When I randomly get an interesting question like this:
@Ian_A_Boyd Can you explain to me the difference in the SS & FS as it pertains to most big 12 teams? It seems different than pros?
— Ryan Muggs (@muggs1022) August 5, 2017
I reckon it’s about time to do a Twitter-bag. I might try to do some of these on the “expansion candidate” podcast so fire more at me on Twitter @Ian_A_Boyd if you like, but for now I’ll do some here. Starting with my man Ryan, here.
So, the terms “strong” and “free” safety relate to how they align to an offensive formation. The “strong” safety aligns to the strong side of the formation, which used to be pretty consistently the strong side both in regards to the pass or the run since it’d be determined by the tight end. So he’d often line up closer to the line and track the tight end, who’d often lead him to the ball in the run game as well. That’s why the “strong safety” position is often used interchangeably with a box or run-stopping safety in describing the role.
The “free” safety wasn’t tied to a part of the offensive formation and was thus “free” often to drop into deep middle zone. That’s why the “free safety” position role is often used interchangeably with a deep, single-high safety.
With the single-back offense typically utilizing three receivers and a tight end, many defenses began to treat the side of the formation with the slot receiver as “the strong side” since that’s where the offenses’ passing strength was located. At this point, strong safety became more of a coverage position and free safety often the guy who might end up in the box supporting the run.
Nowadays, up-tempo spread tactics have led many defenses to treat the wide side of the field as the strong side and the short or “boundary” side of the field as the weak side. Then they’ll align a more coverage-oriented and rangy “strong safety” to the field where an offenses’ greatest passing strength is often found and then a sturdier “free safety” to the boundary where he’s often playing in more of a run-support role.
For most schools in the Big 12, the strong safety is the field safety and the free safety is on the boundary. There are exceptions, of course.
West Virginia labels the boundary safety the “bandit,” the field safety as “the free safety,” and the nickel as “the spur safety.” TCU labels the boundary safety as “the weak safety,” the field safety as “the free safety,” and the nickel as “the strong safety.”
If you have a question on how a particular school labels them just ask me and I’ll clear it up as best I can.
What do you make of the skepticism of some big12 coaches on our defense perhaps being too “fancy”? https://t.co/krB6KW1iWH
— Big If True (@TheDozens1) August 5, 2017
This was asked in reference to Todd Orlando taking over the Texas defense with his blitz-heavy scheme. The concern voiced in the Athlon quote by an anonymous Big 12 coach was more or less my concern on LSU’s behalf when Dave Aranda took a very similar defensive scheme to Baton Rouge from Wisconsin. I reasoned that what worked with versatile, Wisconsin farm boys and walk-ons who’d been playing in the system for a few years may not work with LSU’s freakish athletes who were already thriving in something simpler. For instance, why draw up complicated ways to bring four pass-rushers in front of quarters coverage if you can just play man and turn a kid like Arden Key loose on the edge?
But Dave Aranda seemed to be thinking along the same lines and thus far at LSU he’s emphasized his own ability to teach base defense over installing the more complicated schemes.
In Texas’ case, I think Todd Orlando can probably meet things halfway. On the one hand he has inherited a secondary filled with future NFL athletes, so there’s little reason to get very complicated on the back end. On the other hand, Texas’ linebackers may have been lost a year ago but there’s a lot of them and they aren’t dumb. I think Orlando will simplify where he has to but his roster is already designed to attack via the linebacker blitz. It’s not like he’s inherited a defense with a pair of star DEs and he’s trying to drop them back into zone while firing unathletic LBs into the backfield.
Certainly at a school like Texas you need to make sure that you are allowing your athletic advantages to shine on the field, but if you CAN teach more complicated stuff effectively, why not? The Orlando path to generating pressure on the QB is superior because it can pick apart weaknesses across the OL, wherever they are, and do so without committing too many pass-rushers as to get ripped in coverage.
Why does Glenn Spencer not understand that relying on red zone defense and turnovers to fuel success is not repeatable YR2YR?
— Julian Redbull (@cbbtotals) August 5, 2017
Julian brought this up on the blog and on Twitter and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. His main citation was some stats by Phil Steele and Bill Barnwell that indicate that year to year turnover margins are random.