Monday, February 25, 2008

There Will Be Blitzing | by Pat

We were finally officially introduced to our newest assistant coach late last week when linebackers coach Jon Tenuta sat down with the media for a quick Q&A. Tenuta was short and to the point as he offered his take on how he and Corwin will co-exist and how he will work with the ND players.

Q. How do you work together? Charlie said you're going to kind of an 'idea guy'.

COACH TENUTA: Obviously, with my experiences in where I've been and what I've done, with the packages that I have, and Corwin and his package, we just kind of melt the packages together. If something good, something's bad, whatever, and work it out and game plan together and get ready for practice. Obviously some of my ideas but most of his will go into spring ball, then we'll go from there. I've got to learn the players and what they can do first and foremost and adapt to that aspect."

Q. I believe you mentioned you ran a 4-3. Do those mesh? I know a lot of times Notre Dame uses four down linemen. Is it easy to adjust and put things into?

COACH TENUTA: If you look at my package and the fronts that I played, my ends dropped and they were like a linebacker. So I may be a 4-3 personnel guy, but I've been a 3-4 personnel guy. So the whole package meshes together, that's not a problem.

Q. Is it a fair description in terms of how you run your approach with players?

COACH TENUTA: I think sometimes I was that way. But it depends on the week, and who we were playing and how they were reacting to what we were trying to get done.

But I'm a no nonsense-type guy, discipline-type guy. I believe in the little things. I'm a big fundamentalist when it comes to football.
It's one thing to just read the words, but listening to Tenuta you can just tell that he's here to coach football and everything else is secondary. The whole video can be found on, but subway domer put up a youtube clip of highlights from Irish Illustrated. Listening to his booming, smooth as gravel voice, it's not hard to imagine our linebackers are in for a tough spring, which hopefully will translate into a tough fall for opposing offenses.

Now that he has your attention, it's a good time for us to take a look at his past and see what we can glean about MR. TAH-NOO-TAH. After playing defensive back for Virginia, Tenuta followed the usual nomadic career of a young coach until landing his big break as defensive backs then defensive coordinator at SMU. A few years later he was named the defensive backs coach for his hometown Ohio State Buckeyes. For four years he coached the Buckeye secondary before taking over in 2000 as the Ohio State defensive coordinator. In those five years, Ohio State had four first round DB draft picks (Shawn Springs, Antonie Winfield, Ahmed Plummer, Nate Clements). From OSU he went to North Carolina for a year before switching to Georgia Tech for six seasons.

And all along the way , Tenuta developed and built up a reputation as a blitz-crazy coordinator who never wants the opponent to have a minute's respite.
Q. Can you talk about your philosophy with the linebackers? At Georgia Tech you did a lot of blitzing. Do you envision that here as well?

I'm an aggressive attacking guy, so obviously, I hope and Corwin is, too. So we're going to attack and get downhill and make things happen.
But there is more to being a good defensive coach than just saying "Let's Blitz!" over and over again. How exactly does he do it?

You might think that just a blitz happy coach loves to focus in on the quarterback and let everything flow from there. You'd be wrong though as Tenuta's primary focus is the running game.
COACH TENUTA: "I think philosophically first and foremost, you have to stop the run, first and foremost. You have to stop the run or they'll run the clock on you. Now with these wide open offenses and the way people throw the ball. Philosophically we want to confuse the front five the offensive linemen and not let the quarterback set his feet. So to me, you have to be the one that dictates and don't let them dictate to you."
In Tenuta's worldview, you cripple the rushing attack first, prevent 2nd and short, and force teams to lean heavily on the pass. And that's when the fun starts.
"We have to match up to their top run plays first," Tenuta said. "Now, when you get them into second-and-long, third-and-long, you attack their protection scheme and make the quarterback uncomfortable."
The stats do bear out Tentua's focus on the running game as in the eight seasons he has been a defensive coordinator since 2000, his defenses have been in the Top 20 in rushing defense six times and never lower than 42nd his first year at Georgia Tech. Overall, his total defense rankings have been in the Top 25 six of eight years with a 27th place finish one other year. His low mark in total defense was 50th, again in his first year at Georgia Tech.

For an example of the "making the QB uncomfortable" theory at work, here is a description of one of the frequent Tech blitzes.
While offenses have bread-and-butter plays, Tech has a bread-and-butter blitz: Two linebackers come around the left side while the defensive end on the right side drops into underneath pass coverage with the remaining linebacker and strong safety; the cornerbacks bail out and backpedal deep; and the free safety stays deep in the middle of the field.

Tech is left with three deep, three under and five-man pressure.

If you have a strong stomach, you can see this particular blitz in action against Notre Dame. It's the fourth sack, about a minute into the video. Another thing to note is the wide variety of blitzes that resulted in a Notre Dame sack.

It will be interesting to see how Tenuta meshes his stop-the-run-first approach in with Corwin, as rush defense likely won't be one of ND's strong points in 2008. The tweaks and adjustments they make will be vital as the Irish DL will be inexperienced and thin next season. But when it comes to making the QB uncomfortable, the Irish do catch a break as many of the toughest teams on the schedule next year will be breaking in new quarterbacks.

Moving from other teams players to our own, his former players seem to acknowledge he is a tough coach on the practice field, at least initially.
"Probably as a freshman, you hate playing for Tenuta, [GT linebacker KaMichael] Hall said. "As you grow older and you understand what's going on, you love it."

"He's very disciplined, very no-nonsense," Hall said. "I know a lot of the guys respect that. There are no other defensive coaches like him that I know."
As for recruiting, that is still the so-called "known unknown". It was fairly well-reported that Tenuta's recruiting responsibilities were light at Georgia Tech and he was left to spend countless hours in the film room while others were out working the recruiting trail. That won't cut it at ND, especially since he is replacing one of the best recruiters on the staff. Throw in the fact that Charlie can't hit the road again during spring evaluations and it will be vital for Tenuta to get out there and convince kids that Notre Dame is the place for them.

If Tenuta still has aim on landing a head coaching position, his stint at ND will give him ample opportunity to shore up his recruiting reputation and increase his chances for a high profile coaching job in the near future. In the meantime, he can get to work turning the Irish defense into one of the more formidable units in the country.