It was pretty evident that the defense has improved on Saturday after the first Washington State Spring Scrimmage ended. In fact, the first half of the scrimmage was pretty much all defense, as they pushed around the Cougar offense and took full advantage of a weather-filled day on the Palouse.
Eventually, the offense would get their legs under them and start moving and scoring the ball, but clearly head coach Mike Leach was very pleased with the effort of his defense. When asked about their speed as compared to last Spring:
"Well, we are a little bigger and faster, a year older but the biggest thing, they transition between stuff better. I cut some things back, I thought we had a little too much stuff last year and so I think that the package is a little more concise. But I think the biggest thing is our players are doing a good job running around and they’ve improved as the Spring’s gone on."
That sounds to me like the Cougars won’t be thinking so much this season, rather, they’ll be playing “assignment football.” A common mistake by coaches coming into a new program is over-programming the offense and/or defense. The coach wants to be as diverse as possible and show a whole lot of different looks to other teams so as not to be predictable. What ends up happening is the unit simply struggles to play at full speed because they’re so worried about missing their alignment and ultimately fail to play to their assignment in time to make the play.
The difference between making a play on time and getting to the play a half second late is the difference of a first down or an even bigger play, so over-complicating schemes for a defense can lead to a lot of “almost” plays that end up extending drives. This is especially true when dealing with a young defense who is already just trying to adjust to the speed of the college game and institute chemistry. Leach has apparently realized that his defense isn’t yet mature enough to handle as dynamic of a package as Mike Breske tried to install last season and as a result we should see defenders around the ball quicker in 2013.
One guy who’s taken to the simpler approach in an astonishing manner is sophomore MIKE linebacker Darryl Monroe. The kid has been noticeably in tune with his job description as the middle enforcer and is becoming an outstanding leader for the unit. On the field he’s been all over the ball and in interviews he’s been a bit cocky and confident, as well as noticeably loose with his persona. His demeanor is quite different from any the Cougars showed last season, as they tried to grasp the system and the reality of change over the Spring and ultimately throughout the Fall. Guys on that defense were excited, but nervous.
That’s no longer the case and it’s probably got something to do with the “less is more” approach of the coaching staff, in particular Mike Leach.