To understand the defense that Coach Dan Lanning is bringing to Eugene, you have to first take a look back in time. For much of his career he has worked under Coach Kirby Smart, affording him the opportunity to learn from one of the best defensive minds in the business. It was his mentor that would lay the foundation for what is to become the new Oregon Ducks defense.
In 2015, Coach Smart was the defensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide, and they were coming off of a playoff defeat at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes. After watching the eventual national champions rack up 281 rushing yards against his defense by attacking the perimeters, Smart knew that it was time for a change. To that point, the Tide had been running a traditional 3-4 defense (above) with monstrous linebackers and even more monstrous defensive linemen. This was not a defense anyone was running up the gut on.
The edges were where speed could cause them trouble. The 3-4 defense asks defensive ends to play as 5-techniques over the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles (above). This allows the guards to move on to the second level much easier, and in turn the inside linebackers need to be bigger to take them on. The problem being that an increase in size usually means a reduction in speed. Coach Smart understood that this needed to change in order to keep up with modern offenses.
In comes the Georgia Bulldogs’ 3-3-5 defense (above) that Coach Lanning has led for the last three years. (The first number in the 3-3-5 indicates how many have their hand on the ground) It is based out of a similar look to the 3-4 but does a couple of things differently that are important to its success. Firstly, the defensive ends are lighter and play in the 4i, as opposed to the 5-tech, placing them over the inside shoulder of the tackles. This is known as a Tite front, or Mint as the Bulldogs have called it.
This allows the DL to attack more aggressively while restricting the guards’ access to blocking the linebackers. Because they don’t have to continually take on 300-pound linemen, the backers can also play lighter, making them more agile.
Secondly, one of the outside linebackers is replaced by a third safety known as the Star. This move introduces even more speed to the defense and also increases the pass-coverage ability of the position. The Star usually aligns somewhere near the line of scrimmage to the offenses pass strength (the side with the most WRs). This is always opposite of the Jack, who is the more traditional 3-4 LB. The Jack is primarily a pass-rusher who has some coverage responsibilities in the flat.
Not all of Coach Lanning’s defense comes from the odd front though. He often utilized even fronts during his time at Georgia. His four-man fronts would come by way of a 4-2-5 defense. Though the front would change, the personnel on the field would not. The DL and the Jack simply shift their alignment; either by initially lining up that way or stemming from their odd front. An interesting tweak that occurs when in the 4-2-5 is that the Jack gets into a three-point stance. This allows him to pin his ears back and get off the ball a fraction of a second sooner.
The defense that Coach Lanning looks to implement with the Oregon Ducks looks to be one that prioritizes speed and aggressiveness; something I’m sure will be a major hit with everyone in Autzen, except the opposing offenses.
Coach Eric Boles
Top Photo Credit: Tom Corno
Eric resides in Central Ohio, just outside the capital city of Columbus. He is a former offensive assistant and return game coordinator for the Ohio State – Newark/Central Ohio Technical College Titans football program.
He is an OSU-N graduate, having completed a Bachelor of Arts program in psychology.
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