Virginia Defensive Reset Underway With John Rudzinski

Defensive coordinator John Rudzinski works at Virginia practice. ~ Photo courtesy of Jim Daves/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Just add water. No assembly required. Set it and forget it. There’s no shortage of quick solution offerings in the world today. That convenience can be quite helpful in many situations. Resetting the defense for the Virginia football team, however, isn’t one of them.

Much of spring practice for the Hoos has taken on the opposite approach. New defensive coordinator John Rudzinski has focused on laying the foundation, outlining the principles, and repeatedly reworking the basics. The goal has not been to instantly put a pristine product on the field just a few days into the new coaching staff’s tenure.

So far, he said he has been pleased with how players have treated the undertaking while acknowledging there is a long ways to go. That applies both to the literal calendar – kickoff isn’t until Sept. 3 – and to the metaphorical growth curve.

“There’s a bunch of guys that are workers, that enjoy the process,” Rudzinski said. “I think they’ve shown it by the way that they’ve worked and understanding that there’s a consistency to the way we all work. If we’re going to be good professionally, if we’re going to be good here in this game, we’ve got to stack days on top of each other. Frankly, it’s not going to be the snap of the fingers or not going to be something we put in the microwave and it’s done. It’s something that we’re going to have to put in the oven, put it on slow roast, and see if we can’t really, really cook it the right way.”

In terms of specifics, Rudzinski is not completely rewriting the script for Virginia nor its defensive players. Former coaches Bronco Mendenhall and Nick Howell used multiple looks varying out of a base 3-4 alignment during their tenure at UVA. Variations included everything from a 2-4-5 to a 3-3-5 in different seasons.

Rudzinski brought a multiple look system with him from Air Force as well. The Cavaliers will still mix and match alignments with different variations. He said the defense will switch things up between an odd front (3 down linemen) and an even front (either 2 or 4 down linemen).

“I think personnel wise, we’re 3-4 – we have 3-4 personnel and mixing between being odd and even,” Rudzinski said. “It’s something that I had a chance to do at my previous stop. Try to be multiple, mess with the targeting for those offenses. At the same time, be simple so we can be sound fundamentally. But yeah, as you look at us, mixing there between 3-4 and 4-2-5.”

Of course, alignments are only where the defense starts. How you deploy the players from those spots is where schemes can begin to differ. That’s where the differences will emerge for Virginia.

Rudzinski’s system labels the weak-side linebacker as a “Bandit” spot that can be used in different ways, including things with a hand down in a three-point stance or standing up from a two-point stance. The field side defensive end also generally gets involved in the pass rush. The other two linemen work alongside that end and the Bandit. Obviously, there are many ways to move and shade those players into certain gaps. Down and distance, opponent, and game situation come into play as well.

For now, those factors are a long ways off and that brings things back to that slow oven-baked idea for Rudzinski. The core principles for the new Virginia defense, however, are coming into focus and that goes back to a single word: simple. The idea is to make the system, scheme, alignment,