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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Peering into Rutgers' Dave Cohen's defense

Defensive coordinator Dave Cohen has yet to call a play, but a few details about his defense are starting to emerge. (AP Photo)

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: Tyler_Barto

Unmasking new coordinator Dave Cohen's defense isn't easy, especially without a training camp practice or pads. But a few things about Cohen's system are clear.

Head coach Kyle Flood's top defensive assistant will simplify Rutgers' terminology, decreasing the amount of time between calls and relays. Instead of making more complex calls, Rutgers is banking on having more time at the line to dissect formations.

He will also likely employ an odd-man front wrinkle, like Rutgers showed at times last season. 

"I definitely plan on probably seeing that again," nose tackle Isaac Holmes said Tuesday. "With Coach Cohen, you don't no what to expect. We could come out with one man down there for all I know with him."
(Courtesy of

An odd-man front — meaning an odd number of defensive lineman — will likely feature redshirt freshman Quanzell Lambert, according to one player. Lambert spent the spring learning the position after enrolling as a linebacker.

Players laud Cohen's commitment to Rutgers' current scheme. But unlike years past, more than one player will be making defensive calls, junior Kevin Snyder said.

"We both do," Snyder said Tuesday of Steve Longa. "We work off each other. I don't like just one guy making calls because sometimes things slip your mind."

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Part of the timeshare is likely because of Longa's, a redshirt freshman, first responsibility in Piscataway. Another could be Cohen's schematic preference.

In the past, Rutgers' middle linebacker made defensive calls, and its weakside 'backer occasionally relayed.

As training camp begins in earnest Friday, Rutgers will be one step closer to its first season without a Greg Schiano disciple running its defense


As part of an ongoing series, The Trentonian will take an in-depth look into certain concepts with Rutgers' schemes and explain them through the eyes of the players.

Part 1 looks at the Scarlet Knights' defensive line philosophy and the allure of the WILL, the playmaking weakside linebacker.

Holmes on the nose tackle, also called the "tilt":
"The way we play defense, the nose tackle must be able to take up two (blockers). If we force two, we can do a lot of things back there in the back end. That's really what I bring to the table. I force the presence of taking up two. I have to be accounted for at all times. That tilt position is really special. One wrong move and it's a (tackle for loss) before you know it."
Holmes' tilt position lines up either over top of or directly inside the center's shoulder. Instead of lining up parallel to the center, the tilt lines up at an acute angle in a three-point stance. 

It is critical to disrupting an offensive line's timing. More from Holmes:
"You force their hand to only play one side. If you're running a stretch scheme, it's really hard to reach a tilt nose. That guy's already halfway on the other side of you. He's already looking that way. It makes you have to use an extra player to account for him. That's the big in this defense. You can't really leave that guy alone or he'll destroy an offense."
Rutgers' WILL position turned Khaseem Greene, a former safety, into a two-time Big East Defensive MVP. Players said Rutgers' system schematically designed for Greene to rove and make plays in space.

But Snyder implied the WILL can anticipate more because of the offense, not the defense. (The WILL lines up on the far side from opposing tight ends or clustered wideouts).

"I think it's just being able to run. A lot of times things run away from the WILL on to the boundary. You need to be able to cover ground quickly and also diagnose things backside and not overrun it."

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