This is something I’ve been turning over in my mind for the past week.
I know the identity of the offense. It is being built from the line out. A big, bruising line that will pave the way to run and give plenty of choices for the QB. There’s speed among the receivers. It is obvious that Head Coach Paul Chryst and OC Joe Rudolph has a vision for the offense that they are implementing.
I don’t know that I can say the same about the defense. I don’t know what the long-range goal of Chryst and DC Matt House are with the defense. Is it simply that they relied so heavily on Aaron Donald or centered so much around his talent that they haven’t implemented their longer term plan? The role in the secondary is changing completely from last year’s soft coverage to more pressing (not, a bad thing, but it is a complete shift).
The defensive line is an entire question mark, and I don’t have an idea about the plan for them. Are the ends going to be more aggressive? Is it still going to be led by the interior? Do the linebackers take a much bigger role this year? I mean, on paper, I would think so because Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez are possibly the most athletic players in the front seven. But that hasn’t been made clear other than “replacing Aaron Donald by committee” comments.
I’m not talking about a team needing an identifier like Virginia Tech and their “lunch pail” defense. I am talking about understanding what is trying to be built on defense. The overall philosophy with building it and recruiting. Whether it was the dreaded “bend but don’t break” of Paul Rhoads. The “get faster” defense from Dave Wannstedt. Or even the “try and slow ‘em down and maybe get a turnover so the offense can do more” plan that Fraud Graham wanted to employ. There was at least an outline of a plan that was clear. I haven’t seen that to this point.
And part of it is recruiting. Unlike on the offense where we can see the beef being recruited on the lines. The role of the younger players right away at the skill positions. The defense has been primarily the older players. The younger players have been redshirted and brought along slowly. The only exception has been in the secondary. Since, to this point, the recruits on the defense have been the underrated, underrecruited and “diamond-in-the-rough” types; it makes it that much harder to project what they will really do and how they fit in the defense.
Maybe that is why I really like the idea of James Conner playing more at DE. After seeing him all of last year on offense, having that talent on the defense seems comforting. He’s not a known at DE — a few plays in the Pizza Bowl is not really enough — but the idea of Conner on the defense seems like it would be a big lift.