't make personnel decisions based on last year's tape. I guess he's not a fan of horror films. Although the base scheme itself remains the oft-maligned 4-3 front, it'll be a different type of defense, unlike Andy Buh's read and react philosophy, Kaufman is going to have his front seven one-gapping and attacking upfield. He runs the Miami 4-3 made popular by Coach Jimmy Johnson with the Miami Hurricanes and the Dallas Cowboys.
This is a penetrating, swarming defense that is willing to concede an occasional big play as long as the constant pressure forces opponents to make mistakes. It isn't necessarily a blitz-happy scheme, either, although Kaufman used that when needed at Cincinnati. If the back seven coverage is sound, he favors rushing his base four and using plenty of stunts to keep the Oline guessing.
Personnel-wise, there's an emphasis on getting more speed on the field. Outside linebackers can line up at defensive end and safeties can play outside linebacker. Before you have traumatized flashbacks to our inability to contain the edges last season, there's a key difference. In 2013, we asked our undersized ends to hold the edge and read the blocks to determine which gap to cover. They were often engulfed by the blockers and completely taken out of the play. Moving forward, our ends only have one gap responsibility and can use their speed to penetrate and disrupt. Given our lack of size on the Dline, this approach makes a lot more sense.
He's also mentioned that we'll be running some 3-4 looks as well as 4-2-5 nickel depending on match-ups. After interviewing some Cincinnati fans, it sounds like he coaches his players to play fast, has excellent game plans, and adjusts well as needed. Can I get a "Hit Squad!" cheer?
Biggest Questions for the Defense:
1) Do we have enough depth at defensive tackle?
Jacobi Hunter is the only tackle on the roster that played meaningful snaps last year. Mustafa Jalil is still having trouble with his surgically repaired knees and his status is uncertain. We'll be counting on JuCo transfers Trevor Kelly and David Davis to contribute immediately. Getting Austin Clark back for a sixth year helps with depth, and we might also try moving Sione Sina inside. New DL coach Fred Tate will have his hands full putting together an effective unit.
2) Can we generate a pass rush?
It seems like every season we chase the three-headed flying unicorn over the rainbow to a pot of gold whereupon sits a dominant pass rusher. Getting Brennan Scarlett back from a freak hand infection should help immediately. Kyle Kragen should be stronger and is a better fit for the new attacking scheme. Although he showed showed a lot of potential two season ago, Todd Barr was slowed last year by various injuries. We're all hoping that JC transfer Jonathan Johnson's film translates to Div-I ball.
3) How will the depth chart shake out at linebacker?
From what used to be a stacked position group, there aren't a lot of healthy and experienced bodies heading into camp. Hardy Nickerson might not be available, and Nathan Broussard may not be either. To bolster our depth, Jason Gibson is moving back from safety. He was a monster in high school playing a hybrid DE/LB position. With his speed and athleticism, he's another guy who might shine under Kaufman's new scheme. If we can't find enough bodies to play linebacker, don't be surprised if we go with a lot of 4-2-5 nickel packages or use a third safety as a hybrid 'backer/safety this spring. We have plenty of safeties on the roster who are better in the box as run support than as deep cover guys.
4) Can we put together a Pac-12 caliber secondary?
Avery Sebastian's return from injury should immediately solidify one safety spot. Stefan McClure is moving from corner to safety and will battle with veteran Michael Lowe for the other spot. Cameron Walker is moving back to his more natural corner position and should be penciled in as a starter. Although both Joel Willis and Cedric Dozier looked good at times last year, they're going to have their hands full beating out newcomer Darius White. He was named the #1 JuCo corner in the nation and is expected to contribute immediately either as a starter or at nickel.