Virginia begins spring practices today, and the Cavaliers do so with an almost entirely new staff, new philosophies, and are in search of a new quarterback. There is a lot of work to be done to get to the postseason, but there is also a sense of confidence within the program that Mike London is the right guy to get it done. Defensive coordinator Jim Reid was kind enough to answer a few questions about how the staff is approaching this spring, and what they’re looking for from the defense.
Here are the highlights of our conversation:
Regarding your approach to turning things around at Virginia, is it overwhelming, or are you confident you have a game plan? What’s your take on the approach as to how to get things going again?
Jim Reid: You see there’s a big advantage because coach London was here. He’s leading the way on all of this. Really, anybody that was with the program has a lot of respect for coach Groh. What we’re doing here is trying to get back to some of the core beliefs Mike London had and I recognized when he was a young coach. I was head coach at University of Richmond and he was on my staff. The guy was marvelous. He coached the players in every phase of their lives. He coached them on the field, certainly, and watched out for them. I have a great respect for him because of his closeness with them and their academics, and keeping abreast of what they were doing in class. He established a great tutoring program there at Richmond and was the lead player in that. The other quality that you immediately recognize is what a great recruiter he is. He’s sincere and honest not only in his approach but in how he follows through as the players matriculate to where he’s trying to get them. I trusted him, the players trusted him, and his approach to everything is so sincere with follow-thought that you can’t help but trust him, because what he says is what he does.
The game plan is very simple. That is to gain the trust of the players by showing them that you sincerely care about everything they do and help them grow in every phase of their lives -- academics, socially, and certainly in leadership and in football, and recruit the best players you possibly can. Show them what you’ve already done here, and that you’re sincere in everything you say. And then to put it all together.
How difficult is it to get a grasp on the personnel and find the right people to fit in the schemes you guys want to do?
JR: That’s a great question. A lot of people don’t realize 3-4 teams have different qualities -- speed, size and quickness -- than 4-3 teams. We haven’t been able to really judge up close and personal because we’re not in spring football yet how far we can go in the direction coach London wants to go in. It’s a tough question to ask, but it’s a very good pertinent question. Going through spring football, I’m not so sure that we want to discount all of the great teaching that was done in a 3-4 defense. In years prior to this we had to start moving towards a little bit quicker scheme, faster scheme that coach London wants to go to. Some of the players have lost a little weight to get a little faster. That is going to be a little bit of a work in progress. The one thing I can tell you is that the players are working extremely hard, running around like their hair is on fire. You can’t ask any more from our strength coach, who is doing a terrific job. We just have to wait and see how they run and how quickly they can grasp some of the concepts we’re going to put out there for them.
What’s the difference in players you recruit for a 3-4 vs. 4-3?
JR: They’re usually a little bigger in the 3-4 because you have the two-gap. They’re bigger, they’re heavier, they don’t have to move as well. But they have to be strong and cover on both sides of the people they line up on. And the secondary is about the same. The linebackers, inside linebackers, are usually bigger guys who have to come downfield and take guys off double teams. They have to be able to take a good solid gap and punch, and in the 4-3, some teams are up the field a little bit, a little quicker up front, a little smaller. The linebackers are a little smaller. In some of these 4-3 schemes they’re playing linebackers with big high school tailbacks who could run extremely well.
What’s London’s vision for the defense and type of players you’ll recruit?
JR: Right now coach London’s vision is to get the good, fast, elite athlete who can get from one place to another in a hurry, attack the quarterback, intercept the ball, and like everyone is trying to do, win on the defensive side.