When Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said his team was going from a 4-3 defense to a multiple-look front he apparently did not mean that literally. Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads explained it this way: “The Illusion is, it is the same front that you’re lined up against. But because of deployment and angles and leverage, who you can bring, who you decide not to bring and how you roll your coverage behind it you can get very multiple in quick order.”
“That’s regardless of offensive personnel,” Rhoads continued. “So a team could have you spread out with four wideouts or they could have you clustered in there with two backs and a tight end and you can still be multiple with what you do post snap.”
Part of that illusion is created by the two new outside linebacker positions called “Razor” and “Hog.” Technically the Hog is a hybrid stand up defensive end/outside linebacker position. Razor calls for an outside linebacker/nickel back-type player. But those are technicalities. Rhoads switched several players back and forth between the two positions and some, like junior Randy Ramsey will play both this fall.
“A good deal of the spring was spent doing just that,” Rhoads observed. “Where do guys fit best to create some confusion? There are some guys that we finally settled in on. Moving from inside to outside, off to on, or on to off. We want to be able to take a guy like Randy Ramsey and play him to the field and the boundary and not give away what it is we’re doing.”
If that sounds complicated then consider the fact that the players on the defensive side of the ball struggled for the past two seasons under a simpler 4-3 scheme. How then could Arkansas’ defensive coaches install a new defense with a dizzying array of blitz packages and two completely new positions on the field and not run into some serious installation problems in the 15 practices allowed during spring football?
The answer came in the form of some extensive pre-planning. Head coach Bret Bielema huddled with Rhoads and the rest of the defensive coaches for several weeks before the first spring practice. It was decided that the first three workouts would center on the installation of the new defense.
“We got through those first three days of installation and then we had to put it on hold a little bit and fine tune the things that we’d put in and then advance from there,” Rhoads recalled.
Practice number three featured the first scrimmage of the spring and since only basics of the 3-4 switch had been covered in the first and second workouts the offense pretty much had its way, piling up close to 400 yards on the ground with almost 300 yards passing.
By the time practice six arrived a few of the blitz packages planned for this fall were in place. Offensive output was reduced by almost two-thirds in the face of a relentless pass rush with better tackling than a week earlier.
“I thought our mental errors were down by the time we got to that second scrimmage which also happened to be our last scrimmage of the spring,” Rhoads explained. “So we only really got to tackle twice but got a lot of the defense put in. I think the kids have a thorough understanding what it is we have in at this point.”
The chance to tackle again under live conditions was eliminated when the team was forced to cancel the annual Red-White football game due to lightening and heavy rains. Instead Bielema moved the players indoors for practice 15, the final workout of the spring. Bielema has a policy of of not allowing tackling in indoor workouts for safety reasons so there was contact but no tackling to the turf.
It will be August Camp before Rhoads and his coaches get finish the installation of their 4-3 to 3-4 switch but the good news is they will have extra time to do it.
“We expect it to continue on in great fashion as we get into May, June and July,” Rhoads stressed, “and training camp is going to start earlier this year with the new NCAA rules. We’ll be on the practice field in late July which is hard to fathom in college football.”