Since taking the job as Florida’s defensive coordinator on Jan. 3, there has been a great deal of speculation about what kind of scheme Todd Grantham will install.
Will it be a 3-4? A 4-3? Or a combination of both?
He put it in succinct terms Tuesday in his first opportunity with the media.
“That whole thing about 3-4, 4-3, to me it’s really about we’re a 3-4 structure, but we play four down and three down and we’re going to find ways to get our best players on the field,” Grantham said. “And we’re going to change every year relevant to the playmakers. Because defense is about winning your one-on-one matchups.
“There’s a certain identity that you need to play with to be good, which is really what we’re starting with our players right now is trying to find that identity to what we want to be, which is fast, physical and aggressive in our play.”
Like Dan Mullen and the other Florida coaches, Grantham has spent most of his time recruiting since he’s been at UF. Now that that’s over, he’s starting to get to know the players and gain an idea about the talent he’s going to be working with this spring.
One of the things he’s been doing is watching tape of all the returning defensive players.
“The (graduate assistants) basically made a 25-30 play tape of everybody that’s coming back and we kind of went through those tapes and preliminarily put guys in positions to see what best combinations of players give us a chance to win the game,” Grantham said. “We’re really in the early stages of it right now. It’s really about getting your best 11 players on the field at one time.
“You want to find ways to get your best players on the field and you want to always find ways to match them up so they can have success. Because the game is about matchups. It’s about tackling the guy with the ball. And how can we win our one-on-one matchups.”
In an attempt to identify those 11 best, Grantham said most of the defensive players will be trained on more than one position and asked to carry out multiple roles.
Senior Cece Jefferson, for instance, will play end and linebacker. Numerous defensive backs also will play a hybrid position where they have some outside linebacker responsibilities.
“We’re going to work to cross-train guys, so guys will play more than one position because with the way your defensive backs are and the way your outside ’backers are, you’re going to play multiple things,” Grantham said. “So, we’re going to teach guys to play multiple positions, cross-train those guys to put them in the best position to play, but also what combination of players gives us the best chance to play that game? That’s really the whole thing to me is how can we get our players in position to be successful with what we’re doing.”
Spring practice doesn’t open for another month, but Grantham said he’s already getting a feel for the kind of talent he’ll be working with.
At the moment the players are going through a physically and mentally demanding offseason conditioning program that consists of morning and afternoon workouts.
Those have been telling, Grantham said.
“I really like the way our players approach what we ask them to do,” he said. “We’re working hard to develop the identity that we need. We’re working hard to develop the habitual traits you need to be successful in this league. We’re not there yet, but we have the right mindset and the right attitude that will get us where we need to be.
“Athletically, I like the guys that we have. I think that we have pieces in place. We’ve just got to put them together. The biggest thing is I like the approach our guys take on a daily basis to try to do the things we’re asking them to do, because it’s not easy and it’s probably harder than it’s been on them in a while. And they’re doing it the right way.”
Once the players get on the field this spring, Grantham’s defense will be in full-attack mode.
Wherever he’s been, his defenses have been fast, aggressive and blitzing.
“Everybody says we like to blitz. We actually do pressure,” Grantham said. “My thought on that is the two things you have to do to play good defense. No. 1, you have to stop the run. Can’t have people run the ball on you.
“Then the next thing is you’ve got to make the quarterback play bad. So how do you make the quarterback play bad? That goes to disguise. That goes to jams and re-routes. That goes to what we term as pattern-match zone coverages, but it’s also pressuring the guy.
“At the end of the day, it’s how do you affect the run and not let other people effectively run the ball, and then how you get pressure and make the quarterback you’re playing against play bad.”
One of the key players in pressuring the quarterback figures to be Jefferson, who made the decision to return for his senior year rather than enter the NFL draft.
Jefferson has emerged as a team leader during the offseason strength and conditioning program, Grantham said.
“He’s a guy that’s really embraced everything we’ve done from that standpoint to want to be a complete player,” he said. “And what we’re going to do with him is just take it day by day and try to get a little bit better and try to work to let him be the best player he can be and be a dominant player on our team.”