Today's article is a continuation of a multi-year series from Tomahawk Nation in which we examine the size of the front 7 (defensive linemen and linebackers), in terms of weight, of the elite defenses in the country. You often hear announcers talk about using speed to defend many of the spread offenses (particularly the spread-to-run attacks). What we've seen, however, is that bigger really is better. You can read all about the idea here (read it first, before reading the rest of today's article). The basic premise, however, is that an over-emphasis on speed leads some defenses astray as they are unable to hold the point of attack, which creates really difficult angles for other defenders. Speedy defenders try to speed around blocks, but smart offenses know this and scheme around it. Having a large front 7 allows teams to sit in 2-deep coverage or play lots of games in the secondary, because they do not have to use their safeties in run support all the time.
Examining FSU's 2009 Defensive Collapse
In August of 2009, Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said the 2009 Seminole defense would be his fastest ever. While many 'Nole fans were encouraged by the statement, we here at TomahawkNation.com were worried.
We were concerned because FSU's defense did not need to get faster coming off a season which saw the 'Noles defense get extremely lucky in multiple games. No, FSU's defense needed to get bigger and stronger. Four months before Andrews made his statement, I wrote:
The 'Noles defense did not improve or reach an elite level, despite being deeper, more talented, more experienced, and much healthier than the 2007 edition. While the injury to DT Emannuel Dunbar and the early departure of DT Latroy Guion definitely hurt the 'Noles, the defense was still entirely comprised of upper classmen. Is 20th acceptable for a Seminole defense with 11 upperclassmen starters? Surely not. Tthe 'Noles were handcuffed by their lack of size and Andrews' scheme. Where other programs have the option of using the 8th man in the box, FSU has forced itself into using the strategy on a huge percentage of downs. With the current personnel, the 'Noles defense has become sort of a high school basketballesque "pack it in" defense. Of course, The "pack it in" doesn't work at the in college hoops and neither does the 'Noles defense as it is currently comprised. FSU could be in some serious trouble in 2009 as teams are going to realize FSU cannot stop the run and will run first before passing. The 'Noles must pray that Moses McCray improves a lot and stays healthy, that Justin Mincey stays in school and gets to practice, and that they can get something from Stewart/ Thacker. Expecting a major contribution in 2009 from Jacobi McDaniel is unrealistic.
FSU's '08 defense was largely smoke and mirrors. The 2009 defense was expected by most (not us, we projected a collapse) to stay the same or perhaps take a small step back. But everything that FSU needed to go right, did not. McCray could not stay healthy. Justin Mincey was awful and often injured. Stewart and Thacker were awful players who were completely over matched on the inside. And super-recruit Jacobi McDaniel had a few flashes, but as is the case with pretty much every 1st-year defensive lineman, he did not contribute much. Throw in rumors of racism from a coach Jimbo Fisher would fire upon taking over after the season, questionable decisions about which players should start, with terrible coaching from Chuck Amato, and FSU's defense plummeted to 96th in the country.
This chart illustrated why the hopes that FSU could maintain or slightly lose ground from its 2008 success were quickly dashed:
|FSU's Projected 2009 Front 7||FSU's Actual 2009 Front 7 (for much of the year)|
|DE 260 lbs Markus White||DE 260 lbs Markus White|
|DE 255 lbs Kevin McNeil||McNeil DE 228 lbs Craig Yarborough|
|DT 300 lbs Moses McCray||DT 270 lbs Budd Thacker|
|DT 280 lbs Justin Mincey||DT 280 lbs Justin Mincey|
|LB 239 lbs Nigel Bradham||LB 239 lbs Nigel Bradham|
|LB 244 lbs Vince Williams
||LB 229 lbs Kendal Smith|
|LB 228 lbs Dekoda Watson||LB 228 lbs Dekoda Watson|
|Total: 1806 lbs||Total 1734 lbs|
You're reading that correctly. Due to injury and poor personnel decisions, FSU's defense that was supposed to be 71 lbs stouter than the 2008 edition was actually a pound lighter! Combine that with some of the worst coaching in college football, and you have a recipe for disaster. Back to FSU tomorrow, but for now let's examine the best 20 defenses from 2009 and see how stout their front 7's were. Click "continue reading" to see the size of the best defenses nationally!
2009 National Review
*Defensive Weights Taken From School Websites. # of starts were used to determine starter. If players split time (2 with 5+ starts each, their weights were averaged).
* Best 20 defenses determined by FootballOutsiders.com
* We are not saying that being really big on defense will make a defense good. Only that it is very unlikely that a team will field an elite defense without having requisite size.
Here we go:
|1||Alabama||1911||Only true 3-4 team on the list. Only team to best 1900 lbs in consecutive seasons. Perhaps the best college defense of the decade. Mt. Cody helped them best the 1900 lb mark. Made UF's juggernaut offense look downright pedestrian not with speed, but with size and leverage.
|2||Oklahoma||1791||Tremendous NFL-level talent coming out in '10 and in the upcoming '11 draft. Playing in Big-12 they often ran a Nickel package. Held many elite offenses well below their season averages.
|3||Iowa||1821||Enormous defensive ends make Iowa the inverted team. Not great pass-rushers, but Iowa was great against the pass because it put opponents in very difficult passing situations (3rd & long) by being great against the run in early downs. Those difficult passing situations allowed it to execute a variety of exotic blitzes without having to concern itself with the run.
|4||Nebraska||1795||Tremendous line play allowed the 'Huskers the opportunity to play only two linebackers much of the time. Would be even bigger if they weren't always using a Nickel linebacker. Still, big defense and great results.|
|5||Ohio State||1784||287 lb defensive end Cameron Heyward set the edge for the Buckeyes as the big, but not all that fast Ohio State defense shut down Oregon in the rose bowl.|
|6||TCU||1781||Impressive size from a mid-major team.|
|7||Florida||1883||7th was a disappointment for the unit most thought to be the nation's best entering the season. Injuries and behavior problems took their toll, but UF still finished 7th. 290-lb End Carlos Dunlap was a beast when motivated.|
|8||Penn State||1818||5 players from the front-7 were drafted. Impressive crop, but a re-building year is coming.|
|9||North Carolina||1855||UNC boasts Mel Kiper's top DE, DT, MLB, and OLB. Tremendous size and talent at each position. The 'Heel's problem was a lack of depth.|
|10||Texas||1807||Another great defense from Will Muschamp. Much larger than listed on some websites.|
|11||Boise State||1808||After years of being undersized, Boise State's defense was very good last season and was great at stopping the run.|
|12||LSU||1868||Defense wasn't the problem in Death Valley as John Chavis left Tennessee to inherit some serious talent in the bayou. They sometimes appeared frustrated as the offense had multiple games with multiple turnovers.|
|13||Boston Coll||1768||A year after being the largest defense in the country, BC's group took a 135 lb step back! Excellent coaching helped them overcome their lack of size to be one of only two defenses on the list under 1780 lbs.|
|14||S. Carolina||1798||Like LSU, defense is not the problem in South Carolina. The Gamecocks employ a variety of unique looks under defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, but USCe stops the run first without over-involving its safeties in the run game.|
|15||Va. Tech||1736||By far the lightest defense in the group. The Hokies performed very well and as usual, involved their safeties heavily in the run game. But there is some potential negative foreshadowing here. Virginia Tech lost a ton of talent to graduation and the draft. And they could use their safeties in the run game so much because they didn't face any good passing teams. VT missed the ACC's top passing attack (FSU), and faced Miami in a downpour, making it all but impossible for the Canes to throw. Additionally, the other teams Virginia Tech faced (Maryland, Boston College, UNC, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Virginia, Tennessee) were below average to downright bad throwing the ball. The only good passing team Va Tech faced was NC State. The bottom line is that Va Tech performed very well against the hand they were dealt, but the Hokies won't be able to use their safeties as much as they did last season. If they do, they risk getting torched in the passing game.|
|16||Clemson||1807||Clemson has had a top 16 or better defense now for 4 years running. The Tigers have excellent size on the defensive line and are very well coached.|
|17||Ole Miss||1790||Like LSU, UNC, Nerbaska, and South Carolina, Ole Miss had an excellent defense that was often overshadowed by a terrible offense.|
|18||Utah||1837||The third mid-major team on the list, Utah has surprisingly good size. Somoans on the defensive line are a big advantage for the Utes.|
|19||Miami||1787||The Cane's had a big time resurgence on defense under Randy Shannon as the babies finally turned into men. They look to be top 10 this season with everyone of importance returning and a few personnel changes that will allow this guy to play defensive end at 290 lbs. Yikes!|
|20||OK. State||1811||A very veteran group (lose 10 to graduation) turned in a rare special season of defense for the cowboys.|
Now the best 20 defenses ordered by front-7 size:
1818 Penn State
1808 Boise State
1790 Ole Miss
1768 Boston College
1736 Va Tech
From this we can draw several conclusions.
|Best 20 Defenses Over 1880 lbs||2|
|Best 20 Defenses Over 1850 lbs||4|
|Best 20 Defenses Over 1830 lbs||5|
|Best 20 Defenses Over 1815 lbs||7|
|Best 20 Defenses Over 1800 lbs||11|
|Best 20 Defenses Over 1790 lbs||15|
|Best 20 Defenses Over 1780 lbs||18|
|Best 20 Defenses Over 1765 lbs||19|
90% of the best 20 defenses were over 1780 lbs in the front 7 (and 100% of the 10 best). 75% were over 1790 lbs. 55% were over 1800 lbs!
Obviously, size in the front 7 matters. FSU failed to understand that modern offenses were adapting to take advantage of its speed-only strategy and that failure to observe and adjust cost FSU dearly in the last few years.
Tomorrow, we'll look at how FSU projects in the front 7 for the coming season, examine Florida State's depth, check in on some national stalwarts, and look at a few defenses that could take a step back!