Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske took a few minutes out of his busy recruiting schedule to answer some questions about WSU's transition to a new coach, a new scheme, some personnel questions and the challenges of facing Mike Leach's offense every day in practice. Here's part one of the two-part Q&A.
How difficult is the switch, fundamentally, from a 4-3 to a 3-4?
Mike Breske: It's pretty significant, both mentally and physically. Coming in here, we didn't really have a true nose guard so we've had to adapt kids there. We've got a young man coming in from Fullerton JC this fall (Ioane Gauta) that will be a true, 300-pound biscuit in terms of the nose guard position, which will help. But it gives us some more flexibility at the defensive end position. We've asked some guys to do things that they haven't been asked to do before. They've responded. But those 15 practices, it was a struggle in terms of picking up a new system and new coaching. And it works both ways -- coaches learning players and players learning their coaches. But by Practice 15 we were playing fast and that was our goal in spring ball. We're ahead of the curve. The thing on defense, we're not on a one-year, two-year, three-year plan. We're on a six-month plan. We've got to get up to speed by the time we get up to Provo, Utah.
Will you be pretty true to the 3-4 or are you going to be a little more multiple?
MB: We'll be multiple. That's going to be based on the game-plan and the type of offense we're going to see each week. We have to have flexibility in our package. Yet, we don't want to put too much in. That type of deal where we overwhelm our kids. We always want to be able to play fast on defense and be able to make plays. Not think, but react. That type of thing. We'll jump into an over scheme and an under scheme and a 3-4 scheme and be very multiple. That's going to be a plus for us because we won't be the biggest, most physical front seven you're going to see in the Pac-12. We have to take advantage of our assets, not our liabilities.
How would you describe yourself as a defensive play caller. Are you fairly aggressive or are you more comfortable sitting in a base and letting the game come to you?
MB: I'm pretty aggressive. I think that's one of the reasons coach Leach looked at me. He's an out-of-the-box-type head coach. He's saw what we did at Montana the last couple of years -- there we were dabbling in the 3-4 and we were going to move in that direction anyway. I think we want to make things happen and create things on our side of the ball and, obviously, we want to get our offense on the field. We're not into those 12-15 play type drives on defense. And I know coach doesn't want that either. He doesn't want his offense on the sideline.
Travis Long in the "buck" linebacker position. How different is it going to be from his previous job as a 4-3 defensive end?
MB: I think he's adapted very well. We talked to Travis before we went to spring ball and said this is the plan we're outlining for you. You're going into your senior year and we're going to try to take as much advantage of you as we can. We're going to be very multiple with Travis. Not only at the buck position, but he's going to line up inside too. You're going to see him at all different spots and take advantage of his skills that he brings to the defense. Probably the most difficult challenge Travis had this spring was pass drop. That's something he hasn't had to do and he got better as the spring went on. We're not going to do a lot of dropping with Travis because he's too valuable in the pass rush and around the line of scrimmage. But again, we want to be multiple with him. Bring him from different spots on the field and make sure the offense knows where he's at. Yet, also drop him into coverage. That was his biggest challenge. He got a good head start on it. He'll keep working on it this summer and when two-a-days come around I expect he'll be vastly improved in that part of his football game.
Is multiple positions a characteristic of the "buck" position? Or is it something specific you're trying to do with Travis?
MB: We're not going to be putting him on the back end. We're just trying to take advantage of his skill level. He's a talented player and we want production out of him. Don't just take up space on the field. If you're out there for 10 plays, how many opportunities did you produce? We just feel strongly that Travis can do that in multiple positions. Give him credit because he's got good football 101. You can think of a plan for a kid, but if he can't handle it mentally, it's not going to work and it will hurt the defense. He has the football 101 skills and relate and adapt and that's why we're doing it.