I’ve started reading Chris Brown’s new book, The Art of Smart Football, (more on that in a later post, once I’m finished reading it). The first chapter is devoted to Pete Carroll and his evolution as one of the best defensive minds in football.
Chris notes that one thing Carroll has added to his repertoire is mixing in some two-gap defensive line tricks to his base 4-3 Under, which is based on aggressive one-gap line play. Carroll’s done that to allow his defense to gain numbers elsewhere to counter the increased threat of quarterbacks running spread-option plays. That in turn has led to him deploying a variety of types of personnel to gain flexibility.
It’s something he learned while at Southern Cal. Here’s what Chris quotes about that.
“That really came out of my time at SC,” Carroll told Seahawks.com. “We forced [young players] to play, in essence. And then we discovered if we asked them to do things they could do uniquely well, that they could elevate faster and find their confidence sooner.”
Compare that to what Nick Saban had to say about how he’s had to adapt to the challenge of defending hurry-up offenses in college.
“The biggest effect is pace of play and how it’s affected the whole game,” Saban said. “I’m not saying this in a negative way, because there are more points and it’s more exciting. There are a lot of good things about the way college football has evolved. But from a defensive perspective, you can’t play specialty defense, you can’t play substitution defense, so you really have to recruit more players who can play every down. You can’t recruit specialty players.”
So one coach has chosen to go in the direction of greater specialization and the other in the direction opposite. That’s not to say either is incorrect, of course. Both are two of the best defensive minds in the game (with due apologies to Gus and Boom, heh), although you could argue that Carroll is trending a little better than Saban of late, I guess. I just find it more than a little interesting to see the conclusions they draw from strategizing against modern offenses.
I admit I can’t help but wonder what kind of impact Saban’s approach has on Alabama’s recruiting now, though. One of the huge advantages Saban enjoys with managing an 85-man college roster is the ability of carrying specialty players on it. It will be interesting to see how giving up that advantage plays out over the next few seasons.