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Understanding Oklahoma’s New “Speed D” Scheme

A look at what we can expect out of the Sooners new Speed D.

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Linebacker Eric Striker of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates a quarterback sack - Getty Images - Brett Deering
Getty Images - Brett Deering

The Alex Grinch era has arrived for the University of Oklahoma, and while we wait for the season to begin, let’s break down what makes Alex Grinch’s defense complex.

The main thing Grinch addresses is effort, and that is the most crucial part of this defense. Grinch wants to simplify his scheme in order to allow his players to play downhill, fly to the ball, and most importantly, generate turnovers. People will hear a lot of talk of simplicity in this defense, and while that is true, this down field attacking style is set up to confuse opposing teams. 

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The Base formation 

Grinch will have the Sooners line up in what people describe as a hybrid 3-4. This 3-4 base allows the defense to bring multiple pressures while keeping a simple structure.

The defensive line will have two ends with a nose guard, and a hybrid rush-outside linebacker known as the jack. Behind the line, there is a strong-side middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker with the help of a nickel back who will play in the box. The secondary is made up of a free corner, a boundary corner and a two high split boundary safety and free safety.

The Defensive Line

In order to play solid defense, teams need solid foundation. The defensive line is where it all starts and this defense has to have a solid front in order for the other positions to be successful.

Grinch will have his front play single gap fits allowing his aggressive schemes to flow fluidly. As mentioned above, Grinch will primarily use two tackles, a nose tackle, and a “Jack” defensive end/outside linebacker forming a strong defensive line foundation.

The two tackles will be made up of a traditional defensive end and a true defensive tackle. These two tackles must have effective pass rush ability. We will see these players lining up as 5 techniques and inside like most 3-4 defensive lineman around the country.

The jack position is basically a hybrid defensive end that is to box everything in and allow the boundary safety to come up and make plays. The nose tackle is essentially the only traditionally player on the line.

Grinch will essentially have four OU defensive lineman on the field, just lined up in different spots on any given play, giving him the opportunity to use pre-snap movements and multiple fronts to confuse and tire the opposing offensive line. 

The Strong-Side Middle Linebacker, Weak-Side Linebacker, and the Nickelback

The linebackers are the biggest example of how Grinch likes to keep things simple and let his players fly around. While the defensive line establishes a good foundation for the defense, the linebackers and nickel back are set up to make the plays, especially in the run game.

Grinch’s system uses only two true linebackers, usually referred as the mike (Strong Side Middle Linebacker) and the will (Weak Side Linebacker) . They will spend the majority of their time in the box where they are set up to make plays based on reaction and what they see.

The nickel back is essentially the third backer who sets the edge on the opposite side of the jack defensive end/outside linebacker. The majority of the time, you will see the nickel moving pre-snap to confuse not only quarterbacks, but the offensive linemen as well.

The nickel will mostly play underneath coverages, but in some cases, the nickel may switch roles with the free safety. The two linebackers and Nickel back is Oklahoma’s most important group in stopping the run game. They will have to think, play fast, and most importantly, be prepared to make plays. 

The Secondary 

Grinch bases his secondary with a basic quarter’s scheme; allowing the players to flood the box and stay manipulative. Grinch moves his secondary around the box area to shut down the run, but he also does it to flood zone coverages.

One major asset of moving players around is to combat tempo, which we all know the Sooners will see a lot of playing against the high powered offenses in the Big 12.

The cornerbacks are made up of a field corner and a boundary corner. The boundary corner will be OU’s best cover guy, because in almost all cases, he will be in man coverage with little to no help. OU will play mostly press, man-to-man coverage to slow down slants and keep fade routes at a low success rate. With this league being so difficult with gun slinging quarterbacks and highly talented receivers, Grinch is challenging his cornerbacks to be aggressive. If they are going to get burned, they would rather be burned by being too aggressive.

The boundary safety will be playing mostly near the box acting as an extra run fitter and cleanup guy for the will linebacker. While defending the pass, the boundary safety will help the corners underneath and take away passes over the middle of the field. The free safety will align over the slot receivers with the underneath help of the nickel. The nickel and free safety are virtually interchangeable because Grinch likes to switch these players roles pre-snap to add to the confusion he is trying to create.

Schematically, the two safety spots are the most difficult position to play. Grinch puts major responsibility on these safeties who are tasked with stuffing the run and helping out in coverages. 

Final Thoughts

This defense is set up to be efficient, and to keep offenses behind the chains. The scheme is simply allowing players to play downhill and play at a very fast rate. Grinch wants to match opposing offense’s speed with his own.

One thing is clear, this defense is multifaceted and set up for a lot of pre-snap movements. This is a chain link system that requires each position to do its job in order for this defense to improve and contribute as Oklahoma searches for their next national title.

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