The Longhorns' Spring game, as expected, sported a schematic Vanilla factor somewhere between this:
Even though the game didn't offer much more than 20 pages of the 5333 offensive playbook or see Strong and Bedford unleash anything particularly tricky against the QBs, there were still a few personnel deployments that offered intriguing possibilities. Probably my favorite involved @ChuckFnStrong's adopted Yautja son, Malik Jefferson. I referenced it in this grammatically tortured portion of the Spring Game review that featured a bonus mis-identification of Trenton Hafley:
Malik might not have logged 20 snaps in this one, but brought smiles when he stood up a pulling guard in the first half (and) had a moment in the second half that will hopefully typify his 2016 campaign. Split out on the inside receiver on trips and poised to kill the quick game, Malik flew inside on the draw play and lambasted a hapless Travis Haffley to force a punt.
The long-suffering acolytes of the #FreeMalik movement may have something to cheer for, as Anthony Wheeler's development as a functional between-the-tackles linebacker can allow Jefferson to get up to all sorts of nastiness. In the latter part of yesterday's second quarter, the first-team defense rolled out what was effectively a Dime look with Malik splitting out to cover the #3 (innermost) receiver against Trips looks. When your dime back goes 240 pounds and runs the 40 in under 4.5, you've got yourself a dirty, dirty Dime.
Here's a look at the alignment the first time they ran it:
Malik is floating out from the box towards the inside shoulder of the #3 receiver. Now the first thing you want to be sure of - especially after last season's enemy ground games left the Longhorn D looking like Ricardo Montalban at the end of The Naked Gun - is that you're sound against the run. At first glance you realize that five box defenders on five blockers can be trouble (particularly if the QB is a threat to run), and Malik could also have a lot of run/pass conflict on his plate if RPOs are on the menu. Here, the defense is doing a good job of addressing those concerns with alignment and assignment:
The strongside end spot - manned in this instance by Charles "The Omen" Omenihu - is attacking the tackle's outside shoulder to occupy the field-side C gap. He'll be in a good position to string the play out and give Malik time to get to the party without forcing him to immediately bite in on run action. The NT goes hard into the field-side A gap to penetrate or draw a double team while the DT uses his quickness to get across the guard's face into opposite A gap. The weakside end/Fox can go head up on the OT and play a poor man's two-gap, knowing he should have a free defender to help on either side. The Mike linebacker's got the field-side B gap but can flow anywhere in the box, and the SS is free to fly down into the boundary-side C/alley.
Here's how the play unfolded:
The Omen was extra free to occupy the C gap since he was left unblocked on a Zone Read, but he's in prime position to string the QB out on a keep. Malik has eyes inside, but as the QB and RB reach the mesh point he hasn't had to cheat in to open up an RPO throw. Both tackles are fighting double teams...
..and while the NT got moved a bit and the left tackle eventually got to climb, the field side cutback was dead thanks to Omenihu and the DT/WDE made a sufficient mess that Wheeler had a free run at the ball carrier.
The first-team D ran that look again again later in the quarter:
As the O was facing third and long, the alignment shifted to bring the strong safety over to the passing threat side:
The strong safety set up shop over the #3 receiver with the free safety playing centerfield. The D wasn't as concerned about a true five-on-five in the box given the down and distance...and the Malik Factor.
Five on five meant the Center got loose to get on Wheeler, but Malik and his sub-4.5 wheels were hanging out..
....and flew inside to hold the play to five yards while brutalizing poor Trenton Hafley.
Both time the defense ran this look they got a run call, but the really fun part of this package is the amount of coverage variety you can get up to. After a season of having their calls seriously limited by personnel limitations, Mixmasters Strong and Bedford can start changing things up and dropping funky beats.
Facing an opponent with burners on the outside who likes to shoot up the sidelines? Drop into a straight Cover Three:
With the length and cover skills that Hill and Davis bring to the table, you can also man the outside receivers, play 2-Read rules on the #2 and #3 Trips receivers with the Nickel and Free Safety while Malik walls off any inside crossing routes and the SS and Mike banjo the RB and get ready to cut any crossers:
Or even man everything with the free safety playing a deep half to help on the deepest of #2 and #3 while the strong safety comes up to either blitz or rob underneath the boundary-side #1:
And finally, when you've got the offense behind the chains there's nothing wrong with a little good old-fashioned Man Free with Malik bringing the heat:
While the 2016 Longhorn defense should be much improved in the back seven (we've got actual sophomores now,) likely limitations up front and at one or both safety spots will put the onus on Strong and Bedford to do some creative problem-solving in order to take the fight to opposing O's. That means leaning on your difference-makers, and Malik may be the ideal weapon for turning the table on Trips looks and letting the Texas D get nasty.