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July 23, 2014

What Is the Defensive Identity?

Filed under: Football,Tactics — Chas @ 6:49 am

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.

@wbb & @Dr.Tom

Read you posts with great respect as you think things through before “spewing” what’s on you mind. I have something very Pitt related that I and several others on this blog would like your opinion on. Not a sales pitch, just want your private thoughts. If your are interested, please send a short email to and we will reply with what we would like you opinion on. Not quite ready for “the real world” yet.

Or – Just say “No Thanks”

Comment by Complit 07.25.14 @ 7:49 am

ah, that Winslow. Substitute “Idiot” for Soldier.

My point, Upitt buddy, is that I believe that Ryan Winslow is going to do a great job for us this year. A big step in in the kicking game.


Comment by pmdH2P 07.25.14 @ 8:04 am

PittHW – I wouldn’t say Connor isn’t the RB James is, because you/we don’t know that. Sometimes we place too much emphasis on star ratings that prove to be irrelevant. This article started out as a question of defensive identity, and obviously we don’t have one yet, but in my opinion, on the offensive side of the ball we do have an identity/reputation for always having excellent RBs & it looks like that is continuing. That said, I agree, I would not be surprised if James is as good based as Connor based on his reviews & work ethic- what I’m hoping for is 2 excellent backs to compliment each other. Both of them will need a better OL though.

Comment by 1618mt 07.25.14 @ 8:11 am

Not to be outdone by the horrible marketers at Louisville, the University Texas went and misspelled “Texas” on their media guide: link to

I give the Oklahoma fans credit for taking advantage of the situation.

Comment by CalvinHobbes 07.25.14 @ 8:38 am

Yeah, I don’t think that our Winslow (Ryan) is quite the convict, oops, I mean soldier that Miami’s Winslow thought he was.

Ryan does come from a good pedigree however. I see in his Pitt profile that his Dad, George, had a career in the NFL as a punter. Pretty good heritage and I’m certain that his father coached him up during his formative years in order to get the most kicking technique possible rubbed off on sonny boy at an early age.

Our Winslow definitely puts some hang time under the football. From my understanding, he’s the first kicker in the history of Pitt’s indoor facility to hit the roof in practice. I’d also like to see his accuracy being solid enough, so that he can revive the lost art of hitting the “coffin corner”. Whatever happened to that tactic? You almost never see it anymore in either the college or Pro game these days.

Considering our awful Special Teams coverage of the past, that kind of tactic should be used whenever appropriate to prevent the possibility of a game changing return. I can recall a couple games last season that we lost because of points resulting from opponents big returns.

Comment by Dr. Tom 07.25.14 @ 8:53 am

Come on Hobbes, cut the Longhorns a little slack, that’s a TWO syllable word and five whole letters to keep track of. Can you possibly imagine the mental anguish produced when a Texas student decides to transfer to Oklahoma? Three syllables and I’m not sure that they can count that high to keep track of all of those letters in that state’s name. LOL!

BTW Chas, time for a new thread?

Comment by Dr. Tom 07.25.14 @ 9:07 am

@Dr Tom

I know that they tend to mumble and slur words in Big12 land, but I think that Oklahoma is actually four syllables. Thankfully we are one syllable Pitt.


Comment by pmdH2P 07.25.14 @ 9:11 am

Everyone SOLD on James?

Keep in mind that he can be stopped. Happened in Notre Dame H.S. playoff 24-0 loss.

ELITE players don’t get stopped at the High School Level. 100 yards is a BAD DAY.

James had 74 Yards, BUT 35 of them came on ND’s final possession which was meaningless with the game already decided.

James also fumbled twice in the second half.

Now, by all accounts… James has POTENTIAL to be GOOD.

I’m already on the record saying that given his size and running style James will likely do well getting the tough yards.

However, it’s Ollison who has the best chance at being a STAR… IF he can take the beating BIG Backs tend to take.

Comment by PittofDreams 07.25.14 @ 10:27 am

complit … if I remember, I’ll establish contact with you this evening.

Comment by wbb 07.25.14 @ 10:52 am

Conner had 35 yards against power Celevland St Edwards in his sr year .. and his team was a big loser …. these things happen

Comment by wbb 07.25.14 @ 10:59 am

POD – As for me, no, not sold, but hopeful based not only on stars, but also his work ethic & build. IF he’s as good as Connor, then we have to really nice backs that can share carries.

Comment by 1618mt 07.25.14 @ 11:23 am

Chris James workout …
link to link to

Comment by hoopzebra 11.15.13 @ 6:04 pm

This was the original post that sold me, at least on his potential. Kid’s explosive.

Comment by BostonsCommon 07.25.14 @ 11:52 am

pmdh2p, that will teach me to make fun of those Horns. One syllable, only four letters and the last two repeat themselves, the ease of bing a PITT fan. H2P!

@ PoD, If Chris James can’t, having Ollison as a viable alternative in this Freshman class is a great luxury, isn’t it. And I could still make the argument that Sir Isaac Bennett has a big Senior season ahead of him yet to come. And don’t forget, this guy came from OK LA HOM A!

Comment by Dr. Tom 07.25.14 @ 12:06 pm

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