EUGENE, Ore. -- New Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke will be a “walk-around coordinator” this spring, observing each position group and each player, evaluating everyone with a fresh set of eyes.
Or, since it’s Hoke, he might spend a fair amount of time this spring with his eyes closed, evaluating every player with a fresh set of ears.
“You’ve got to hear football,” Hoke said. “You’ve got to be out there and hear it. ... I think that’s a metric that’s measurable.”
It’s a grading system that Hoke has used since he started coaching and one that he believes has worked at every one of his stops. As a head coach at Michigan he often threw this term out, saying that during his first spring with the Wolverines he wasn’t hearing football being played.
“I think that was one of the things he told us on day one -- that he shouldn’t even have to watch practice,” former Michigan safety and current Kansas City Chiefs safety Jordan Kovacs said. “He should just be able to close his eyes, turn the other way and he’d know if we had a good practice just by the sound. That’s about guys hitting each other. It’s about guys communicating. There are so many things that you can hear in practice if you’re just listening as a spectator.”
“He liked to hear football, hear the pads hitting, hear the guys getting after it,” former Michigan linebacker and current Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brennen Beyer added. “It’s a good way to measure how intense you guys are going and how hard you’re hitting.”
Soon enough Hoke began hearing football in practices and he saw the results on the field.
In Hoke’s first season at Michigan, the Wolverines went from allowing 451 yards per game to 322. In 2010 they had given up 57 touchdowns. In 2011 they gave up just 27.
Most importantly, Hoke emphasized to his players, he wanted to hear football on third downs. Michigan allowed opponents to convert on 43 percent of third-down attempts in 2010 and just 36 percent in 2011. More impressively, the Wolverines’ red-zone third-down defense became incredibly stout -- in 2010 opponents converted 55 percent of their third-down attempts in the red zone; in 2011 they converted just 37.5 percent.
Michigan players said the physicality of their practices increased overnight. They rarely practiced in shells.
“We hit every single day,” former Michigan defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said. “[We did] different drills that maybe you wouldn’t run every week because of the contact that’s involved but we did them every week. Sometimes we did them three days a week, all the way up until game day.”
Hoke putting his expectations for his defense on something that could be measured, rather than just saying it was good or bad, was something that players said was a major help. They didn’t just want to stop the ball, they wanted to make sure that opposing players and coaches heard them stop the ball. They didn’t just want to communicate, they wanted to overcommunicate so that coaches on the sideline could hear them.
Considering missed tackles and miscommunications were two of the biggest issues for the Ducks defense a season ago, this seems like it could be the kind of road map they need.
And if those kind of issues continue to exist, Oregon players can be sure that then they’ll be getting earfuls from Hoke.