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Scheme personnel, not schemes

Join Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Stephen from Tallahassee, FL:
What defenses today would you say fit the description of we dictate to you what we want you to do? Do you think the Jags have hope of getting there on defense this season?

Vic: The Pittsburgh and Baltimore defenses did that last season. The Pittsburgh defense literally scared Arizona into a conservative game plan in the Super Bowl, just as it scared Mike Holmgren away from trying to run the ball in the Super Bowl three years earlier. Any defense, whether it's a 3-4, 4-3 or whatever, will dictate to an offense if that defense is especially dominant in one phase or another. Baltimore opponents totaled the fewest rushing attempts of any team's opponents in the league last season. The reason is obvious: The power of the Ravens run-defense dictates that you throw the ball. The Pittsburgh defense was most feared for its big-play potential, which was evidenced by James Harrison's interception and touchdown return in the Super Bowl and Troy Polamalu's in the AFC title game. As a result, Pittsburgh opponents tend to throw a lot of quick, short passes in an attempt to avoid sacks and interceptions. There was a time, in 2005 and '06, that the Jaguars had a defense that was so strong against the run that it dictated that opponents throw the ball more often. I know Jack Del Rio would like to get back to that kind of defense, but that's not my expectation for this season.

Steve from Stevensville, MD:
Every play on offense is designed to score a touchdown. Every play on defense is designed to stop the offense from getting a yard. If you don't have the players to do it, neither will happen. Why don't people get that?

Vic: If plays get the credit for succeeding on offense, then shouldn't plays get the blame for failing on defense?

Brendon from Monterey, CA:
How much of that "burns a hole in our pockets" free-agent spending has to do with a relentlessly rising salary cap floor? It seems like some teams are entering every new season in a position where they are forced to spend money. Obviously, that doesn't mean you have to throw money at questionable free agents, but I can understand taking some gambles when the alternative of not spending money isn't on the table.

Vic: Yes, the minimum is forcing teams to spend themselves into red ink, but that's not what drove the Jaguars to spend big in free agency a year ago. The Jaguars spent big because they thought they were just a few players away. It's a popular theme. Another factor that has stimulated teams to spend carelessly in free agency is that the draft comes after the start of free agency, which the players union has to love. Teams fear that they won't be able to get a safety in the draft, so they over-spend for some worn out old guy in free agency, only to find the young safety they need is available to them in the third round of the draft. The teams with the most holes in their pockets usually aren't teams with worries about getting to the minimum. They're just teams that can't avoid falling into the trap. The intoxicant of winning or the fear of losing overwhelms them.

Chris from Palatka, FL:
So what are you saying, Vic, that David didn't look sharp this spring? I thought it was said that with the depth and talent back on the offensive line he'd show signs of that 2007 form. What gives?

Vic: Rebuilding is what gives. David Garrard's wide receiver corps has been rebuilt. He has to get on the proverbial same page with players he hadn't met until mini-camp. At times in practice, we'd see a stunning example of what the offense can be. We'd see Garrard hit a receiver in stride down the field and it would be followed by oohs and aahs. The problem is that the ball hit the ground more often than a quarterback or offensive coordinator would like. Improvement is the solution. Were you expecting perfection? Come on, the Jaguars could have as many as six or seven rookies playing significant roles on offense this season.

John from St. Augustine, FL:
Given that it's players not plays, would you agree that coaching genius is defined by the ability to create mismatches? Are there any coaches out there who don't deserve the accolades they receive for being genius? Any that should be recognized more than they are?

Vic: In my opinion, the genius is in scheming personnel, not scheming schemes, but fans and media tend to praise the coaches who scheme schemes, not personnel, largely because scheming personnel is much more difficult to detect. I like coaches who are talent evaluators. I like coaches who can dissect a tape, see where their team will have a personnel advantage and then exploit that advantage. Anybody can draw X's and O's on a blackboard. Good coaches see people, not X's and O's.

Mike from St. Mary's, GA:
Do you think it's a little paranoid for teams to have closed practices? The Steelers haven't needed them and they certainly haven't been hurting.

Vic: Coaches are paranoid. It's just that simple. They don't trust the media. If the Rooneys weren't adamant about practices being open to the media, the Steelers would've closed practices long ago. The Rooneys' belief in transparency goes all the way back to their patriarch's relationship with sportswriters. It's just old-school stuff. They like the relationship they have with the media that covers them and they don't want it to change. I think the Rooneys also like the notion of the media serving as a watchdog at practice. You know, sometimes coaches can do things they shouldn't be doing. Back in the late '70's, Chuck Noll closed practice for mini-camp because he wanted to put the little shoulder pads on his players, which is against NFL rules. Chuck believed players needed to wear some kind of protection on their shoulders to avoid injury. Even though practice was closed, use of the shoulder pads was detected and reported. It cost the Steelers a third-round draft pick. The Rooneys might tell you that's the kind of stuff that happens when you close practices. When they interview candidates to be head coach, one of their prime questions is: Would you close practice to the media? I think it's understood that the answer should be no, but that hasn't stopped their coaches from trying to shut them down after they've achieved some success and esteem. They're coaches. They can't help themselves.

Cory from Valencia, CA:
The Jags have not done much to improve their defense, other than improving the offense to keep the defense from being on the field so much. Is there anything that tells us we shouldn't be extremely worried about the defense?

Vic: What will that accomplish? Relax and enjoy the transformation we almost certainly will witness this season. This is the best part of being a football fan; watching a team grow.

Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
How many thin-legged players did Gene Smith draft?

Vic: Gene is big on hip drive for linemen. After he drafted Eugene Monroe, one of the first things Gene said to me was that Monroe has powerful hips, which would indicate that he can be an effective run-blocker. I think he said it to me three or four times. It was as though he was reading my mind and was determined to beat me to the punch. Thin legs are fine for receivers, but you want your linemen to be heavy in the pants. You pass-block with your hands and feet, but you run-block with your hips and legs. With that, my butt is out of here. The next "Ask Vic" will appear on Thursday, July 2.

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