Thursday, April 8, 2004 Updated: April 29, 4:02 PM ET
Starting from scratch on defense
By Bob Davie Special to ESPN.com
AUSTIN -- When we visited Texas, one of the things we wanted to see was how new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson was making the transition to college football after spending the last several years in the NFL.
There are always issues that must be addressed when a new coordinator takes over and here are just a few of the things Robinson will face.
How Much Of Your Scheme?
Next season, Robinson anticipates using about 70 percent of the total defensive package he used in the NFL. The reality is that you do not need as much scheme in college and because of the 20 hour rule, offenses are limited as well.
In the NFL, there is more sophistication in pass coverage and overall pressure packages. Also, because NFL teams play each other twice a year, you need more variation.
Greg Robinson has a pair of Super Bowl rings. Now he's after a national title ring.
Evaluations Of Last Year's Texas Defense
After accepting the job on Super Bowl Sunday, Robinson has done very little -- if any -- evaluation of last year's Longhorns defense. First, he didn't have much time and scheme-wise, "it really didn't matter what they did," Robinson said. By staying away from having an opinion on last year's defense, he kept himself out of a no-win situation when addressing the media. Rather than focus on specific areas of strength or weakness, Texas will implement an entire new defensive scheme.
For evaluating the players, Robinson had the coaches put together a 12-play tape to assess their ability. The offseason program was also used to evaluate each player's athleticism and they wore their jersey number to help identify themselves.
Dealing With The Depth Chart
When there is a new coordinator, one of the biggest positives for the players is that it provides a new opportunity and a fresh start. Texas' situation is unique because it is not entirely a new staff so they started the spring with the same basic depth chart with which they finished the season. This is out of respect for the players that performed well last year and is a starting point for spring ball.
The focus in the spring though is "developing every player" and not on depth charts. There will be a lot of competition for spots and Robinson brought Dick Vermeil's "Rent your job" philosophy from Kansas City. Vermeil -- and Robinson -- use that mantra to show players that there is always someone waiting to move into your spot.
Rather than keep pieces of last year's verbiage when calling defenses, Texas will have an entirely new defensive package. All the terminology will be new and everyone will learn it from the foundation.
Robinson is quick to point out this is not the Denver Broncos' defense or the Kansas City Chiefs' defense -- this is the University of Texas' package and everything fits specific to the Longhorns.
Getting Into Zone Coverage
Even though Texas will feature balanced pass coverage, there will be more emphasis put on zone coverage this spring. Texas will spend about 65 percent of their time on zone in practice because last year the Horns were primarily a man coverage team.
You must practice zone more than man because of the complexity of reads and recognition. Everyone must work together in zone concepts. Texas will play an equal amount of 2-deep, 3-deep and quarters pass coverage.
Implementation Of Schemes
Because there are no meetings before the start of spring ball, there is an urgency to get the scheme in. On the first day of spring, players were given a basic playbook and also teaching tapes from the Kansas City Chiefs. The pro tapes were used only to implement schemes and players were immediately watching themselves on tape after the first practice.
With the emphasis on stopping the run, Texas' first got in an eight-man front using both zone and man coverage behind it. At the end of spring, 40 percent of their package will be installed.
Focus On Fundamentals
Everyone is eager to see the new scheme, but the focus this spring is on fundamentals --starting with tackling. The first thing taught was a systematic approach to tackling. Robinson is confident when he says Texas will be "the best tackling team in college football."
A Different Concept -- The QB Runs
There are a lot of similar schemes in the NFL and college, but one major difference is the predetermined quarterback runs in college. The current trend is to devise ways for the QB to be a runner and outnumber the defense with blockers. Every offense has some form of the "Decide zone" or option with the QB as a runner.
Texas swill face this scheme early next season and it helps that their offense is doing it in practice. This is something Robinson did not have to deal with in the NFL.
In this issue, we tried to show you some of the issues being addressed all across the country in spring practice. While Texas has a new defensive coordinator which forces it to deal with certain issues, many programs are dealing with similar issues.
Next time, we'll look at Texas A&M and some of the issues specific to them as they try to bounce back from the worst defensive performance in school history.
Bob Davie is an analyst for ESPN and his Football 101 is a weekly feature on ESPN.com during the season. Send in your Football 101 questions for Coach Davie to answer.