Texas Tech co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith gives his players more credit for the capacity to learn than some coaches might
One school of thought among defensive coordinators is packages should be kept simple, because the more a player had to process, the greater the likelihood for mistakes.
Evidently, that's not how it's going to be at Tech with defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt and Smith, his game-planning lieutenant.
"He's really throwing the kitchen sink at us," inside linebacker Will Smith said. "It's helping us out because you've got to train your mind to think fast."
From head coach Kliff Kingsbury down, the Red Raiders have been consistent in saying the defense will show a lot of looks and ratchet up the pressure.
“It’s almost like Kliff does on offense: Throw a lot at them; see what sticks,” Smith said this week. “You’ll be surprised. You really will.
“Same thing when you get rookies in the NFL. Here, we might have 35 calls. You get in an NFL training camp, about 150 calls — and you’re a rookie. They’re not that far out.”
Smith has formed his beliefs while experiencing both ends of the spectrum. As an NFL linebacker for three years and an NFL coach for three more, he saw how complex defenses could be — and how rewarding. As a Texas Tech linebacker from 2000 through 2004, it was the polar opposite.
Smith was asked to compare how the 35 defensive calls he cited compared to a typical number the Red Raiders used when he played.
“Maybe 10,” Smith said. “Well, on game day, five. ... Every once in a while, we might do something different. Very rarely. We might do it in practice, but we wouldn’t do it in games.”
Smith said recently that whether it’s Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or “the quarterback at Brownfield,” opposing passers don’t like pressure and defenses that disguise their intentions.
So the Red Raiders’ new defensive staff is trying to put that philosophy into place.
“In the past, our defense has kind of been conservative,” inside linebacker Sam Eguavoen said. “We didn’t want to send too many people. ... But now we’re gambling. I don’t like to say gambling, but we’re putting pressure on the quarterback to make a decision instead of us giving them what he wants.”
That pressure could be coming from anywhere.
Terrance Bullitt, who plays the “Raider” outside linebacker spot, said he could be rushing to the “A” gap between center and guard, as one example.
“It’s real fun. Real exotic,” Bullitt said. “They’re not going to know where we’re blitzing from. It’ll change things up, instead of just the outside blitz. It could be a Raider blitzing to the ‘A’ gap or an end dropping out doing spy coverage. It’ll be fun this year blitzing on defense.”
That’s part of the motivation behind the scheme.
Smith believes more high-risk, high-reward tactics can make defensive players more enthusiastic and plugged in.
“When you have multiple fronts ... ,” Smith said. “Now the safety’s coming. Now Raider (outside linebacker) is coming. Ends are dropping out. (Inside linebackers) are coming. Those guys have fun. They hear a call (and think), ‘This is my blitz now. Now I’m coming.’ They get excited.”
Bullitt hasn’t had trouble picking up what’s being installed. Of course, he’s a fifth-year senior playing for his fifth defensive coordinator.
Might the learning curve be harder for a freshman or sophomore?
“Depending on who the player is,” Bullitt said. “If he comes in, gets in his playbook and is mentally ready, then no doubt he can pick it up, because in the end, it’s just football. But if he comes in big-headed, thinking he knows what he’s doing, he might struggle a little bit.”
Smith said he and Wallerstedt are taking steps to make sure players can grasp all they’re being asked to process.
“What me and Wally do is a bunch of walk-throughs,” Smith said. “Do a lot of walk-throughs before practice and in the middle of practice, have them walk through their assignment and their job and they’ll learn it.”
Tech took a big leap up the total defense rankings last year, but finished No. 118 in turnovers gained with only 11 in 13 games. That’s one shortcoming Kingsbury wants to shore up by putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Though the team’s first seven spring practices have been closed to the public and the media, players corroborate the defense will look different than those to which Tech fans have been accustomed.
“We’ve got a lot more blitzes,” Eguavoen said. “They don’t know where we’re coming from. We’re prowling around. It’s feeling more like a defense. Texas Tech is going to be a defensive school this year, I promise you.”
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