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The Miami 4-3, scarcity, and the planet theory

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Yesterday's post got me thinking a bit about Greg Schiano's defensive scheming. Now, everyone usually hung up in thinking of Greg Schiano as Joe Paterno's protege. I think it's more accurate to say that Greg Schiano learned how to run a program from Paterno. He learned how to coach from Dave Wannstedt. Ok, stop giggling.

Specifically, Schiano's aggressive 4-3 defensive, with its heavy emphasis on attacking, pressure, and speed, can trace its DNA back to Jimmy Johnson's days at the sideline of the University of Miami. Johnson pioneered the concept of the "Miami 4-3", a 4-3 over, one-gap scheme. At its core, it operated on the same principles that Schiano's does today, give or take twenty years of tweaking and adaptation to available personnel. Johnson was really the first coach, who to get his best athletes on the field, would bulk up his corners to play safety, his safeties to play linebacker, his linebackers to defensive end, and his ends to tackle.

Dave Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator on those legendary Hurricane teams, and Butch Davis was the defensive line coach. They soon followed Johnson to the NFL; eventually, Wannstedt took over the Bears, and Davis was named the next Miami coach in 1995. Having spent four years as Joe Paterno's defensive backs coach at Penn State, Schiano accepted Wannstedt's offer to work under him as an assistant with the Bears that same year. Three seasons later, as Wannstedt's tenure in Chicago was nearing an end, he recommended Schiano to his old friend Davis, who was looking for a new defensive coordinator.

What's important to note is that Schiano spent just as long working under the Jimmy Johnson Miami 4-3 scheme as he did with Paterno. In Schiano's professional biography, no figure looms larger than ol' JoePa. However, his time spent with Wannstedt and Davis was chronologically closer to the present. Based on the way his defenses have looked in the four years since he took over the responsibilities for coordinating RU's defenses, I'd argue that they had far more influence over his playcalling and schemes.

If you're interested in reading more about the topic, there has been a copy of Wannstedt's 1992 Dallas Cowboys defensive playbook floating around the net for a while. I'm admittedly not much of an X's and O's guy. Lately, I've been reading all I can on the various popular blitzing schemes, including Dick LeBeau's zone blitz/fire zone, and obviously the Jim Johnson/Steve Spagnuolo variant that's all the rage in the NFL at the moment. My hope is to eventually have a better handle on what exactly Schiano is doing with all the exotic rushes we see on a weekly basis.

There's one major reason that today's Scarlet Knight defense looks very different than what Miami and the Cowboys used to run. It's a very BIG reason, pun intended. Simply put, big, quality defensive tackles are harder to find than any other quantity. It's the reason why so few teams in the NFL can effectively run the 3-4 defense. It's also, notoriously, the reasoning behind the "Planet Theory" of Bill Parcells and the late George Young. Roughly, there is only a limited supply of athletic big men on the planet, so those players should be coveted and hoarded.

With Rutgers the past few years, it's been a numbers game at the defensive tackle position. There are bigger linemen on the roster. However, the 260 lb players have been more effective to this point. Going undersized at tackle has its drawbacks, but it also gets the best players on the field. Rutgers can bring some really unconventional looks against the pass. Ideally, you'd like to not make any sacrifices at the position. Over the past few years, Rutgers has been attracting better players at the defensive tackle position. Not only is there a limited supply of talented big men, but they're fairly hard to develop, so we may not see the fruits of those labors for a while.

And that brings me to one Antwan Lowery, a high school tackle out of Florida expected to sign a letter of intent with Rutgers in a week and a half. Every big program wanted Lowery this year, and he chose to follow his brother Antonio to Rutgers. In many respects, this was an enormously positive development. Don't get me wrong here, it was. However, I think the primary reason that Lowery was so coveted was the scarcity of talent available at the DT position. With his brother a few years ago, I saw a potential future star at linebacker. Antwan shows flashes of greatness, but he has an awfully long way to go to get to that point.

The recruiting process is vitally important. Fans also need to have realistic expectations. There are positions where players can step in immediately and contribute, like at running back, and increasingly, wide receiver. Coincidentally or not, arguably the two biggest names in this year's recruiting class play quarterback and defensive tackle. In my opinion, those are the two hardest positions to develop. Consequently, they're also the two hardest positions to recruit, so bully on that. Tom Savage (who I undoubtedly will have many more thoughts on in the coming weeks) and Antwan Lowery have enormous potential, and they were two of the biggest gets in the history of the Rutgers football program. They have a high ceiling, but they don't necessarily have a high floor. You can say the same thing for the other big gets at each position recently.

Be excited. But don't get ahead of yourselves.