All of the fall camps are wrapping up so there’s some details out now on how different teams are coming together. Here’s a look around at some of the interesting notes that have been cropping up.
One fun detail to come out recently was Mike Gundy noting that his team would have probably won a national championship in 2011 had they been allowed into the title game over Alabama, who’d already been beaten by LSU. His argument was pretty straightforward, that LSU was a man coverage team and you couldn’t play man coverage on OSU that year because they had Justin Blackmon. I dunno, there’s definitely some good sense in that argument.
I do think though that by the time the title game had rolled around A.J. McCarron was comfortable enough in the Alabama offense that the Tide really were the best team in the country. The Stanford Cardinal team that Ok St drew was phenomenal, featuring Andrew Luck, an exceptional OL, and Michael Thomas, and the Pokes prevailed in OT.
LSU that year was carried by an elite nickel defense that went Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Brandon Taylor, Tyrann Mathieu, and Tharold Simon. Their offense wasn’t great despite having Odell Beckham Jr, they whipped teams with defense and special teams.
As for the 2019 team, they probably won’t be as good. It sounds like they’ll be a largely dime defense this season, utilizing their very solid depth and quality across the DB positions:
It sounds like Malcolm Rodriguez will be the run support/box safety and that they’ll bring in an extra safety when they want him free to play that role while still having the option of dropping two deep safeties in dime.
The troubling issue for OSU is their defensive front, which lacks proven players at DT and LB that can cover all these lighter guys up. There’s also perhaps another learning curve for Jim Knowles in trying to figure out how to configure his defensive front to protect his backfield. Gundy’s strategy of looking to hire a DC that had had success without access to great resources was smart, but you wonder if he really needed to hire a DC that could handle modern spread Os. At some point maybe people should start looking at the HS level in Texas for DCs because it’s hard to find guys who have coordinated elsewhere in the country who are truly prepared for what the Big 12 throws at them.
At QB Gundy seems resigned for now to playing with both QBs and extending the competition. There are two good interpretations for what’s going on there.
Interpretation 1: Dru Brown is good but they want Spencer Sanders to take over the job and he’s still learning how to maestro the HUNH offense.
Interpretation 2: Dru Brown ain’t that good but Spencer Sanders isn’t ready to be a field general.
Or I suppose there’s some room in the middle between those two. Perhaps Brown is solid, if not good, but he just doesn’t give this team anywhere near the ceiling that a superior athlete like Sanders offers.
At any rate, I don’t think things are really coming together for OSU this year. The defense sounds iffy and I think that if Brown was really a QB they liked that they’d just name him the starter rather than trying to give Sanders every chance to win the job.
The depth chart for Alex Grinch seems to be coming together and sounds like it will shape out like this:
Here are some of the concerns:
-Holding up in the B-gaps and the alleys
Gallimore is stout and one of the better players on this unit and they have some sturdy nose tackles behind him that may not be able to match the quick-moving disruption that they’re going for overall but who can at least play some. Kenneth Murray has size and experience but he’s miscast as a Mike and really better when he can read and run down the ball, still they aren’t in awful shape here.
But over in the B-gaps things are iffy. Stokes and Perkins are not big, they’re more of your traditional 4-3 types of DEs and it would certainly appear that they’ll be asked to fit the B-gaps as often as they get to set the edge. Weakside linebacker DaShaun White has promising reviews but he’s green and playing behind a DL with only one true DT.
Safety has to be scary for Grinch. If the plan is to attack gaps and send guys up front shooting through in different directions then you really want good, experienced tacklers that excel at tracking the ball and making open field tackles at either safety spot and nickel. Fields and DLT are promising there, but they are young, inexperienced, and not terribly big either. Boo Radley is small, his experience tells an ugly story, and he’s still young. Plus it’s a new defensive scheme so there are important areas without a ton of carry over.
-Fielding plus athletes on the edge
One of the benefits to being “Oklahoma” or “Texas” in the Big 12 is supposed to be in having big, rare athletes on the edges that can overmatch opponents. Corner and OLB/DE are two spots where that figures to matter for this defense.
Perkins is a big time talent but he’ll be splitting his time between working on the edge and slanting inside, unless my read on this D is wildly wrong. Even if it is, that means that Stokes is more or less a full time DT which means more issues for the B-gaps.
Jon-Michael Terry is presumably ahead at Jack OLB (or whatever Grinch calls that spot) because of versatility or else Jalen Redmond isn’t back on form yet. Or maybe JMT is a brilliant edge-rusher and we just didn’t know it, but it seems likely that his ability to drop back and cover in a multiple defense is perhaps what’s giving him the winning edge.
I was always skeptical that Jalen Redmond would get back on form quickly, especially given the schematic changes to the Oklahoma defense and the push to be a more versatile group that moves around a lot. They weren’t going to be able to get away with just letting him blitz the edge every play and that actually help the defense much, that’s not how the modern game works anymore. By all accounts though he has the potential to be the kind of plus athlete that I’m talking about in this section so his progress will be interesting to track.
The other area is in coverage, at nickel and the cornerback spots. Here Oklahoma has some real athleticism and experience, but not good experience and definitely not much size. When you’re playing in a nickel defense your coverage DBs get isolated on good receivers and you have to either keep the QB from picking up on it and getting a good ball off (very difficult) or you have to be able to survive and go play coverage.
Here’s what I think Grinch is up to.
He’s got a very mobile defensive front and he’s been working them to become even more so, and then he has these three LBs that are all pretty athletic and can drop and play in space some. I think he’s going to find a dozen ways to bring four pass-rushers and shade safety help to wherever opposing teams line up their top wideouts and bring a handful of stop calls into every game designed to use movement and run-blitzing to muck up their opponent’s favorite run plays while utilizing as few defenders as possible.
Playing that way would easily explain JMT over Redmond since they’d want their LBs to all be pass-rushers and all be capable of making good underneath drops from call to call so that they could avoid presenting a static target for good HUNH spread offenses.
That’s not a bad way to do it, that’s essentially Gary Patterson’s strategy, but you need a smart, versatile, and experienced unit to do it. You also need to be all-in with regards to your practice format and your approach to installation and preparation. It’s going to be tough to implement that style in year one of the new program/playbook and with players chosen and “developed” for Mike Stoops’ very different approach. Particularly at safety where Stoops looked for guys that could cover for linebackers whereas Grinch wants guys that are savvy support players that can double a receiver deep one snap and then drop into the box the next.
Maybe they can figure it out by the end of the year if they don’t take injuries to irreplaceable players. I think it’s more likely though that they’ll get caught by smart, veteran teams that can pick up their movement and shove them around (especially as games progress) up front and who can find their playmaking receivers when matched in a 1-on-1.
Another interesting note to this defensive depth chart is that it has four Oklahomans on it, and only three Texans. If anything that might be a positive, although this unit lacks top end talent at least they have a bunch of local dudes that may be ready to sacrifice and play team ball for state pride.
Gary Patterson is saying that it’s down to Alex Delton and Max Duggan. I was insistent that Mike Collins was the best option all offseason but whether I was right or wrong we’ll never know because he got hurt again. Matthew Baldwin is ineligible and hurt anyways, Justin Rogers’ health continues to be a mystery but it doesn’t seem to be all that good if he can’t break into this competition.
The tweaks to their offense to run some simple, Baylor-style, “vertical or not” passing will help the two QBs they have listed. Billy Wessels argued that Delton being the likely starter meant we should expect to see less vertical passing and more screens and quick tosses but that’s not as obvious as you’d think.
For one, my man Delton has been spotted taking sacks trying to throw bubble screens on RPOs.
That stuff isn’t as simple as you might think and guys with shoddy accuracy don’t necessarily excel here. However, throwing a deep receiver to open grass in such a way that you are necessarily avoiding coverage? That’s not a bad approach for a guy like Delton.
Remember, the goal for TCU this year is to do what they can to protect their run game from loaded boxes. That’s why I liked Collins, I figured he gave them the best shot to distribute the ball to the perimeter and deep field in order to keep opponents off their run game. But if Delton can land deep shots now and again and then run zone-read that works okay too.
But again, Delton is not good. Expect Duggan to replace him whenever it is possible or necessary.
In other TCU news, longtime LB Montrel Wilson quit the team. He had some sort of injury issues that had him deciding this wasn’t for him, maybe concussions? Or maybe he just kept taking other nicks or had some chronic issue, there’s no telling. Best of luck to him in post-football life.
He may be replaced by another converted safety, one-time hot prospect La’Kendrick Van Zandt. As I noted at the time, where Van Zandt ended up was always going to be fascinating and this was perhaps inevitable.
Take note that TCU, who plays the “shifting target” style of nickel defense, plays a pair of super athletic DEs and make up for the static nature of being a four-down team (with the same four guys playing down) by fielding converted DBs at LB. OU can’t duplicate that with their LB corps, no one is confusing White or Murray with a safety, so they need the DEs and DE/OLB to be more flexible in what they can do.
Like Oklahoma State, I’m not sure if TCU is really putting things together this season. The QB issue is pretty scary, scarier than for OSU, and on defense the number of young up and comers they’ll be relying on to be good quickly is reaching a rather high number.
That’s all for now, we’ll try to hit some other teams soon as we approach game weeks.