opportunity to speak to you this morn- ing. The first time I had the opportunity to speak at our national convention was fol- lowing the 1975 season, almost 24 years ago. We had finished No. 1 in the country on defense and I was asked to speak at the convention that was held that year in Washington D.C. I was so excited to get the chance, as part of our staff, to speak at the AFCA Convention. I have to tell you that today, after all those years, I'm still just as excited and honored to be allowed to talk to you.
I'm proud of our association and the progress that we have made over the years in promoting the coaching profession. Grant Teaff has done an excellent job in leading our Association. He was a great coach, he understands our problems and the issues surrounding our game. We could have no one who would be better in articulating these issues in leading our Association. I think it is meaningful that the theme of this year's convention is "Victory with Honor." We should all take personal responsibility in promoting in our profes- sion and our game.
Each of you have a tremendous public posture at your respective schools and communities. Many people look at you and form opinions about coaches and the coaching profession.
I hope that each of you will keep that in mind in everything that you do and say and that you will always reflect the highest ideals of what coaching is all about. I think this is especially important with the young men who are entrusted to us to develop. I've often said that the truest measure of whether a coach has been successful for that matter, is what his players have become five or ten years down the road, and how they have benefited from being in a particu- lar program.
I hope that the young men who have played in our program at Texas A&M will look back on the experience and feel that it was one that was beneficial and helped them to become better people, better citi- zens, better husbands and better fathers. If so, then my work will not have been in vain. As you all know, football coaching is a very time consuming occupation. We literally give a big part of our lives to our professions. If the only reward is saying that we won "X" number of games each season, then that is a very shallow, empty reward for the amount of time that we spend. I think that if we sin-
cerely spend our careers dedicated to the development of the young people and the betterment of the young people, who are under our leadership, the wins will come as a by-product, but more importantly, we will have a very rewarding experience and can reflect back on our careers with great pride and feelings of satisfaction.
I mentioned earlier that it has been approximately 25 years since I first spoke here. As I look back over those years, our game has changed in many ways, but in a lot of ways, it remains the same. Offenses run more formations today than they once did. I can recall about 1973 we were getting ready to play Clemson in our opening game. We were concerned about what for - mation they were going to run. They had shown the year before to run either a pro set or twins. In two-a-days, we worked against both of those, but in the opening game against us, they ran the pro set the entire ball game. Now, I can tell you, matching up blitzes and defenses to one formation was a lot simpler than it is today. As a result of the multiple offensive forma- tions, defenses have also become a lot more multiple.
Many offenses utilize multiple personnel groupings to get into their various forma- tions and defenses, again, have had to do the same thing in reacting to the offenses. From a defensive perspective, other than the formation adjustments, I still see the same defenses I saw 25 years ago. Most teams fall into a 3-4 weak eagle configura- tion, a 4-3 over/under, or a true 4-4 eight man front.
Regardless of the scheme of defense, there are some fundamentals that have remained the same for all these years and they are what really makes a difference between the good defenses and the bad. Some of these coaching points are so sim- ple, yet we see them violated every day.
For the next few minutes, I would like to discuss some philosophy of defensive techniques with you. While I cannot say to you that a 3-4, 4-3 or 4-4 will make you a good defense, I can say without a doubt, that if you coach and have your players master the following concepts, you will be very good regardless of your scheme.
First, in coaching style, I think you must be a perfectionist. You must have a clear picture or model in your mind what you are trying to get done. Every stance, technique and movement must be thought through. The challenge then is to find the best way
to teach so as to achieve the desired result. O b v i o u s l y, this will not always happen quickly, however, there must be steady progress toward the desired outcome. The coach must have a clear picture of what he is trying to accomplish with a player and must be persistent in moving the player in the desired direction. Every play on the field or video, the coach must be correcting or reinforcing the actions and techniques of his players. The coach must be relentless in this part of his job. The object is to per- form a desired behavior or action until it becomes a habit.
From an overall defensive team stand- point, I would like to point out some basics I think are important.
First, I think a starting point is the hud- dle. Setting the huddle in an orderly, disci- plined manner. This sets the tone for a dis- ciplined play. Doing the little things right sets the stage for doing the big things right.
I played for a coach in high school by the name of Ted Jeffries, who is in the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Honor, and I can still remember that Coach Jeffries, every Thursday afternoon after practice, had us take our shoes into the fieldhouse and polish our shoes on the buffer, take our shoestrings out and put in new shoestrings and then present them to the coach. The interesting thing about the shoe strings was that we had to put the shoe strings in with both ends coming over the top through the first eyelet.
After we had laced the shoes up, before you could leave on Thursday afternoon, ever player had to present his shoes to the coach, polished with new strings and the strings had to be put in exactly right. At that time, to a high school youngster, it was hard to understand why it was so important to put your shoe strings in a particular way.
Coach Jeffries told us on many occa- sions that the shoestrings themselves don't make a lot of difference, but learning to do the little things and being disciplined to do those things exactly right is vitally important to winning.
If you learn to put your shoestrings in just right every time, then there is a good chance that you can learn to run a pass pattern to exactly 14, back to 12, or to line up in a shade alignment exactly like your coaches ask every time.
Setting the huddle at the start of each play and making each player hustle back into the huddle, I think, is a good way to start off with some discipline. We begin our
defensive practice each day by having the players jump into the huddle, get the call, break the huddle, get out and get set.
I think a point of emphasis is getting out of the huddle with intensity and getting lined up. I like to see defensive linemen get down on a knee and be waiting when the offensive man comes out and gets down, he's ready to go. I like for defensive backs to hustle out to their respective alignments and line up with intensity. If there is a shift or change in formation, I hate to see guys walking through those adjustments. You like for your defensive back and lineback- ers to hustle and show some excitement and getting lined up on their respective guys. In other words, don't be too cool in your adjustments.
The next point of emphasis is getting your players to play hard and give effort. That is the one thing that every team is capable of doing and a lot of teams don't do. I hear coaches talk about trying to get better, but when you look at their teams and see how they play, I would say to them, it doesn't matter how good your players are, your team won't be very good until you get your team playing hard. If your players don't play hard, that is coaching and that is on you. Regardless of ability level, you can demand that your players play hard and give you effort.
Great defenses chase the run and great secondaries and linebackers break on the pass. I think in watching tapes and video, you should, on every single pass play, slow motion reverse it and look to see if you have every single player on zone coverage breaking on the quarterback's action, chas- ing the football on the passes.
Another point of emphasis is getting on and off the field. I think the way you go on and come off the field, particularly with as many substitutions we now have to make, is extremely important. We like to talk about coming straight off to your sideline. Don't come at the angle because it takes longer, but sprint, get off the field and then you can walk down the sideline to the bench. Don't come jogging off that field in that slow trot and have me over there pulling my hair worrying about whether the ball has been snapped.
The organization of your sideline is another area that is very important. We often talk about our game plan and, in real- ity, what is normally called a game plan is really a preliminary game plan. You study your opponent\u2019s tapes during the week and
see them play against other teams with dif- ferent personnel from yours, and you for- mulate a game plan based on what they do in these games and in anticipation of what they will likely do against you.
The reality is, on game day, you see first hand what their real plan is against your personnel and your schemes. Coaches really earn their money on game day in adjusting to what their opponent is doing that day, at that time against your team. To effectively carry out these adjust- ments, you must do a great job with your sideline organization.
On our defensive bench, we have the defensive linemen all together, next to the linebackers, then the secondary. When our team is not on the field, I want each of those groups of players, sitting together, paying attention to their coaches who are on the sideline in front of them, making the adjustments and keeping their focus on playing defense. I don't want to allow their minds to wander or become distracted by things that are on the field or in the stands.
These things that I have talked about are simple ideas but they must be continu- ously reinforced in coaching, or you lose them. I think they are vitally important to playing good defense.
I would now like to cover some coaching points and defensive fundamentals that I think are very important to various positions on defense. I will list them and will elabo- rate briefly on each. First of all, before I mention techniques or drills, I would like to comment on my philosophy about drills. The only reason to use any drill is if it is the best way to teach a particular skill that your players need.
Each year before the season, you should go through the various positions and write down every specific technique that a player needs to know to be able to play and execute to play that position. Once you have your list of techniques, you should create a drill that helps you effec- tively teach that technique.
I have often seen coaches do drills that I had a very hard time correlating to any- thing that the player he was coaching would need to do. Don't do drills just to be doing them or because they look pretty. The time that you spend on the practice field is extremely important. You have limit- ed time to get done all the things that you need to get done, so it is critical that you have your drills well-organized and use the most effective drills.
At this time, I would like to talk about some fundamentals that I think are impor- tant to playing the game of defense.
Teach your players to get good stances and to have exact alignments. If you are talking about a crotch alignment, a wide five, loose five, tight shade, those align- ments, have a specific way a young man can tell if he is aligned. It may be to put his foot down the middle of the offensive man's crotch, or to put his foot on the outside from the lineman. Whatever alignment you are trying to reach, make it specific in nature and check him every time that he lines up to see that he is doing it exactly right.
So many times we, in passing, talk to a player about where to place his hands, but play after play we watch him and he does- n't put his hands in the right place. I think every single down, you should coach your players on hand placement. Each play you watch on video, you should check the play- ers you are coaching to see that they have proper hand placement because it is vitally important. Not only is placement important, but using your fingers, which you are allowed to do on defense, in grabbing hold of the offensive linemen is extremely impor- tant in trying to escape blocks.
You should start every play with a visual movement key. Whether you are keying on the man or keying on the ball, every drill should start with using a visual key, not an audible key. So many times in the off sea- son program or pre-practice routines, defensive coaches start the drills with set, hike, or other audible sounds instead of a visual key. All you are doing is training your guys to jump off sides on an audible cue.
I don't like to see a lot of one-on-one drills unless the ballcarrier is used because I think the players develop bad habits and get an unrealistic look. You should practice one-on-one with the object of separating off the block and getting to the ballcarrier.
How many times have you seen the defensive lineman get penetration in the backfield and then round off his turn where he puts himself in a chase position against a 4.4 tailback that he never catches. The
same guy, if he flattens his path down the line and uses angles, can get back into a position to make the play. This must be drilled. An effective drill that I've used over the years is to lay three bags down about three yards deep in the backfield. Stand behind the defensive lineman with a back lined up opposite you behind the three bags. Have a manager give the defensive line a visual cue with the football. As they come off the line and get penetration across the line, you give the back a direc- tion where he goes right or left, laterally and around the end of the bags. The line- man then must turn flat when they cross the line and go flat down the line and try to cut off the back before he can cross the line of scrimmage.
The drill we work on every day with all of our defensive players that has paid great dividends for us is the strip drill. We do it one-on-one where the defender runs behind the offensive player who has the ball tucked away. The defender from behind puts his off arm over the shoulder of the offensive player and takes his own side arm and either punches from behind or clubs from over the top to try to knock the ball out while insuring the tackle with the off arm.
an offensive player. The offensive ballcarri- er comes straight ahead, the first defender fronts him up with a form tackle straight ahead while the second defender comes in and goes directly to the ball and tries to pull the ball loose. This not only helps our defense create turnovers but we do it all the time in practice and I think it has made our offensive players much more aware of ball security and thus, has helped reduce turnovers from our offensive side.
One of the things I really hate to see a linebacker do is squat with his hands on his knees. I don't think you can move from that position. Invariably, when a guy gets tired, he tends to rest by putting his hands on his knees and applying his weight downward. From this position, the only way one can move is to raise up, lift the weight and then move. This allows for wasted time. Linebackers on every play should get in a good stance with their weight over the balls of their feet and in a position where they can move without altering their vertical position. I don't know where some guys get their stances, but I see them and they are all hunkered down in an abnormally low stance from which they have to pop straight up as soon as the ball is snapped before they can go anywhere. At other times, you see guys who are so high, they have to drop down before they can move. What you want is the guy to be in a stance where, when the ball is snapped, he is ready to move without any vertical movement of his pad level.
Unless a play is an absolute straight ahead play coming at a linebacker, every step should start with a lateral shuffle. I hate to see a linebacker start forward, get caught up in all the traffic and then try to work outside on an outside running play. Our base alignment is four-and-a-half yards deep. I would like for that linebacker to shuffle laterally at that depth until he is ready to come downhill and take on a blocker or tackle the ballcarrier.
On every play, I think the linebacker should mentally focus on identification of the strength and the back set. Is it I-backs, weak back, empty, etc?
Former Texas A&MAll-American Dat Nguyen is one of sever al Aggie defend- er s now playing in the NFL.
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