NORMAN, Okla. -- As Oklahoma’s defense undergoes a transformation this spring, new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery reiterated the point to junior defensive end Rashod Favors. His words provided a summary of the change in mindset for the Sooners' defensive line this spring.
“I need you to come off the football and knock the line of scrimmage back,” Montgomery told Favors during practice in a "Mic'd Up" video posted at SoonerSports.com. “You’re reading. We’re not playing last year’s defense, you gotta be aggressive.”
Clearly, change is in the air.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has expressed the desire for the Sooners defense to play more aggressively during the second year of his second stint as defensive coordinator in Norman, Okla. And that change is desperately needed after a season in which the Sooners finished No. 70 nationally in sacks per game (1.7), No. 112 nationally in tackles for loss per game (4.3) and No. 80 in turnover margin (minus-0.3).
Last season, the Sooners' defensive line played a two-gap scheme, removing the aggressiveness from their front four while looking to funnel plays to their secondary with safeties Tony Jefferson (119 tackles) and Javon Harris (86 tackles) roaming the defensive backfield and finishing first and second on the team in tackles.
“When you do what we did a year ago, you’re asking guys to take up two gaps and all you’re doing is being a plugger,” Montgomery said. “Your production is going to be down. You’re going to muddy things up, and linebackers come clean it up. That’s what that is made to do.”
This spring, the Sooners' defensive line is adapting to a one-gap scheme, which will allow its defensive linemen to play more aggressively and (hopefully) become more disruptive in opponents’ backfields.
“Last year Tony (Jefferson) was making a lot of plays; this year we’re attacking,” defensive tackle/end Chuka Ndulue said. “If you knock the line of scrimmage back, the running back has a hard time because he has to go side to side. When he goes side to side, he slows down, and it can help the defensive line make a play.”
A closer look at each scheme reveals how OU hopes to allow its defensive line to be more impactful this fall. In a two-gap scheme, defensive linemen are responsible for the gaps (the space between offensive linemen) on each side of them, thus their goal is to not attack the offensive linemen at the snap. Instead, they’re asked to read and react to the play at the snap and be able to occupy either gap. It’s a reactive approach and requires more discipline and anticipation from the defensive lineman.
This season, OU’s defensive linemen will be responsible for one gap and be asked to fire off the ball at the snap and control their gap with the hopes of re-establishing the line of scrimmage in the opponent’s backfield. In this scheme, the defensive lineman attacks one gap and is responsible for anything that happens in that area. It gives defensive linemen more freedom to be aggressive when attacking blockers and to make plays in the opponent’s backfield.
“We’re going to be more aggressive up front,” Montgomery said. “[It’s] more knock them back. We don’t want to create seams in getting upfield, but we want to knock the line of scrimmage back. We want to play blocks, restrict gaps.”
During the same video on SoonerSports.com, Montgomery had his defensive linemen redo a rep during a one-on-one drill. Why?
“You’re catching blocks,” he explained.
That’s the difference in what OU defensive linemen were asked to do in 2012 as opposed to this spring. Now, instead of catching blocks, they’ll be asked to attack blockers. They have the opportunity to be more aggressive, more disruptive and make more plays. It’s an exciting change for OU’s defensive lineman.
“This new scheme we have, we’re able to play knock ‘em back football,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said. “Last year we had two gaps; this year we’re playing knock ‘em back football, go knock somebody’s teeth out and make a play.”