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Diagnosing the Bob Stoops/Brent Venables defense

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Ok, so I know this past the point of getting old but I have one more thing I need to get out of my system and then I swear I'm moving on.  Just to get this out of the way right up front, this isn't some tirade calling for Bob Stoops and/or Brent Venables to be fired.  Rather it's what I believe to be a legitimate critique of the defensive system/scheme Stoops chose to implement when he arrived and that both he and Venables continue to employ. 

A minor aside though, I have always found it to be humorous that Venables can be ripped up and down for poor defensive performances by some OU fans all the while these same people believe Stoops to be beyond reproach.  It's funny because of the hypocrisy that they apparently fail to grasp.  Stoops is/was a defensive coach, it's his system, and while Venables certainly has earned the right to add to it, at th end of the day he's running what Stoops wants him to run.  But that's not what this is about, so let me get back to the point.

From what I can tell, there are two glaring issues with this defensive scheme and we'll address them one at a time.

     1. It's outdated

     2. It's too complicated

We'll discuss the reasons why behind both points after the jump.

Point #1

What I mean by "it's outdated" is it's essentially the exact same scheme that was installed 13 years ago when Stoops arrived.  I don't mean in the literal sense that they do exactly the same thing and that in the last 13 years they have never done a single thing different.  They've developed different packages off of it, the most recent examples being this year's 'Endy' package (with the four DEs) or the three man line they've employed several times, but at the heart of what they do on defense very little has changed.

The glaring problem with that is the near 180 degree transformation this league has made from an offensive perspective.  Back when Stoops arrived, this league was nowhere near the offensive passing juggernaut that it is today and yet in spite of that the Stoops/Venables defensive scheme has failed to adapt to the drastic changes in the offenses they face week in and week out.

What is so baffling about it is the fact that they've been more than willing to adapt their system on the other side of the ball to suit the talent they bring in.  When they had Heupel, they ran a spread offense to utilize his skills and ability to read the defense.  When they had Peterson, they went predominantly I-formation so as to tailor their offense around his considerable talents.  Then they get Bradford and go back to the spread and install the no huddle.  I could go on, but I think you see my point.  So the $64,000 (or I guess $5 million question would be more appropriate these days) is why has that not been the case with respect to the defense?!?  I can't stress how confusing this is to me, that they have made such drastic changes in their offensive philosophy and have now come back full circle and yet here they are 13 years later still trying to fit a square peg into a round freaking hole.

Point #2

This probably sounds like a petty argument, but it's one that I feel to be fair because of the frequency of which I've read/heard it confirmed from former players.  If you think about it, it's pretty rare for a first or second year defensive player to come into this scheme and be successful.  Now I suppose you could say that about most programs across the country and that I feel OU is higher than others because I follow it more closely than any other.  And you might have a point.  But that said, I ask you does it make sense that a seemingly high percentage of defensive players cannot grasp the scheme and thus really don't see significant playing time until their third year on campus (with the noted occasional exception)?

To me that would signify that the scheme you're operating is overly complex and if you can believe former defensive players who have admitted as much, then wouldn't it make sense to simplify things just a little?  It's not as if all the defensive recruits that OU brings in aren't intelligent (save the comments trolls) and it's certainly not as if there is some sort of physical limitation preventing them from picking it up.  OU isn't just a football factory no matter what any idiot from an opposing fan base would have you believe and considering the recruiting classes Stoops has been pulling in since his arrival clearly that's not the issue.

I can't begin to tell you how many times I've heard from Stoops and/or Venables that 'first or second year player X' is having trouble picking up the defensive so despite his considerable athletic gifts they just didn't feel comfortable enough putting him out there.  I can think of almost no better player to use as an example than Curtis Lofton.  Understand I don't think it's as black and white as I'm about to make it, but without scouring the internet to see if there was some report of an injury keeping him off the field I feel like this is a pretty solid example. 

Sooner Nation knows it only got one real year out of Lofton before he moved onto the NFL.  In that year he played about as well as any OU MLB which given this school's football history is no small compliment.  I think we all know this defense well enough that it's fair to say the MLB is typically the QB of a Venables defense.  So I think it's also fair to say there was a considerable amount of responsibilities for Lofton besides just tackling the guy with the ball.  And it was seemingly because of all those responsibilities that Lofton had to learn that presumably kept him off the field for those first couple years he was on campus. 

I'm sure I'm not making the compelling argument on paper as I saw it in my head, so I'll try and simplify it to help better relay my point.  In my opinion, it shouldn't take a kid 2-3 years just to learn the system well enough to earn the coaches confidence to put him out on the field.  Am I crazy or does that seem like a ridiculously long time?  It's one thing if a kid just isn't physically ready to play at this level.  I think it's normal a lot of times for a h.s. recruit to come in and need a year or two for his body to develop.  What I don't feel is normal is to have a defense that by your own ex-players admission is so complex and has so many intricacies that it takes most players several years just to grasp.

Maybe I'm wrong and if so I'd be more than willing to admit it, but I just don't feel it's necessary to have a defensive scheme that is that difficult to pick up.  Aside from the fact that it's been responsible for the two worst yards allowed performances in this school's illustrious 117 football seasons, it's as simple as the fact that it's just not working right now.  And I think it's fair to say it hasn't been working very well for a couple years. 

It sounds stupid that it could really be this simplistic, but in spite of myself I genuinely believe that it actually is really this simple.  I don't think it requires Brent Venables to be fired.  I certainly don't think it requires Bob Stoops to leave.  All I think they have to do is exactly what they've done on the offensive side of the ball.  Simply be willing to adapt and change your defensive philosophy.  I'm not sure why it seems to be such a scary or daunting task for them, I mean we thought we might have seen it last year when they unleashed that 50-front defense.  It worked incredibly well and yet here we are 10 games into 2011 and if they've gone back to that at all it's been so infrequent that I can hardly remember an instance where it happened.

I'll repeat.  Nobody has to get fired.  Just update your defense like you've done for the offense.  If Stoops and Venables refuse to admit that it's a problem, which is sadly I feel the most likely scenario though I'm not sure how that is humanly possible given what we've witnessed this season, then and only then can you maybe start talking about changes needing to be made.  But it's so easily avoidable if they'd just reexamine what they do and look to tweak it. 

Let me also just clarify one more point before we finish.  Bringing back Mike Stoops isn't the magic cure for this defense.  Would it help?  Sure, maybe, but obviously only time would tell.  I don't think they need to bring Mike back just to make the updates tho this scheme that are so clearly needed.  So while I think he could certainly bring something to this defense, I'm certainly not of the opinion that he is some miracle worker and that him coming back immediately restores us to a dominant defense.

Ok, it's officially out of my system (for now).  If you're still with me and haven't already rolled your eyes and cursed me for yet another way too long JTE rant, thank you for putting up with one last tirade.