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The Art of Taking Up Space

No, this is not an autobiography.

It's about Ben Alexander, and everything that he isn't. Namely, he isn't good. This is an essay on why he doesn't have to be.

In 2004 we had a new defensive coordinator with a clear, defined vision of what he wanted out of his Sam LB. His choice to man the spot was Eric Hall. In my one legitimate inside baseball moment, I got to ask a player on that team why he started. I was told that he was "the best at doing what they want."

So here is my issue with Greg Robinson. If the best guy on the team to fill your position is Eric Hall, then change the fucking position. Hall might've been better than a one-legged Garnet Smith, but was he better than a whatever safety would've taken that spot in a 5 DB scheme? No. When it comes to defense, you don't need a certain position to be good, you just need A position to be good. You can build around it, whatever it happens to be. The biggest challenge is avoiding weakness (which can lead to OU running 19 of 20 plays directly and unapologetically at your sore thumb).

Alexander is replacing Roy Miller, and you don't need me to tell you who good he was. Miller had two jobs -- take up two blockers, then beat them anyway. That last part is a luxury that we can do without, so long as the ends and blitz schemes take up the slack.

That's not to say it will be easy. Last year between OU and the Fiesta Bowl, we completely lost Sergio Kindle as a pass rusher. Teams adjusted to his lack of moves, or he got tired, or something, and Miller was the one who covered that lack of production. It's a huge burden lifted when you've got Roy Milleresque talent.

Kindle will be better this year. He's bigger and more diversified. But will he be so good that we can survive on essentially a three man rush? Alexander can be a plugger, but he will never be a pass rusher. None of the LBs are really accomplished blitzers, either, outside of maybe Rodderick Muckelroy. On a good day. Against Rice.

The other question is the big one. Can Alexander demand a double team? Against one player, it's easy enough to keep good leverage and technique. These things he has. But to do that for 70 plays for 14 weeks with peak effort every time is not. Maybe Kheeston Randall can spell him, maybe Jarvis Humphrey will recover from space ebola, and maybe Derrick Johnson wasn't taught by a janitor looking to put a few extra bucks on his paycheck.

Or maybe not.

Taking up space is simultaneously one of the hardest and easiest things to do. One one hand, it requires no inate talent beyond a relatively healthy size and strength. As a 7th year senior, he should have that. On the other, it is as exact a science as you could possible imagine, making MMA grappling look like drunk fraternity dry humping. Or, even more like drunk fraternity dry-humping.

First, you have to recognize the blocking scheme in the span of about half a second. This part is actually easier than it sounds. There are only so many combinations, and only so many reactions you can have.

The important part is step two -- once you've found your gap, you need to stay in it. You need to recognize who is trying to block you and how, and then adjust your body to keep your shoulder underneath theirs, giving you the leverage to claim your stake in the dirt and push off and pursue if necessary. The thought of Alexander pursuing anybody is a bit outlandish, but let's run with it. Mmm. That's award winning punsmanship right there.

Anyway, that is way harder than it sounds, only because it happens so fast and requires such a huge amount of energy, like trying to hump a rhino. Or whatever. We won't be able to know how good anyone is at this until we see them do it, so, just like you would at the cusp of the rhino cage, jsut hold your breath and jump in.

Finally, there is splitting double teams and making plays. I feel like it's safe to just write this off. That means that Sergio, Okafor, Acho, and everybody else has to pick up that slack. It also means that when the one game comes where the ends cannot get to the QB (say . . . Tech) it'll be up to Muschamp to manufacture a rush. He can do that, but hopefully he won't have to. We have the best man coverage in the country, but even the best need some time limit to a play before guys start running open all over the place (say . . . Tech).

So that's the battle. Can Alexander (or whomever) be good enough? Can he hold down the fort long enough for the cavalry to come in? Can he fuck a rhino?