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The force of Diaco’s defense

Aug 17, 2011, 5:13 PM EDT


There were plenty of interesting tidbits to come out of Media Day, but one article I found particularly interesting was written by Al Lesar of the South Bend Tribune.

In a question that was presumably asked to get defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to talk about the strength of the Irish defense — defensive tackles Sean Cwynar and Louis Nix, middle linebacker Manti Te’o, and safety Harrison Smith — Diaco revealed one of the fundamental beliefs in his defensive system: Force.

Before you think this is an homage to Star Wars, Diaco — a man prone to giving complex thoughts and answers to seemingly straight forward questions (just check out his fake Twitter account), really gave us a great look inside the defense he runs, all thanks to a question Lesar posed during media sessions.

Here’s the exact exchange (which you can watch here, thanks to Blue&Gold’s video feed.)

Lesar: In baseball they talk about defense up the middle. Catcher, second base, shortstop, centerfield, How about football? How important is that, and how are you guys? You’ve got some experience there.

Diaco: You know Al, that’s a great question. I really enjoy talking about things like that. I have an older, retired defensive coordinator who I’m very close with who is a world champion that was talking to me and it started out as force.

Whatever you do, whatever you put together, whatever ideas you’re entertaining, start with ‘force’ – that is, the edge of each defense.

“I don’t want to minimize up the middle, because that’s next, but it begins with ‘force.’ Who has ‘force?’ What’s the position like physically? Where are his eyes? Where is he aligned? Are we giving him an opportunity to win that individual matchup to create ‘force?’”

If you have force on each side, and up the middle defense related to nose, mike and in the middle of the field safety, you’re probably going to have a good defense.

Lesar: And where is your force coming from?

Diaco: It changes every call. We’ll rotate the players that are responsible for force. they understand they’re responsible for force. That’s where all the installation and lecture happens at the beginning of the meeting. It begins with force and changes with each call.

One of the first things I noticed when spending time with the Irish coaching staff last summer was the philosophic importance of force in the Irish defense. Everything starts with setting the edge of the defense. This is the bedrock for their unit.

Because of that, you can understand why it’s been so important for Brian Kelly and company to reload players on the edge of the defense, and do it with physically stout guys. The Irish are looking for people that fit a specific mold, and we’ve seen the fruits of this staff’s recruiting labor with mammoth prospects like Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, Ben Councell and Tony Springmann. Guys that profiled as defensive ends by recruiting analysts like Justin Utupo or Anthony Rabasa have been shifted to inside linebacker, a position where these guys fit in the schematic build of the Irish defense.

As I’ve noted before and Pete Thamel of the New York Times mentioned today, Kelly and his defensive staff have brought in seven players over 6-foot-5, an obvious reflection of the need to bring in big bodies and remedy a squad that was recruiting undersized players from the start.

While Irish fans have gotten themselves bent out of shape with a lack of recruiting at positions like defensive tackle, Diaco and Kelly’s strategy toward building the edges of the defense shows just how important force is in a defense like Notre Dame’s.


  1. Picked_Off - Aug 17, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    I’d really like to have a beer and talk about football with this guy. Would be a very, very interesting conversation.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Aug 17, 2011 at 6:37 PM

      Ha, I was thinking the same thing, this guy is strange. All I care about is results on the field from that Defense that seemingly can be a monster this year.

  2. bernhtp - Aug 18, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    I’ve heard a dozen Diaco interviews and must admit that I almost never understand what he’s talking about. The obscure metaphors and meandering talk often leave me mystified. But God bless him! He somehow reaches his players and gets them to play great ball and that’s all that really counts.

    Maybe the team’s ability to understand him vs. my inability reflects ND’s higher admission standards vs. 35 years ago.

  3. tlndma - Aug 18, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Anyone who has studied Hannibal’s plan at the battle of Cannae, would understand where Diaco is coming from. The Carthaginians killed over 50,000 Romans that day. Hopefully this strategy will be effective against Trojans and Spartans also.

    • tomasmarkham - Aug 18, 2011 at 1:43 PM

      Great analogy. Hannibal had deployed his forces based on the particular fighting qualities of each unit, taking into consideration both their strengths and weaknesses in devising his strategy.

      • tlndma - Aug 18, 2011 at 3:23 PM

        He also drove them back on their flanks and held the middle, thereby engulfing there forces.

  4. brendanunderscoreg - Aug 18, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    My god that fake Twitter account is brilliant.

    • joeschu - Aug 21, 2011 at 8:37 PM

      It truly is. Of course, you have to be an insane enough follower of the team and media around it to understand the humor, but the opening tweet, relative to characters and length, is classic, from a perspective of using humor as a vehicle in the way that it can achieve the ultimate goal of happiness…

  5. jerseyshorendfan1 - Aug 18, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    It’s great that we have the force, but it is also key that we have depth now which will keep our force fresh. Kelly said something the other day about the defensive depth allowing us to be able to come after teams for four quarters now, which really has me excited to see this D play this season. I don’t care if Diaco talks about scorpions, turtles or the Feng shui of the locker room if he can build on last season, we will all be happy campers. Can’t wait to see it! Can’t wait to give some grief to some Meatchicken fans I know (for a change).

  6. notredamegrad - Aug 23, 2011 at 9:30 AM

    I’m sorry to see that the @bdiaco parody twitter account has been shut down. Such a brief run; such brilliant comedy. That’s what got me through the weekend waiting to hear who the QB will be. #LearningByContrast #NotABattleAProcess #FigureItOutBobby

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