This was a rough year for defensive coordinators, so we have to break down our review into two parts. Yes, we're going to talk about Corwin Brown, ND fans. Just not yet.
Nick Saban/Kevin Steele, Alabama. Saban? Nick Saban?
Well, we can only do the best with the time we're given. And that time will be approximately 2.3 seconds per play for opposing quarterbacks, give or take a few nanoseconds. Nick Saban earned dual degrees in sleep deprivation and defense under Bill Belichick, so expect a base 3-4ish defense with multiple looks, linebackers doubling as rush ends, rush ends dropping into coverages, blitzing safeties dropping from the Goodyear Blimp over the stadium...anything and everything short of the "Gritz Blitz," really.
The switch to a 3-4 became sadly necessary when Lord Sauron--er, Saban cast a fiery eye on his defensive line and realized he had no defensive tackles.
(Gracias, Senor Shula!) Starting nose guard Keith Brian Motley came over from the offense, never a great sign even if Motley was named most improved player at the conclusion of spring practice. Nevertheless, Saban's defenses rarely give up more than 20 in a game--ever.
Kevin Steele's the nominal defensive coordinator, and that's not a bad thing. It's a pleasant luxury to be able to hire a head coach as your defensive coordinator, as Steele was formally at Baylor from 1999-2002 and was informally at Florida State from 2003-2006. Saban's first and foremost a defensive coach, and will hold generous sway over the defensive game plan. Steele will likely keep a particularly close look on linebackers, a position he coached at Nebraska in the 1990s and FSU in the 2000s, a time of great doom and sadness for offenses throughout the conferences. Think of him as Saruman to Saban's Sauron.
Steve Brown, Kentucky.
Kentucky defensive coordinator Mike Archer left over the offseason to take the job at NC State with new coach Tom O'Brien. The move left Kentucky in the lurch, since replacing a man who led the Kentucky defense to 118th out of 119 in the nation is no easy task. We'd use the word "funereal" to describe Kentucky's defense if not for their 8-5 record last year and stunning (no exaggeration there) 28-20 victory over Clemson in the Music City Bowl.
With Archer gone, the Arenaball approach should subside somewhat. They'll still be bad to mediocre, but mediocre would mean superb given their performance last year, summarized in a single, agonizing sentence:
The Wildcats defense allowed 14 touchdowns on plays from 20 yards or further and 11 from 30 yards or more.
Go deep--no one's back there, man. Kentucky did play better defense as the year went on, and Brown's a youngish internal hire with ambition to burn and a good record of coaching secondaries in the pros, leading us to think Kentucky will focus on getting turnovers via interceptions and gambling a bit since that's precisely what the Rams teams Brown helped coach in the NFL did. This only works if your offense throws out points in gouts, which Kentucky can do with Andre Woodson, Rafael Little, and an undervalued receiving corps on the O squad.
He also has a mustache, which is nice.
Scott Shafer, Stanford.
JIM HARBAUGH FEARS NO MAN!!! He'll fight you right now if you want, Shirley Skirtflower. You'll be picking up your teeth off the ground, son, because if there's one thing you should think of when you think of Stanford, it's pure, distilled tough, son. And most definitely not grade inflation, Nobel-prize winning economists, a deranged mascot, or Tiger Woods.
A. Michael Spence would like you to know that he will kick your ass with his Nobel-winning foot. Don't mess with Stanford or his impressive understanding of dynamic information flows and markets, bitch.
Anyway, Harbaugh has a new defensive coordinator. He bows to no man, either, though he might consider bowing to the queen if she agrees to arm wrestle him first: Steve Shafer, former DC at Western Michigan. Shafer specializes in revitalizing runty upstart defenses, having built thorny schemes at mighty mites NIU and Western Michigan. Like Kentucky's Brown, he's another youngish hire with a thing for coaching the secondary; unlike Brown, he's got scads more experience and has reconstructed moribund defenses from scratch that go on to frustrate serious offenses.
Jim Harbaugh thinks Steve Shafer is a hell of a hire. And if you don't, you're in for another dose of Harbaugh Fist Massage, delivered one stunning punch at a time. Don't bother to tip him when he's done--your pain is enough of a gratuity, chump.
Craig Bray, Arizona State.
Status: Retread. When you think defensive excellence, would you select someone associated primarily with Dennis Erickson and John L. Smith. Of course you would. We may have jumped the gun on this hypothetical, leaving out one small detail: you have a brain tumor while making this decision.
Bray is firmly ensconced in Dennis Erickson's buddy network--they're on each other's Google chat, BFF'ing it up with emoticons and shit--and thank God for that. Bray's coming off a lugubrious year at Minnesota, including the bowl game China Syndrome meltdown against Texas Tech where his Minnesota secondary helpfully waved through onrushing Texas Tech receivers as the Red Raiders overcame a four touchdown deficit to beat Minnesota 44-41 in the 2006 Insight Bowl.
Lest you forget, someone's set the whole thing to music--really shitty music. Even that can't spoil the beauty of Mike Leach's offense going supernova and destroying entire galaxies.
You have to love a highlight video that starts when your team is down 28-0. To be fair, Leach's teams just do that every now and then, and Minnesota's malaise wasn't just on defense. Bray's got some nice resume points: coached the Colorado Buffaloes defenses to back-to-back Big 12 North championships under Gary Barnett, was on the Oregon State defensive staff that helped annihilate another return to greatness for Notre Dame in 2001 in the 41-9 Fiesta Bowl.
Then again, his Colorado defense could have lost by a hundred to Texas, who mercifully stopped at 70 in the Big 12 title game. He's a bit of an old boy hire, but not an atrocious one considering the possibilities. He won't reap the windfall you might expect him to as an incoming defensive coach at Arizona State--ASU ranked 51st in the nation in total defense and stood squarely in the middle of the Pac-10 in terms of defensive quality. Holding serve will likely do little to help ASU's chances in year one.