My post titles make the best band names. “You going to Hipsterfest this weekend?” “Wouldn’t miss it – Chunky And The D-Line are playing the YOLO Stage!”
The name for this post comes from the comments section of the last post. Without The 90 Illini series this year, this place has been 59% less season preview-y so far, and commenter “HHSIllini” noted the lack of previews in the comments so I told him I would write any preview post he requested. His request was for “more about Chunky and the overall 2-deep on the D-line”. So let’s do that.
First off, we’ll have to go deeper than a two-deep. Former DL coach Keith Gilmore told me that most defensive line coaches like to have “a pair and a spare” at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Five guys, two on the first string and two on the second, and then a fifth guy who can play either spot. So at defensive tackle you want two nose guards, two 3-technique defensive tackles, and then a fifth guy who can play both. Same thing at end – two strongside, two weakside, one guy who can play both if needed.
This coaching staff – specifically this line – might go deeper than 10. Perhaps the best way to preview our line would be to describe an entire defensive series. That’s actually a great idea. Good work, Robert.
First and ten, Wisconsin has the ball at their own 22. We’re anticipating that they run the ball (of course), so we’re in our base defensive line look with the starters on the field. (“Starters” are up in the air right now, and will be changing in Rantoul, so I’m just going to list the starters from the end of spring ball and then work in the new guys after that). The starters are DeJazz Woods at leo, Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell at defensive tackle, and Kenny Nelson at defensive end. Wisconsin runs the ball to Nelson’s side for a three yard gain, and then they run to Woods’ side for a six yard gain, setting up third and one.
Now it’s time to go full house. We drop the will linebacker off the field and go with five down linemen. And we know Wisconsin will run straight at us, so it’s time for some beef on the field. We put Dawuane Smoot at Leo (our biggest Leo), take Teitsma off the field and put Rob Bain and Jake Howe next to Teko in the middle, and then we use 285 lb. junior college defensive end Jihad Ward as the strongside end. Wisconsin runs right up the middle, officials uncover the pile, first down Wisconsin at the 33.
This time we leave Ward on the field at strongside end and send in Joe Fotu to spell Teitsma. So the line is Woods, Fotu, Powell, and Ward. Wisconsin only gains one yard on first down (great play, Teko), so second down might be a passing down. We replace Woods with junior college leo Carroll Phillips and let him use his pass rush skills. He doesn’t get a sack, but he gets enough pressure off the left side that Joel Stave has to rush his throw, setting up third and nine for the Badgers. Still a passing down, but so we want our best four rushing linemen at each position, so we send in Chunky Clements to take Fotu’s spot, put Nelson back in, and rush Phillips, Clements, Powell, and Nelson. It doesn’t work, unfortunately, and Wisconsin gains 18 yards on a seam route from the tight end. Man, as I type this out I can already feel people saying “will we EVER cover a Wisconsin tight end?”
First and ten Wisconsin at the 49. We go back to the base defense but with Abe Cajuste at defensive tackle, so the line is Woods, Cajuste, Powell, and Nelson. First down is a two yard gain, but on second down, Wisconsin tries running a sweep which is read perfectly by TJ Neal, and he tackles Clement for a five yard loss. Now Wisconsin is facing third and 13. It’s time to maybe go to a nickel look. In the nickel (maybe it’s more of a dime), we have more or less a 3-2-6 look. Three down linemen with a standup linebacker blitzing from somewhere. Mason Monheim then is the only true linebacker, and then there are three safeties (including the star) and three cornerbacks in the formation.
For this look, we go with Jihad Ward at one end, Chunky Clements in the middle, and Joe Fotu on the other “end”. Three almost-DT’s with pass rushing skills, with TJ Neal as the standup linebacker rushing the QB. It works, and Stave has to rush the throw, but a defensive pass interference call gives Wisconsin another first down. Bogus call, man.
Now Wisconsin is in our territory and threatening. First down you’re assuming run again, so you go back to the base defense but with Smoot at Leo. Smoot is the guy we’re grooming as the future at that position, so we have to get him snaps. Second down we rotate Nelson out at DE and put in Ward, because we really have two starters there at this point. Keeping players fresh will really help in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin gains six on first down but loses a yard on second down, so it’s third and five.
Time to bring in Paul James. We’re going to blitz on third and five, so maybe our hopefully-future-superstar freshman end can make a play. It works. Mike Svetina blitzes from the right side, and the right guard and fullback shift to him, and James is one-on-one with the tackle. Stave tries to spin out of the collapsing pocket, and when he does, James is in his face. He’s hit as he throws, and the ball floats in the air, and the Turnover Fairy directs it right to Darius Mosely, who returns the interception to the Wisconsin 41. Interceptions! They do happen!
That’s generally the defensive line rotation. Woods, Smoot, and Phillips at Leo. Teitsma, Powell, Fotu, Chunky, and Cajuste at defensive end, with Bain and Howe providing beef. And then lots of Nelson and Ward at defensive end with maybe some Paul James sprinkled in here and there. We obviously won’t rotate as much as the series listed above, and it’s likely that by the time the Wisconsin game rolls around, we won’t rotate 12 players on the line – more like nine or ten. But you get the idea. There’s depth now, and the coaches intend to use it.
Maybe I should preview every position this way? I liked this. Especially the part where Mosely made the interception.