As Tim Brewster has talked about his Gophers with various members of the mainstream media, he has consistently pointed to one area, the most obvious area, where the Gophers must improve in 2008. Not too hard to figure out what that is: defense.
Brewster has done what he was hired to do--bring in talent--and the 2008 recruiting class is flush with players that will line up on the defensive side of the ball. Some are JUCOs, others are true freshman. Some will wait a year or more before significant action and others will be asked to assimilate to Big Ten ball immediately. Reports indicate athleticism and team speed is improved.
Now it's up to new defensive coordinator Ted Roof to turn an NCAA-worst defense into something resembling respectability. So, who is Ted Roof? And what should we expect from him? Over the next two weeks, Gopher Nation is going to break down each component of the defense, but before we look at the pieces, it seems appropriate that we take a look at the man who is in charge of turning Brewster's influx of talent into a respectable unit.
After failing to win an ACC conference game for three straight seasons, and compiling a 6-45 (a .118 winning percentage) record in his 4.5 years as the head man at Duke, Roof was dismissed at the end of last year. During his tenure, Roof suffered through a 22 game losing streak, before beating Northwestern early last year. It was Duke's first win since it topped Virginia Military Institute in 2005.
It's easy to look at that record and begin to worry. But Roof didn't exactly inherit a juggernaut. His predecessor, Carl Franks, managed just a 7-45 record in the same amount of time. And you have to go back to Steve Spurrier's three-year stint with the Blue Devils in the late '80s to see any track record of success.
No Duke partisan could be pleased with Roof's record, but the Blue Devils hired him for a reason, and it was because of his success, even at Duke, as a defensive coordinator. From Roof's bio at Gophersports.com:
Prior to being named the interim head coach at Duke seven games into the 2003 season, Roof guided the Blue Devils’ defense from the depths of the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA rankings to respectability, improving a unit that ranked 113th nationally in total defense in 2001 to one that led that ACC in rushing defense and finished the 2002 season ranked 58th nationally in total defense.
Roof enjoyed similar successes while serving as the defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Georgia Tech. Originally hired as the Yellow Jackets’ linebackers coach in 1998, Roof was promoted to defensive coordinator prior to the 1999 season.
By 2000, he had sculpted Tech’s defense into one of the nation’s best as the Yellow Jackets finished the season ranked 12th nationally in rushing defense and 20th in scoring defense. For his efforts he was nominated for the 2000 Broyles Award, which is given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
The Georgia Tech defense continued to shine in 2001, his final year with the team, ranking third in the ACC in both rushing and total defense – marks that ranked 32nd and 23rd nationally.
So, when taking a look at Roof's entire track record, and not just the near-impossible job at Duke, the propsects for having success at Minnesota are more palatable.
But then again, last year's defensive coordinator, Everett Withers, came to the Gophers with a similar type of resume. He came in with hopes of playing an attacking, blitzing style of defense. Early in the season, it quickly became apparent that while some Gophers fans--including myself--wanted to see more aggression on defense. But the athletes weren't in place in the secondary or linebacking corps to allow for any type of exotic schemes.
So, what exactly will Roof do with the new talent on the Minnesota defense? It's kind of hard to tell based on his history, but it's clear that Roof works to fit his scheme to his players and not vice versa. During his early days at Duke, Roof used a 4-3 alignment primarily, but was known to mix in a 3-4 and blitzed from that format almost ad nauseum, according to this from TechSidline. While at his alma mater Georgia Tech, Roof proved he was able to work with youth, as he'll have to do start with at the Gophers. During the 2000 season, when the Yellow Jackets ranked 12th nationally, Roof orchestrated that with the majority of his defense either freshman or sophomores.
These anecdotes tell me he's going to play to the strengths of his defense. But before the Gophers can get uber-fancy on defense, they need to solidify the fundamentals. And, thankfully, that's exactly what Roof has been talking about since he arrived at the U. He seems to be emphasizing tackling and positioning.
Asked by Gophersports.com what his philosophy is, Roof talked basics:
Attack and swarm is very simple. It’s something that when you’re bloody, you’ve been hit in the side of the head and it’s a 12-play drive, you’ve got to have someplace to call home. That’s home. Defensive or offensive calls don’t win ballgames for you. Players win ballgames. To have the foundation and the base when times are tough to go back to, to hang your hat on, to re-focus your priorities and what you believe in. That’s what our base is. I think attack and swarm are a couple simple terms. But what they encompass are characteristics of teams that play great defense. That’s what the goal is. That’s what the vision is.
And that's why I think Roof might have the best defensive coordinator job in America. If he can take Brewster's talent and make them at least play fundamentally sound football, the 2008 defense will be light-years ahead of the 2007 version.