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The Boldness of Joe Tresey's Defense

Earlier this week, I touched upon the risk and rewards of the wholesale coaching changes made over the offseason, in preparation for Coach Neuheisel's make or break season in Westwood. While swapping both coordinators and the prospect of major schematic changes before a crucial year may be a bold move to make, given the lack of success in recent season, a move that really isn't all that risky.

First off, we need to reacquaint ourselves with Chuck Bullough and his defensive mindset, since if you are like me, you have repressed as much memory of those past couple of years on defense as possible. Last fall, Nestor wrote on the conservative nature that UCLA football had developed under Coach Neuheisel's regime - and before that under Dorrell. While neither side of the ball has been immune (as gbruin wrote last year on the offensive side), criticism came to crystallize around the defense for a lack of aggressiveness and a failure to take bold action when required. While a lack of bold moves and complex play can be forgiven if the unit is performing, the defense under Bullough failed that test, finishing 86th in scoring defense and 94th in total defense in 2010, despite a pair of high future draft picks in Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore and a collection of younger talent.

After last year's 4-8 season, and the defensive failures that characterized that season as well as the season before, Coach Bullough was shown his walking papers. After a long, 'interesting' coaching search, the Bruins ended up with Joe Tresey. At first glance, hiring someone straight off of a UFL coaching staff would have to be considered by a bold move by Coach Neuheisel, but as Meriones discussed after the hiring, Tresey's UFL stint came about after his prior head coach was terminated well into the offseason - after the usual D-1 coaching carousel has stopped for the season.

So, while the decision to bring in Tresey was, in reality, a solid pick, the truth is that it's his defensive schemes that are bold, wanting to be known for a tough, fast, aggressive style:

"Our goal is seven [tackles for a loss] per game," defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. "We want to be an attacking defense."

And the best news of all for Bruins is that his track record supports his defense's bold style:

In 2009, South Florida ranked 24th nationally in total defense (321.8 yards) and 19th (tied) in scoring defense (19.8 points) while compiling a record of 8-5. The Bulls forced 23 turnovers that season.

Tresey spent two seasons (2007-08) as defensive coordinator at Cincinnati under current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. In 2007, he authored a Bearcat defense that led the nation in turnovers gained (42) and interceptions (26). A pair of Bearcat defenders earned All-America honors and two others were selected in the 2008 NFL Draft. UC finished 13th nationally in scoring defense (18.8) and 19th in rush defense (114.2) and put five of 11 defensive starters on the All-Big East team.

In 2008, Cincinnati ranked 31st nationally in total defense (321.9 yards), 19th in rushing defense (115.0) and 25th in scoring defense (20.1 points). 

Upon his hiring last February, Tresey further discussed his attacking defensive style:

Tresey on his defensive philosophy:
"It’s a multiple 4-3 and within the package, we have the ability to play a 3-4. We’re going to play a match-up defense, maybe a nickel, with five DBs, or a dime. At the end of the day, it’s all about playing fast, and fundamentally, you have to be very sound. You have to be able to attack protections. You have to keep the ball in front of the defense and inside the defense. You have to be able to put your kids in a position to be successful, understand your strengths and accentuate them, and diminish your weaknesses.

... At the end of the day it’s about pursuit, it’s about tackling. It’s about staying on your feet, it’s about meeting and defeating blocks. It’s about when they hit the green, they’re going 100 miles an hour and they’re playing their rear ends off for 60 minutes."

Earlier in the offseason, we wrote on the players that Coach Tresey will have at his disposal for the coming season. As he noted in the above-cited presser, he works from the familiar 4-3 base, but won't hesitate to switch things up if the gameplan calls for change and his players are ready for it. Judging by Tresey's history, his players won't fail due to lack of preparation. He is long into the case of learning about the players he inherited - as well as starting to bring in guys for the future - and tailoring his defensive lessons to the current team:

I think you have to understand what the strengths of your players are, and you have to accentuate those strengths and diminish those weaknesses. We're very multiple - we have a lot of fire zone patterns in our package, pressure patterns in our package. We have a lot of pressures overall.

... You have to teach people how to blitz. They have to understand body position, how gaps move, all those things. It's just not lining up people and turning them loose. There's a process of teaching how to do those things. For your players, is that in their tool box? Can they become good at that? If they can, you're more apt to pressure...

To close things out, here's a tidbit that Merlones dug up last winter about Tresey's time at Cincinnati:

On what he wanted his defenses at Cincinnati to be known for...
I think being able to play fast. Be known as a very fundamentally sound team. You don’t have alignment problems. You’re [sic] kids are good at meeting and defeating blocks and trying to create turnovers. You throw third down in there and red-zone, scoring defense. We want people to watch us and see a team that played very fast. We were physical and good fundamentally.

Sounds like a bold move for Neuheisel and one that hopefully pays off for UCLA this upcoming season.