David Paschall has a smart piece this morning on the bumpy ride involved in changing to a 3-4 defensive scheme in the SEC. You can say there’s a pattern:
Alabama struggled to stop opponents in 2007, when Nick Saban arrived with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Georgia’s 2010 season was anything but smooth under new coordinator Todd Grantham, and Tennessee’s defense is experiencing inconsistencies this year under Sal Sunseri, who spent the past three seasons as Alabama’s linebackers coach.
Typically, there are two problems. One, there are the inevitable personnel issues, particularly in the front seven, that crop up as the 4-3 requires different body types and different position responsibilities than the 3-4 does. Two, there’s a period of adjustment for the players on the field.
“From a coverage standpoint, we are pretty complex, and I think that you’ve got to get some reps in it,” Grantham said of his system. “I think the best thing we’ve done is to maintain our consistency from day one here. As players develop and get that consistency and develop their habits, then they play with more consistency.
“That’s a little bit of why you saw some things early on with us, because we had some players who were kind of like first-year guys.”
It takes time.
“We are glad that [first] season is behind us,” Bulldogs redshirt junior outside linebacker Chase Vasser said. “Last year, we made a big deal about not just knowing your own role but the roles of everyone around you. We started to play faster, and now I know I am trying to get even more detailed and working on little things like my stance, get off, drop step and where I shoot my hands.
“It’s the little things now, because I’m not worrying about the whole defense.”
This is why I questioned those who were predicting a major improvement from Tennessee this season. It’s not that the Vols don’t have some talent on defense, or that Sunseri didn’t learn enough about how to implement a 3-4 scheme under Saban. It’s just that Alabama and Georgia both demonstrated that it’s not realistic to expect a top ten defense in the first year of that kind of transition.