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The force of Diaco’s defense


There were plenty of interesting tidbits to come out of Media Day, but one article I found particularly interesting was written by Al Lesar of the South Bend Tribune.

In a question that was presumably asked to get defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to talk about the strength of the Irish defense -- defensive tackles Sean Cwynar and Louis Nix, middle linebacker Manti Te’o, and safety Harrison Smith -- Diaco revealed one of the fundamental beliefs in his defensive system: Force.

Before you think this is an homage to Star Wars, Diaco -- a man prone to giving complex thoughts and answers to seemingly straight forward questions (just check out his fake Twitter account), really gave us a great look inside the defense he runs, all thanks to a question Lesar posed during media sessions.

Here’s the exact exchange (which you can watch here, thanks to Blue&Gold’s video feed.)

Lesar: In baseball they talk about defense up the middle. Catcher, second base, shortstop, centerfield, How about football? How important is that, and how are you guys? You’ve got some experience there.

Diaco: You know Al, that’s a great question. I really enjoy talking about things like that. I have an older, retired defensive coordinator who I’m very close with who is a world champion that was talking to me and it started out as force.

Whatever you do, whatever you put together, whatever ideas you’re entertaining, start with ‘force’ - that is, the edge of each defense.

“I don’t want to minimize up the middle, because that’s next, but it begins with ‘force.’ Who has ‘force?’ What’s the position like physically? Where are his eyes? Where is he aligned? Are we giving him an opportunity to win that individual matchup to create ‘force?’”

If you have force on each side, and up the middle defense related to nose, mike and in the middle of the field safety, you’re probably going to have a good defense.

Lesar: And where is your force coming from?

Diaco: It changes every call. We’ll rotate the players that are responsible for force. they understand they’re responsible for force. That’s where all the installation and lecture happens at the beginning of the meeting. It begins with force and changes with each call.

One of the first things I noticed when spending time with the Irish coaching staff last summer was the philosophic importance of force in the Irish defense. Everything starts with setting the edge of the defense. This is the bedrock for their unit.

Because of that, you can understand why it’s been so important for Brian Kelly and company to reload players on the edge of the defense, and do it with physically stout guys. The Irish are looking for people that fit a specific mold, and we’ve seen the fruits of this staff’s recruiting labor with mammoth prospects like Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, Ben Councell and Tony Springmann. Guys that profiled as defensive ends by recruiting analysts like Justin Utupo or Anthony Rabasa have been shifted to inside linebacker, a position where these guys fit in the schematic build of the Irish defense.

As I’ve noted before and Pete Thamel of the New York Times mentioned today, Kelly and his defensive staff have brought in seven players over 6-foot-5, an obvious reflection of the need to bring in big bodies and remedy a squad that was recruiting undersized players from the start.

While Irish fans have gotten themselves bent out of shape with a lack of recruiting at positions like defensive tackle, Diaco and Kelly’s strategy toward building the edges of the defense shows just how important force is in a defense like Notre Dame’s.