Gators defensive coordinator’s scheme plays to player’s strength

Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon
Randy Shannon, Florida's defensive coordinator, talks with reporters Wednesday during the annual football media days at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

Randy Shannon was promoted to Florida defensive coordinator last January based on his unit’s smothering effort in a 30-3 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
But the 51-year-old Shannon has been around long enough to know that players make the scheme work.
“You’ve got to find a way to find out what your talent is on defense,” Shannon said. “What we did in the bowl game probably won’t be the same what we do in this upcoming season because it’s different talent on the defense.”
Shannon said his goal each season is to devise an instinctive scheme that plays to the strengths of his players. When Shannon was last defensive coordinator at Miami from 2001-06, his defenses finished in the top 10 nationally in five of six seasons.
“You always have to have guys playing fast,” Shannon said. “If guys can play fast without thinking a lot, then you’re going to be very successful, and that’s the whole thing we’re doing as a defensive staff is trying to find what can we call so the guys will not have to think, that they can just fly around and have fun, but play fast.”
Certainly, Shannon will face some challenges in guiding a Florida defense that lost seven starters, all of whom were picked in the NFL draft. Two weeks ago, UF’s defense suffered another blow when returning starting safety Marcell Harris suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon during preseason conditioning drills.
But Florida still returns some talent and experience, led by senior cornerback Duke Dawson, junior defensive lineman Cece Jefferson, redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga and sophomore defensive back Chauncey Gardner Jr. With starting safeties Marcus Maye and Nick Washington out for the bowl game, Gardner earned Outback Bowl MVP honors with two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
“Experience-wise, probably age, like being seniors and fifth-year seniors, we’re very young,” Shannon said. “But like anything else, those guys accepted that we’re not going to have an excuse just because we’re young for our age-wise but we still play football at the University of Florida. So we’re taking that approach, and those guys are really taking that approach.”
Gardner said he enjoys playing for Shannon, who replaced former defensive coordinator Geoff Collins last December when Collins was hired as head coach at Temple.
“There’s not much difference, not much falloff because they’re both great coaches,” Gardner said. “Coach Collins is one of those guys that had a lot of hype around him. Coach Shannon is more relaxed but when he gets going, he gets going …
“He’s like a dad to us. He makes sure we were on time. He makes sure if you need something, if anything bothers you, you get treatment. He makes sure every little thing is important to you so you know it going into the game.”
Shannon said he doesn’t have a set philosophy on whether to bring more pressure or drop back more players in coverage on defense. Again, Shannon said, it comes down to personnel. As defensive coordinator at Miami, Shannon said he once blitzed Virginia Tech on his first 18 calls.
“By us doing that at that particular time, we got a lot of negative plays,” Shannon said. “Well, that’s because we had real good corners …
“We’ll run some defenses in practice. We’ll run different fronts, different coverages, and then when that’s all said and done, when it gets about maybe that 10-day period out, then we’ve got to say, OK, what can we do as a defense where those guys can fly around. Who’s our best 11 guys that can help us get to where we need to be at, and then that’s when we’ll decide on what we can do.”
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