Green Blitzes: Lanning Begins the New Mint Defense at Oregon

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Analysis

For the first time in nearly a decade–watching the defense at Oregon is going to be highly entertaining again due to the new Mint defense and pressure packages that Head Coach Dan Lanning is bringing to the Ducks. I have stated a few times in the Our Beloved Ducks forum that I believe the combination of an abundance of experienced talent and depth in the front seven combined with the new scheme being installed–will result in the best pass-rushing defense ever at Oregon. As much as I love offense and scoring–it is the defense that will be the big surprise for the Pac-12 from this 2022 team.

The challenge of slowing down the current high-scoring offenses out of the Spread formation, and the newer sophisticated passing attacks has become even more difficult. My objective every two weeks over the football season, is to learn alongside with you about this new defense and break down the simpler components that created success at Georgia, and now at Oregon. Stopping the running game is always first priority, but how do you accomplish that without endangering pass coverage versus the fleet receivers of this conference?

Lanning’s answer has been the Mint defense, a variation off the original Tite defense and a quick look helps to understand why. The 4-2-5 defense has some shortcomings that RPO plays capitalized upon, and thus something new had to evolve, and imagine my surprise to see sources credit Nick Aliotti at Oregon beginning the first version of what ultimately has become the Mint. Imagine my surprise, especially considering that I created analysis articles nine years ago about the 4-0-4 defense that was the foundation of what Dan Lanning and Tosh Lupoi are running in 2022!

What is the 4-0-4? As you see in the top photo, the defensive ends are in a “4i” technique, of which are lined up on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle. Normally you would see them lined up on the outside shoulder as a “5” technique. This 4i technique was not a typical alignment for these defensive ends, and when you add a Nose Tackle in the zero or “0” technique that is lined up directly in front of the center–you see where the 4-0-4 nickname originated from. Have some doubts that a unique defense had its roots under Chip Kelly?

Lanning’s defense has its roots from Oregon!

Pretty cool to see DeForest Buckner and Taylor Hart above lined up as the 4i defensive ends in the 2013 Alamo Bowl where the Ducks pasted Texas. Note also how between the three defensive linemen’s alignment, and the two inside linebackers above–you have a concentration of five defenders set to stop the inside running attack of opponents. The basic play on offense for Chip Kelly was the Inside Zone Read, and this defensive alignment is designed to plug the “B” gaps between the offensive guard and tackle, as a Spread team must be able to control those gaps to unleash the remainder of the offense.
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This 4-0-4 alignment in the Mint defense will be present about half the time I am estimating, while even formations for pass rushing will be evident as well. This takes us to the problem of the 4-0-4, and that is the pass rushing element, as the alignment inside the offensive tackle makes it difficult for defensive ends to get around to the outside for a rushing lane. This is where the additional Lanning expertise at creating pressures with other defenders becomes paramount in order to stop the passing game while the running attack is stymied by the 4-0-4 alignment.

We have some new positions to learn in the “Jack” and the “Star.”

A new position to learn is the “Jack” linebacker, (above) of which was called the “Joker” by Tim DeRuyter, and “Stud” by Andy Avalos. (One reason why football terms can be confusing!) This is an exceptional athlete in that he must set the edge in the running game, be extraordinarily skilled in pass rushing, and yet have the speed to break out into the short flat or inner hook areas for pass coverage when a fellow defender is blitzing. I am very curious to see who will be playing that position at Oregon, as I’m not sure we have a player who has the complete “freak” profile since Kayvon Thibodeaux left for the NFL.

The second position that is different from defenses in decades past is the “Star,” and it is not an outside linebacker, (although it will come up for run defense or blitz the quarterback like an OLB) but more of a nickel back who is there primarily for pass coverage. This means there are five defensive backs on the field to help offset the wide running plays of the Spread Offense, and the reams of passing routes by so many receivers in today’s offenses.

The inside linebackers are no longer called Mike, Sam or Will for middle, strongside and weakside, but are the “Mac” linebacker, and the “Money” linebacker of which is often represented by a $ symbol on a coaches whiteboard to indicate the position. The Mac is an inside run-stuffer, and more like the classic Mike. The Money linebacker has that name due to the complete skill set required, such as the speed needed for pass coverage and blitzes, but also able to take on offensive linemen and help plug the inside running gaps. The player at the Money position is an extraordinary athlete, and I believe that Justin Flowe and Jeffrey Bassa fit this profile, while Noah Sewell is ideal for the Mac position.

Keep in mind that I am assuming that the defensive tackle position will be present with other Lanning/Lupoi defensive alignments, and it is also quite possible that all defensive linemen other than the defensive ends might be given the ubiquitous term defensive tackle, and not Nose Tackle or DTs. Frankly all of this is a guess on my part since nothing has been announced or confirmed. I am running off what Coach Lanning ran at Georgia, and will amend this article later if need be.

We will have great fun looking at the tactics to defeat the running game, examine the many blitzes that are sure to materialize and get into the “how” of technique concerning the different positions over the course of the next five months. Like the original 3-4 defense that Nick Aliotti installed in 2008, this new Mint defense capitalizes upon deception and unpredictability for its success in holding down scoring and creating turnovers.

Opponents will have no idea where the pressure is coming from–regardless of what you call it.

What you see above is a pressure package that actually was quite safe, because you had seven dropping back in coverage, and the Bulldogs were only rushing four. However the four that Lanning sent were not who the offensive line would have anticipated, and the result was a sack due to the confusion created by this pressure package. Note how you have defenders dropping off the line of scrimmage and going directly to their zone of coverage, while an unexpected twist was blitz of the safety (black line/arrow above) who originally lined up across from the slot receiver.

I show this now to demonstrate how difficult it can be to stop the defensive pressure on the quarterback, and to tease just interesting it will be as these evolve over the course of the season. Coach Lanning remarked in a recent video that “whoever the offensive line coach is of our opponent? I want to make him work!” Whew!  I believe he will, between the amazing uses of nearly all the players on the Duck defense to create pressure, mistakes and turnovers in our games.

Check here on Thursdays this season as Coach Boles and I will have an analysis every week, and we will all learn more Oregon football together. It is great for yours-truly to get back into analysis again, and let’s discuss in the forum-with-decorum because…

“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Screenshot from Football Coaching Video

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