Dave Aranda is tinkering with his defense again, a talented unit that has had a fluid scheme during his four years as defensive coordinator at LSU.
The 42-year-old Aranda has never coached at any school for more than three years, and he said the long tenure has both good and bad consequences on the field.
The $2.5 million assistant nicknamed "The Professor" spoke for about 20 minutes with reporters Monday evening during the final stop of the LSU Coaches Caravan in Metairie, and Aranda covered topics from how he's looking to use the plethora of defensive backs at his disposal to how inside linebacker Michael Divinity will be best used to fill the spot left vacant by the Dick Butkus Award-winning Devin White.
Here is a collection of the transcript from Aranda's interview:
Initial thoughts about the team this summer?
There's some dynamic players at the second level, whether it's Grant Delpit from the safety coming down, JaCoby Stevens, K'Lavon Chaisson... You know, we've got guys on the perimeter that can make plays sideline to sideline, can blitz, can cover, and guys that need to be isolated (on) pass rush one-on-ones that can win on running backs, that can win on O-linemen on the interior, as well as offensive tackle pass sets. So, I feel like the talent that's inherit there, I think we can move around and use and I'm excited about that. It's been a while since (we've had) that. We’ve had a few guys out. We've played quite a bit of football, whether it's spring or winter, and to get guys back where they're healthy and you can have your full assortment of guys, I'm looking forward to that. We've been building to the time we've got everybody back and we can use them.
Joe Brady waited patiently, recorder in hand, then stepped forward when Steve Ensminger finished answering a reporter's question.
How much did you miss K’Lavon, and how big was it getting him back?
K'Lavon's very smart. He loves football. He's obviously very talented. There's a fair amount of quick twitch in him and explosiveness with him. He's hooked up right. There's things he just gets. There's things that come easy to him. Now he works really hard for the things he gets. Whereas before, without K'Lavon, we'd have to work really hard to get something just right and maybe depending on the day or depending upon the width of that outside linebacker stunting inside, or maybe his footwork or his stance wasn't just so and we have to try and get that right, we have to really be right on target to get where we want to get to. Whereas with K’Lavon, as long as he's doing it, it's probably going to be OK. So that's the difference. The more when that's the case, the more that we can free him up to rush and not have him drop, the better we'll be.
Ed Orgeron leaned back in his chair and smiled.
Is Michael Divinity going to move around the field or stay at inside linebacker?
We've got him at inside linebacker now, and when we get to third down, he'll play some on the line of scrimmage. But from the middle linebacker spot, though, that Mack linebacker spot, we'll have him on the line of scrimmage at times, creating Bear looks, whether it's over the guard, over the center, or on the edge of the tackle. It's a fair amount of creepers or simulated pressure to him: running through interior gaps, and so I think his physicality in most situations will be good for us, and Mike's a smart kid, man. He gets football. He's a great communicator. He's confident. He is able to take charge and when things are going tough, he's able to be tough. And so I appreciate that about him, and I think the guys have really responded to him well. From one scrimmage where he wasn't at the Mack until we moved him, and the very next couple of scrimmages, it was just (a) night and day difference from just the energy and how he responded to adversity. I credit Mike with that. What was — I wouldn't say a limitation — but what was kind of a 'Where do we play him? Is he best outside? Well, he does some good things inside.' We're trying to make that a strength now and really feature that, and I think he'll benefit from it.
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Do you still see Grant playing more deep safety, or do you see him playing more along the line of scrimmage?
We want to be able to build him toward the line of scrimmage. I think he has the ability to instinctively make plays when there's edges set... I feel like our ability to put him in those spots, in critical spots when we're expecting run, is the smart thing to do. He has shown the ability to play the deep middle and have great range, so we want to be selective when it comes to those times. The question always with Grant is he does everything well, and so I think it really comes down to when we are in run-defense mode, we want edges, stuff blown up in the interior and gaps filled where Grant can play alley-to-alley. And then when we're expecting pass and it's passing situations, there's a lot of merit to Grant rushing; but if he isn't rushing, there's a lot of merit to having him in the middle of the field. And so his ability to do both and move around I think will feature him, and I think will show his value. I look at this year's group, whether it's K'Lavon or it's Mike Divinity or it's JaCoby Stevens or it's Grant Delpit, there's a bunch of guys that do a lot of things individually really well. And it's our task to take those things and blend that into a defense. I think that's the challenge in the offseason, is to try and find roles for all these guys and build it where it can be a collective group.
If they had been charging admission to the LSU Coaches Caravan stop at the Metairie Walk-On’s restaurant Monday, it would have been new passin…
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Does that approach offer more freedom?
It does. It's exciting to think like that. And I've talked to the guys about it. I think front-wise, we're letting the front go more than it's done. They're on edges more. They're attacking the line of scrimmage more. And so I've talked to Breiden Fehoko and Rashard Lawrence about that. They've asked for that for a while. And I know Coach O's excited about that. I think we've got some guys that do some things really well. We're putting it in their hands, putting them in those situations. So I'm excited about it. I know they are. But you know, when your creativity and your schematics are built from the players, from that standpoint, I think that's always the way to go.
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You've mentioned the "quarters" position. (Grant Delpit once played it, and JaCoby Stevens is now playing there). What is that? And how does Stevens fit there?
It's a glorified linebacker. It gives him the ability to play low. It gives him the ability to play man-to-man on tight ends. Gives him the ability to rush off the edge. And so, all of those things he does very well. JaCoby is very smart. Very intelligent. Understands football. He knows all of our adjustments. He knows the ins and outs of the defense. (Safeties) coach (Bill) Busch does a great job with him in terms of educating him on what to expect formation tendencies and that. His ability to call out plays, (his) pre-snap awareness, is very high. So having JaCoby on the field is an absolute plus for us. Putting him in a situation where he can be successful rushing off the edge and covering tight ends man-to-man, we want to build off of that. He's going to be playing some Dime. Some stack linebacker. Where he can blitz and play zone coverage now. And so, I think we'll continue to build and highlight him and put him in spots where he can really excel.
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When did you start using "quarters" in your defenses?
Last year. And I think it's the abundance of safeties that are athletic that can run and hit and cover that have the instinct to play low. It kind of started with Grant, and then JaCoby kinda came on and took a liking to it, and so I think both of those guys can play that position really well. We're getting another one in (true freshman) Marcel (Brooks), and so we're continuing to add to that position. It tests the creativity to find ways where we can play a lot of those guys at the same time, because there's things that those down-low safeties can do really good, (and) there's things you don't want to ask them to do, where it might be a bad match-up, and so you have to kind of get it on your terms as best you can.
Perched on top of a weight rack, the automatic camera whirred downward, aiming directly at a man steadily pushing out bench-press repetitions.
You've never coached anywhere for four years. Are you curious about what your fourth year at LSU will be like?
I had (Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator) Bob Diaco come and visit. We had a bunch of coaches come and visit. So, Coach Diaco came. He’s at La Tech now. We were talking 3-4 defense. It was a great afternoon, just talking ball like that. He said something like, ‘Dave, man, there's a lot of tape on you.' And I agree with him. I think there's a good spin on that, and there's a bad spin on that. We have to be able to take the good and build off of it, and the things that are bad, in terms of the strong tendencies, we can kind of use what we're talking about over here or use the unique circumstances of our players, use the positive things they can do well and build defenses off of that, which is now going to curtail some of those tendencies that have been in the past. I think that's important. Looking at the Big Ten, (it's) such a developmental league, at least when I was there. It was a developmental league to where guys were redshirted, guys were brought along, they were having senior years and all these other things. So if you defended Iowa, Iowa's running the stretch, they're running the boot off the stretch. Everybody knew what they were going to run, and it was a matter of defending them. Anybody who played Wisconsin, they're going to run power, or they're going to run power-pass. That is so not like the SEC. Where the SEC is so much: 'If you are in this defense, we are calling this play for that defense.' So it was the exact opposite. Whereas in the Big Ten it was 'We don't care what you're in. Our guy is going to block your guy.' Or 'We're going to out execute you.' There's not so much of that in this league. I've always been a believer in 'You’ve got to beat us. You may know what we're in, but we're going to out execute you.' And I think I still believe that, but I am bending to doing more having more adjustments and more checks that are possible, and I think it stems from what our players can do.
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