New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is taking over a Raiders defense consisting of many players who have never played in his zone based 4-3 defensive scheme. And while the challenge of teaching an unfamiliar system may be daunting to some, Guenther is no stranger to the process.
“This is the third time as a coordinator I’ve done this,” Guenther told Sports Illustrated. “My first year as a coordinator Vance Joseph was the defensive backs coach and Matt Burke was the linebackers coach. Jay Hayes was the D-line coach, he was the lone holdover. I had to teach Matt and Vance the backend stuff, the run fits, the coverages and all the details that go with it.”
Eventually, Joseph and Burke took positions with the Miami Dolphins leaving Guenther to reinstall his scheme for new Bengals coaches Jim Haslett and Kevin Coyle.
Guenther’s defense is not so easy to pick up. His scheme features:
14 different D-line fronts
14 stunts and twists
20 blitzes out of a four-down front
26 blitzes out of double-A-gap fronts
19 blitzes out of “odd” fronts, which have either three or five men across the D-line, with one aligned directly over the center
There are also options for facing unusual offensive looks like four-receiver sets and wildcat. Plus there are 10-12 red zone packages and 18 end-of-game packages.
Many of these alignments can be mixed and matched, only adding to the complication of his scheme and leading to seemingly endless possibilities.
Guenther believes the key to effectively learning his complex and varied defense is unified communication and verbiage.
The defensive coordinator told his coaches he wants his cornerbacks to “kick-slide and not let the receiver go untouched.” So whenever a coach is teaching this concept to cornerbacks, they need to use the same phrase. Any other terms are unacceptable so as to prevent confusion.
In order to help teach his scheme, Guenther puts it all on a board, and then calls up players to teach on the board as well.
“I come in and I go on this board for about a week,” Guenther explained. “I’ll go through fronts; stances, alignments and initial keys; initial movements; run-pass responsibilities; how and where each player physically stands, be it a cornerback, nose tackle, etc. We do this for every defensive package, every formation. I take at least a week just to go through our base alignments.”
Now that Guenther has acquired the players and coaches he thinks fit best in his defense, it is his job to teach his 4-3 system to them. He seems more than up to the task, but the true test will come when the Raiders defense takes the field on Sundays.