TAMPA — As nice as it was to run his own program at Marshall, Mark Snyder doesn't necessarily mind being free of all the other things that can get between a head coach and actual hands-on coaching.
In his first month as USF's defensive coordinator, the 45-year-old Snyder is reminded of his days as defensive coordinator at Ohio State, where he helped the Buckeyes win the 2002 national championship and three bowls in his four seasons.
Ask Snyder if he was heavily involved in his defense at Marshall, and he says "not as much as I would like to have been," because of the time demands on a head coach. The defense he hopes to build at USF, he says, will look "a lot more like Ohio State." And the Bulls' defensive speed, compared with his talented Ohio State teams? "We're right there," he says.
He is USF's third defensive coordinator in as many seasons, following Wally Burnham and Joe Tresey. This spring will be a challenge, merging three languages — his Marshall terminology, that used by two assistants at East Carolina last year, and the scheme from last year's Bulls team. His approach to defense is something his new players can understand and appreciate.
"My philosophy on defense is that I want the kids to have fun," he says. "Defense is all about enthusiasm. What gets kids excited the most? Negative-yardage plays, sacks, turnovers, interceptions. Most of the time, those are created with pressure."
"I'm an under guy," Snyder says, explaining that his base defense features a five-man front with two linebackers, bringing an extra player to the line to complement four defensive linemen. That fifth player is usually the strongside linebacker, lined up opposite the tight end, but Snyder likes the versatility of being able to walk up a safety or other player to apply pressure.
In senior Jacquian Williams — whom former coach Jim Leavitt called the fastest linebacker he had coached — Snyder has a player who can rush the passer or drop back in pass coverage against a tight end or running back. "He has a chance to really be special," coach Skip Holtz said.
Rush vs. end
USF has been able to flip-flop its defensive ends from one side to the other in past defenses, but Snyder's scheme has two distinct positions among the outside defensive linemen: the "rush" and the "end." "The end is a little thicker, heavier, maybe a little stronger," Snyder said. "The rush is your athlete. We're going to do a lot of things with that rush position."
USF could have new impact players at "rush," such as junior Claude Davis, a junior college transfer who joined the team in January, or redshirt freshman Ryne Giddins from Armwood.
Gone are five starters expected to be taken this month in the NFL draft — defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie, safety Nate Allen, cornerback Jerome Murphy and linebacker Kion Wilson.
That means big shoes for five new starters, though they should have experience: seniors Craig Marshall and David Bedford are currently first team at defensive end, with sophomore Sam Barrington at middle linebacker, sophomore Kayvon Webster at cornerback and senior walk-on Mistral Raymond at free safety.
Despite the losses, USF has strong leadership in the front seven, including weakside linebacker Sabbath Joseph and other seniors such as Williams, Marshall, Bedford and tackle Terrell McClain. "Our front seven is probably the thing I'm most encouraged about," Holtz said. "There's 12 guys to rotate on your defensive line, and I've never had that many."
Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.