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Kevin Steele brought in as new DC

When it was first mentioned that Steele was a candidate for the job after VK left, people said I was dumb to even think about it. Now I think Swinney pulled off a small coup, stealing Saban's finest recruiter who has a great resume of coaching LBs. Although I've not seen his $$$ terms, I expect him to be making $375K. This move forces Clemson to push out one assistant: Blackwell could join his old boss Paul Rhoads at Iowa State, and TI reports that Ron West is interviewing for another position. One or the other will be gone in the next few weeks, and West is the poorer recruiter.

Steele is a native of Dillon, and went to Furman for one year before transferring to Tennessee and graduating in 1979.

1980-1981 GA at Tenn.
1982-OLB at UT
1983-New Mexico State (LB)
1984-1986-Oklahoma State (LB/TE)
1987-1988-Defensive backs at UT
1989-1994-LB Coach of Nebraska, who won the national title in 94.
1995-1998-LB Coach Carolina Panthers...think Kevin Greene and Lamar Lathon
1999-2002-Baylor HC, 9-36 record, ran a 3-4 defense derived from Dom Capers' system
2002-2006-LB Coach, FSU
2007-Alabama DC
2008-present Alabama Head Defensive Coach

A few things stand out from this, he won a national title at Nebraska and was on the team that played FSU in '92 for the title. During his six years in Lincoln, the Cornhuskers went 60-11, appeared in six bowl games, won four conference championships. Those teams ran an aggressive 4-3 defense, but also alot of 3-4. Then he went to Carolina, where Capers' made the defense good for a few years, going to the NFC Championship game in '96. Those teams ran a 3-4, and ran a complicated zone blitzing scheme. Apparently he couldnt get it to work at Baylor, never going better than 3-9, and going 1-31 against the Big XII. No prominent HC job is going to come his way anytime soon.

Afterwards, he went to FSU and worked under Mickey Andrews, who we all know uses a 4-3 that isnt terribly complicated, but blitzes quite a bit and plays alot of press coverage. Dabo Swinney has intimated that this is the style of defense he wants. In 2005, while working for FSU, he was named Rivals recruiter of the year after they secured the #1 ranked class that year.

When Saban was hired to Bama, he went out and tried to get the best recruiters around who could also coach, and picked Steele. People will point out that Alabama's defense was not awesome last year, but I think everyone who watched them last year knows they were pretty damned good....its just that the defense fell apart towards the end. Alabama's lack of depth and the IMMENSE complexity of a Saban scheme were the major contributors to their slide to finish 7-6. One point that I must concede is that this is Saban's defense, and he calls the shots. The DC is a title, who calls the plays, but everything goes through Nick Saban.

Following last season, South Alabama offered Steele their HC job, and Petrino offered the DC job at Arkansas to young Kirby Smart. Sensing that he was about to lose coaches, Saban "promoted" Steele to Head Defensive Coach and Associate head coach, and Smart to DC and gave them a raise.

Why would he leave Alabama though? Saban is the man who calls the shots on defense, a chance at autonomy and a possible raise, not to mention that Saban is a prick to work for are probably the true reasons. He may believe that this is a better shot at a HC job.

What will he run defensively? While Steele ran a 3-4 at Carolina and most teams in the '80s did as well, I don't see him doing the same here. Andrews' 4-3 system is heavy on the blitz with press coverage, while Saban's is considerably more complex out of a base 3-4 set, but uses alot of 4-3....basically you could see anything out of a Saban defense. Saban's later teams at LSU ran a 4-3 base set, and this year at Alabama he mixed it up considerably when Cody was in the game at NG. EDIT: In Steele's own words, published recently on TI, he will be running a base 4-3 that is considerably different from VK's, as we suspected.

For research on Saban's defense, see this article released before the Clemson/Bama game.

Saban's philosophy is this:

"[Our] philosophy on first and second down is to stop the run and play good zone pass defense. We will occasionally play man-to-man and blitz in this situation. On third down, we will primarily play man-to-man and mix-in some zone and blitzes. We will rush four or more players versus the pass about ninety-percent of the time.

"In all situations, we will defend the inside or middle of the field first – defend inside to outside. Against the run, we will not allow the ball to be run inside. We want to force the ball outside. Against the pass, we will not allow the ball to be thrown deep down the middle or inside. We want to force the ball to be thrown short and/or outside.

"… Finally, our job is to take the ball away from the opponents’ offense and score or set up good field position for our offense. We must knock the ball loose, force mistakes, and cause turnovers. Turnovers and making big plays win games. We will be alert and aggressive and take advantage of every opportunity to come up with the ball . . . . The trademark of our defense will be effort, toughness, and no mental mistakes regarding score or situation in any game

From the article above, I'm pulling out the most pertinent information for Clemson fans. There are two basic schemes Steele will 'likely' run here.

Cover 1 "Robber"

Cover 1 is maybe the most common defense in the SEC. (Though "Cover 2" is close if you lump together all its variants.) Base Cover 1 is quite simple: the "1" refers to a deep safety who aligns down the middle, while all the offense’s skill guys are covered man to man. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is bump and run – it could be loose coverage – but it often is bump and run. The defense needs a great centerfielder back at Free Safety who can stop the deep ball and cover sideline to sideline.

The nice thing about this defense is it is simple and, once you’ve locked in five guys in man and a free safety, you can do whatever you want with the other five. And, maybe most importantly, with just one free-safety deep, the defense can get in a lot of eight-man fronts. On passing downs, the defense can find ways to creatively blitz five guys, have a deep safety, and all the while still account for all five of the offense’s receivers. The defense cannot really outnumber the pass protectors, but it can still collapse the pocket. That’s base Cover 1.

Cover 1 "Robber" works the same, except there are only four rushers and, along with the deep middle safety, another defender comes down to an intermediate level to read the QB’s eyes and "rob" any pass routes over the middle, like curls, in routes, and crossing routes. "Robber" is the most popular term for this technique but Saban’s is "Rat." (I was always partial to Homer Smith’s term, "floaters," which is the most descriptive.) There’s nothing magic about this coverage; every NFL team and most BCS college teams use it. Indeed, despite all the bluster about the Indianapolis Colts being a "Cover 2 team," on first and second down you see lots of Cover 1 and Cover 1 robber from them, except they use their strong safety, Bob Sanders, as the "floater." The key is for the floater to be able to read run, screen, or pass, and to use his eyes to get to the receiver and the ball. It’s particularly effective nowadays with the increased use of spread formations which most offenses use to open up passing lanes over the middle. Floaters or rat players can stop these inside passes and make game-changing interceptions. Below are some diagrams, and I expect to see Saban use this coverage a lot this season. (As a final note, Cover 1 Robber is useful against spread offense teams with mobile QB’s because the floater’s job becomes to not only read the QB’s eyes on passing downs but also to watch him for scrambles and to simply mirror the him on run plays like the option and the zone read.)

Zone blitz

Saban’s most common coverage behind a zone-blitz is a 3-3 or three-deep and three-intermediate defense with five rushers. Cover two behind a zone blitz is often dangerous because of the added uncovered deep seams, but most defenses feel comfortable with the 3-3.

The thing to remember is that for years, when a team blitzed it was playing either Cover 1 or Cover 0 man (or simply left holes in its zone), and quarterbacks were coached to throw the ball where the blitzer had come from. Nowadays, there’s a common perception that a zone-blitz works because a defensive linemen gets in the throwing lane – no. What the dropping defensive end in the diagram above does is allow the defense as a whole to stay in zone coverage, and further notice who is covering the area where the blitzers came from: the strong safety, who is usually an effective pass defender, certainly moreso than a defensive end. That is how zone-blitzes cause confusion.

If you wish to read more, see the article above. We'll be breaking down the finer points of the Saban scheme during the offseason.