Dennis Allen was hired as the Broncos Defensive Coordinator in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, after I’d wrapped You Got Served and gone to bed - so I didn’t comment on the hiring within that piece. In between closing the books for January, going to my MBA classes, and turning up at the odd social event, I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the implications of this hiring, and I have to say, I’ve gone from liking it to loving it in that time.
One of the last pieces I wrote on my old site was called What a John Fox Defense Looks Like. In it, I made the point that Fox is not a technocratic scheme-oriented guy, he’s an old-school football guy. On both sides of the ball, his coordinators call the plays, within an overall team concept that he sets. Historically, his defenses have featured 40 fronts and a lot of zone coverage, mostly relying upon 4-man rush schemes. I’ve said a lot of times that that’s the soundest way to play defense, so I agree with that approach.
Dennis Allen most recently comes from a 46 background, having worked with Gregg Williams in 2009 and 2010, but he previously worked under Gary Gibbs in New Orleans and Wade Phillips in Atlanta. Gibbs ran more of a (usually ineffective) base 4-3, and we all know that Phillips favors a one-gap 3-4 scheme. I like that Allen comes from a very diverse schematic background, as well as the fact that he started out coaching the defensive line, and then moved to the secondary, which are very different in nature.
A defensive line coach typically has to have some major motivational ability, because that position grouping almost universally tends to feature the players who need the most motivation. I don’t want to say that defensive linemen are lazy, necessarily, but it’s more like what they’re asked to do is very physically difficult. You’re often asking a 300-plus pound man to be quick, explosive, and aggressive repeatedly, snap after snap, and it’s not natural for men of that size to have the stamina to repeatedly do that. That’s why teams use rotations, which is in contrast to offensive linemen, who almost never substitute. It’s also why defensive line coaches tend to coach with their foot in a player’s hind parts, because it’s how you get the most effort and aggression out of tired players.
A secondary coach, on the other hand, is typically a teacher type, focusing heavily on technique and situational information processing and recognition skills. You don’t often see crossover from one specialty to the other. Defensive line coaches tend to stay defensive line coaches, unless they (rarely) become Defensive Coordinators. Secondary coaches, on the other hand, often become Defensive Coordinators. It’s sort of akin to the QB coach role on offense in that way, because those coaches have to prepare their players to understand the entire defensive scheme, and as such, tend to understand the holistic functioning of it the best of all defensive position coaches.
I suspect that Allen’s experience with Gregg Williams will have a major influence in the scheme used by the Broncos. The team is playing coy about going back to a 4-3 scheme, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t. Even after two years of trying to acquire players for a 3-4, they don’t have the right guys for it.
I expect a major schematic emphasis on heating up the opposing QB, as Williams is known for. You’ll see a mix of “rush 4, drop 7” Cover-2 and Cover-3 along with some 5-and 6-man zone blitz schemes. The key will be finding the right balance, but between Fox and Allen, I suspect that the differing emphases which they’re used to will work in aid of striking that balance.
As far as player acquisition goes, I expect Allen’s hiring to up the priority of finding a good centerfielder-type of safety. The key to doing a lot of the aggressive stuff that the Saints do is that they have Safeties who can shift easily from covering a third, to half, to all of the deep level of the field, depending on the play called. Between Darren Sharper, Malcolm Jenkins, and Roman Harper, the Saints have an unusually high quality group there. I’d advocate for signing a guy like Eric Weddle in free agency, and maybe even doubling up by drafting a safety in the second round of the draft. (I’m a big Ahmad Black fan, as I said on Tuesday.)
As far as what to do with the second pick, I don’t really think Allen’s hiring affects that very much. I’d still take Nick Fairley over anybody - because to me, he’s definitely the best defensive player in the draft. I know that some of your average (or below-average) bible-thumping draftniks are put off by Fairley’s visible mean streak on the field, and the strange claims that have been making the rounds that he’s lazy; but on the field, the guy is a beast. He has outstanding hand technique and quickness, and he finds the football like all great defensive players do. I also started following him on Twitter recently, and it’s clear that he’s a fairly bright and engaging guy. He’s my guy, no question about it.
If Fairley is a Panther, I’m picking between Da’Quan Bowers and Von Miller, and I think I’m leaning toward Miller, because he’s a guy who you can use as a LB on first and second down, and as a pass rusher on third down. In no case is Patrick Peterson even in consideration for me, because a team that’s going to play a lot of zone shouldn’t be taking CBs second in the draft. (Really, no team should be taking CBs second in the draft, because it’s not a premium position in the NFL.)
I’ll be interested in hearing more about the new scheme, and I’ll have more commentary on it as it comes out. Between that, and however the player acquisition process goes on defense, we should have no shortage of interesting things to talk about this offseason.
In a programming note, I said I’d have the economics piece done for today, but I didn’t finish it yet. Expect to see it tomorrow or Sunday instead, as it’s a lot more extensive than this, and it's been getting done in fits and starts, due to some time constraints. Until next time, have a great weekend, friends.