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ON BROADWAY: A closer look at how DCs have fared in year three at Texas Tech as Gibbs enters his third year in the program
If you've been hankering for a nerd numbers sandwich, then hooboy. You are in for a treat today, my friend.
The Red Raiders have closed the book on spring ball, the fifth of Kliff Kingsbury's tenure as head coach. For defensive coordinator David Gibbs, it's year three. Year three for coordinators is often a good time to start making real judgments. They've had time to install their system, let the young players grow and develop within it, and have a unit filled with mostly players they've recruited.
It's when you start to get a clear picture of whether the product on the field is what you hired said coordinator to produce or not. If it is, you'll see the positive returns. If it isn't, then it's likely a sign that things probably aren't going to work out.
So, with Gibbs going into his third season, let's take a look at the last three Texas Tech defensive coordinators who progressed through their own initial three year phases.
(NOTE: Some statistics are missing from NCAA online records prior to 2005)
Greg McMackin 3 Year Progress
So, let's start with Greg McMackin. He was the first DC of the modern Texas Tech Air Raid Era. He was the first DC to truly pair a modern spread offense with his defense in Lubbock.
The results, after you skim through them, obviously aren't what Coach Leach or Red Raider nation hoped for. McMackin started out with Spike Dykes' left over defensive roster, which was spectacular at the time.
As recruiting progressed and the players transitioned from being Dykes' to being McMackin and Leach's, it became obvious that priorities had shifted from defense to offense, and too much so. This likely led to the stair-stepping drop off after year one.
But, to be fair, the statistics are likely misleading a bit as well, as Leach's offense undoubtedly had an impact on the amount of time the defense spent on the field as well, skewing the statistics as the offense continued to explode and evolve into the early makings what we see more of today: Fast-paced, score-a-lot, basketball-on-grass.
Still, the defensive dip was concerning enough that Texas Tech and McMackin parted ways after 2002.
At that point, Leach hired Lyle Setencich.
Lyle Setencich 3 Year Progress
Tackles For Loss
Setencich's 2003 defense was woefully awful at that time, and a record-breaking offense had to keep up a blistering pace to win games. The defense's deficiencies were a big reason this team only went 7-5 during the regular season.
But, what happened next was likely totally unexpected. Setencich's defense took a big leap forward in 2004, making a Mariana Trench-sized progression from 101st to 15th in passing defense in just one season. That progression furthered in 2005, as the Red Raiders, led by Dwayne Slay in the secondary, had arguably the best defense of the Air Raid era that aided Cody Hodges and the Tech offense to a 9-3 season.
What Setencich did from year one to year three is clearly painted by the numbers. The defense flat out got much better, and particularly in pass defense with Setencich's complex schemes and great secondary play.
That complex scheme likely hurt Tech after year three though, as the defense dipped in 06 and early on in 07, so Leach made a change once again. This time he promoted Ruffin McNeil from within.
Ruffin McNeil 3 Year Progress
Tackles For Loss
Now, obviously, the 2007 defensive statistics may be skewed a bit, as McNeil took over mid-season as the DC and obviously didn't have time to install exactly what he would like the unit to run. Still, it became very obvious from the get-go that McNeil had a good grasp on what this unit needed: Simplicity.
McNeil's defenses were all about playing bend-don't-break while simplifying the system so players could act and react instead of spending crucial seconds making decisions required by Setencich's more complex scheme.
When you look at the numbers, you can quite obviously see the transition occurring and how players processed that.
While the pass defense and total defense numbers fell back, the Red Raiders skyrocketed in almost every other category. The total yardage, particularly passing yardage, went up because Tech was playing bend-don't-break pass coverage all the time, but the simplicity of the system allowed talented athletes to be just that: Talented athletes.
Sack numbers went through the roof immediately because McNeil allowed his rushers to play freely, and the staff recruited well in the trenches during the period, too.
The run defense took a big jump because the front seven was allowed to be much more aggressive, and as previously stated, simply read and react with little processing or complexity to digest mentally.
McNeil's 2009 defense was arguably the best unit in the last two decades at Texas Tech. It's interesting to note that it's a unit that wasn't as talented as the 2008 defense, either. It lacked two NFL draft picks: 2nd round safety selection Darcel McBath and 4th round edge rusher Brandon Williams.
But, the defense got better. I'd attribute that to having a veteran unit filled with guys who had been in McNeil's system for three years. They had a great grasp on what they needed to do across the board.
After the Leach firing fiasco, the Red Raiders failed to have the same DC in back-to-back years until Gibbs in 2015.
But before we jump into Gibbs' current job as the Tech DC, let's look back to his three year progress at Minnesota.
David Gibbs 3 Year Progress (Minnesota)
Pass Efficiency Defense
There aren't a whole ton of deep-diving stats available from 1997-1999 for Gibbs' first three years as Minnesota, but I think the numbers clearly illustrate the progress he made.
The Gophers had the worst defense in the Big 10 going into 1997, and the stats backed that up, as UM was dead last in-conference in every single major category.
Gibbs quickly got the ship turned around, however. By year three, the Gophers played some of the best defense in the country, particularly on the back end with spectacular pass defense and coverage.
Gibbs had great players in his secondary, and the unit thrived as a result.
Again, as we've already talked about: Recruiting, system implementation, and system progress. Coach Gibbs teams have seemingly always played their best defense when they've had great players in the secondary.
So, let's look at his current situation in Lubbock...
David Gibbs 3 Year Progress (Texas Tech)
Tackles For Loss
The numbers aren't pretty. They're ugly. Buzz's Girlfriend-ugly. And Gibbs would be the first one to admit that to you.
But let's face the facts here: Tech didn't have the same DC in back-to-back years for six seasons. That's a LONG time to continually change recruiting and system philosophies year after year. It created a snowball effect of far-reaching proportions, tanking Tech's defense completely into an Island of Misfit Toys. That's the bare-knuckled truth.
Coming into 2015, Gibbs faced a complete ground-up rebuild in every single aspect. Recruiting, system, player development, and player psyche. It's been a battle to fight upward since then as Gibbs tries to establish what he wants to do, which is get to get offenses into third-and-longs, and then create havoc with sugared and disguised coverages and blitzes to confuse opposing quarterbacks. To do that, you've got to have good secondary play, plain and simple. Now, Gibbs appears to have most of the pieces he wants in his secondary, which should help the defense take a legitimate step forward here.
Regardless of what happens, I think the numbers speak clearly: Good DCs will show you a clear picture of what they're trying to do with success in year three, and you can do it in a variety of ways as long as you stick to your plan.
Gibbs has stuck to his guns so far. Now we'll see if it pays off this fall.
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POWER RANKINGS: Players I want in this year's NFL Draft
The NFL Draft is right around the corner, and teams are getting ready to finalize their boards as they finish up evaluating and analyzing their top prospects. There are players that everyone loves and hope ends up on their team, and as a Cowboys fan, I'm no different. But at the same time, every team has needs, so it eliminates some positions from the thought process,
So, in a fantasy world where we're starting over from the ground up, who are the top five players from this draft I'd most like to have on my team?
(Just to create some variety, we'll leave out our good buddy Pat Mahomes from this discussion.)
5. Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett - Some are probably shocked that I have Garrett this low. I love the potential, and he's a physical specimen that only comes around once every few years on the D-line. But, if we're being honest: I wonder if he's a little soft. We'll find out soon.
4. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook - When you truly look inside the numbers at what Cook did in his time at Florida State, it's astounding. He was the most explosive running back in the country in 2015. Oh, and he did so while on a hobbled leg the whole time. Cook is a freak that, as long as he can get things straightened out, I think has a chance to be a perennial all-pro at the NFL level.
3. LSU S Jamal Adams - I like my safeties rangy, physical, and ornery, and Adams fits the bill. Some have said he's the safest pick in the draft this year, and it's easy to see why. The dude checks off all the boxes and plays a position that's importance continues to grow as offenses become more spread out.
2. Western Michigan WR Corey Davis - There's a dude every year that big time college football fans swoon over going into the draft because of how fun they are to watch, and this year's top candidate for that honor might be Davis. He tore it up at WMU, and he's an absolute joy to watch as a big receiver with all the tools. I'd be lying if I said I hoped the Cowboys might not pull the trigger on him late in the first round if he's still there.
1. Alabama DL Jonathan Allen - This is the dude for me. Allen was a holy terror at Alabama last year, which is saying something when you're on a team full of dudes capable of being a holy terror. Here's the play that epitomizes Allen. He's an absolute monster that's versatile and can move around on the D-line.