Phil Bennett knows exactly how good his defense is before it ever takes the field. Iron sharpens iron, and going against the Baylor offense every day ensures that its defensive counterparts are sharp enough to cut through a California Redwood with a butter knife.
After ranking 116th in total defense, 107th in yards per play and 113th in scoring defense during Bennett’s debut season of 2011, Baylor ranked 36th in scoring, 27th in total defense and ninth in yards per play. Good coaching also helps.
The fourth-year defensive coordinator’s talk at the Angelo Football Clinic on Wednesday centered around defensive line movement. Many defensive coordinators use their defensive line as a shield to keep their linebackers free to make plays. Most defensive coordinators, though, don’t have the speed along their front that Bennett enjoys. “I like my defensive line making a lot of plays,” he said. “The reason? It’s in the backfield.”
Aside from making plays, the primary reason Bennett likes to move his front is to create unfavorable match-ups for the opponent. “I’m going to find a way to get my three on your two, or my four on your five or six.”
Bennett stressed that a proper stance is crucial in eliminating wasted movement – the enemy of any defensive player. He praised former Texas A&M All-American linebacker Dat Nguyen, whom Bennett coached as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator from 1995-96, as the best he’s ever coached at avoiding wasted movement and quickly identifying plays. “Dat was the fastest 4.7 guys that played for me,” Bennett said. “He played like he was 4.3. I’ve had 4.4 guys that played 5.4. He had no wasted steps.” The last step, of course, is to tackle.
There are coaching responsibilities here, of course. A coordinator must engineer his team to thrive with very limited substitutions, and it must boil its strategy down into very simple calls.
Football is a game of match-ups, Bennett notes, and a coordinator must create favorable ones for his defense. “Every formation’s attack point will be dictated by how you choose to line up in it,” said Bennett. “You dictate the distribution of routes by your coverages.”
Football is a simple game wrapped in a complicated shell. For instance, Bennett illustrated one play where a defensive tackle makes the wrong read, and ended up recording a tackle for a loss. Praise from the broadcast booth and the stat sheet, and rebuke from his coaches. But the key to any defense, no matter how complicated – and, with three and a half decades of experience at a dozen different stops, Bennett can match any offensive coordinator scheme for scheme – is the simplest aspect in all of football: getting lined up.
“When it’s changing,” Bennett said of the kamikaze world of Big 12 offenses, “you’ve got to be simple.”