A look at new Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
Before new Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof can emerge from the shadow of his beloved predecessor Tom Bradley, he'll have to shake comparisons to another former university employee.
He's a dead ringer for recently-removed Penn State president Graham Spanier.
The Lawrenceville, Ga. native's smooth southern drawl should help him forge his own identity in Happy Valley soon enough, however, and get down to the business of helping new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien move the Nittany Lions forward in the wake of a tumultuous past couple of months.
And as he indicated last Wednesday at the Lasch Football Building, Roof is looking forward to selling the Penn State brand, despite all that has transpired recently.
"Penn State is Penn State, and it stands for excellence both on and off the field," Roof said. "Our deal is that whatever unfortunate situation or incidents that have happened, we can't do anything about that, but to build on the great foundation that coach [Joe] Paterno and his staff built, to accentuate that and also be able to move forward."
Roof is joining the program after a three-year stint as defensive coordinator at Auburn, where he worked on Gene Chizik's staff during the Tigers' 2010 BCS National Championship run. Before that, he served as head coach at Duke, where O'Brien worked as his offensive coordinator in 2005-2006 after the pair worked together as assistants at Georgia Tech from 1998-2001, forming the foundation of their current working relationship.
Now, along with linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., Roof will look to move forward with a unit that finished 2011 ranked No. 5 nationally in points allowed per game, but is replacing All-American defensive tackle Devon Still and all four starters in the secondary.
The first step in that process was finalizing the defensive recruiting class of 2012, which included mostly lineman and defensive backs. Roof is confident that despite a late start, the staff was able to fill its needs well.
"We got some kids with some versatility that can be either safety or corner. I thought that was a real positive for us," Roof said. "And defensively, you can never have enough defensive linemen, no matter where you are, no matter what league you play in because especially in a league like the Big Ten that's so physical, those guys take such a beating."
Where Roof and Co. go from here remains to be seen, but with one recruiting class now in the books, it'll be interesting to see if they can build on any momentum.
Now, for more on Roof's tenure at Auburn, check out our question and answer session blogger "Acid Reign" of Track Em Tigers, SB Nation's Auburn Tigers blog.
AB: Generally, how do Auburn fans feel about the job Ted Roof did? Is there a consensus, or are there competing opinions?
AR: I think most Auburn fans liked Ted Roof, but were not pleased with Auburn's defense for much of the past three seasons. There are basically three camps on Roof, opinion-wise. Camp one is pretty much "Roof is terrible." Camp two is the conspiracy camp, who believe that Auburn's inflated numbers are a product of Roof and head coach Gene Chizik having different philosophies. Either it's a compromise defense, or Roof is trying to run Chizik's style instead of his own. Camp three believes that Roof was left a pretty bare cupboard of defensive players by the previous administration, and Auburn's difficulties have resulted from that, rather than scheme problems. Bottom line, Auburn gave up 27.5, 24.0, and 28.9 points per game in the three years of Roof's tenure. The higher two numbers are the worst two averages in Auburn's 120-year history. By comparison, Tommy Tuberville's defenses tended to give up in the mid-teens. At a defense-minded school like Auburn, I think most folks wanted a change.
AB: Could you offer a brief outline of his defensive philosophy (i.e. schemes, tendencies, etc.)?
AR: It's difficult to pigeonhole Ted Roof to any particular style, because when he has the matchups he wants, he likes to be very multiple. You'll see some unusual looks at times, such as a tackle or end dropping into zone, while a linebacker or defensive back blitzes. The idea is to keep the quarterback guessing. Most importantly, Ted Roof believes in gap control, and he will try to put enough players in the box to fit one player to each gap. At least half the time, he'll show a traditional cover-two look before the snap, but usually one safety rolls toward the play, and the defense really plays cover-three, with each remaining DB responsible for a third of the field.
AB: What were some of his defenses' strengths at Auburn? Their weaknesses?
AR: Ted's defenses were best against traditional two backs and a tight end offenses. He'd do a great job of filling lanes, getting after the quarterback, and causing turnovers. The downside to the cover-three philosophy is that each defensive back has to keep his man in front, and soft coverage allows lots of throws underneath. Roof believes that most offenses are going to have a hard time completing enough consecutive five-yard passes to move the ball down the field for a score.
Much of Auburn's failure to successfully stop opponents these past three years have been due to matchup problems. For instance, this past season, everyone in the playing rotation on the defensive line was either a freshman or a sophomore. No upperclassmen at all. Gap control is a great idea, but how many times will a 19-year-old true freshman or sophomore get blown off the ball in the SEC? Roof's biggest weakness shows up against spread attacks. He will try to leave one cornerback out in the flat to deal with twin receivers, and he'll use a ten yard or more cushion. It's pretty simple for a modern division one quarterback to take the snap and quickly fire it out to a wide receiver with a blocker in front. Negates the pass rush, too.
AB: How do you think Penn State's traditional "bend-but-don't-break" defense will adjust to Roof's more aggressive style?
AR: Roof's defenses do bend, a lot. The emphasis is on stopping the run, with the idea that you can't successfully throw the ball enough to eke it down the field without making a mistake. Roof will tailor his plan to what the players on the roster can do. At Auburn, we did not have both size and speed to be aggressive at corner for most of his tenure, so we saw a lot of soft cushion zone coverage.
AB: What would you say are some of the reasons for Auburn's inflated points allowed per game averages during Roof's tenure?
AR: Each year at Auburn, there have been different problem areas due to a lack of quality depth throughout the whole program. Roof's first season, he inherited a line with three good starters, but no solid fourth player, and little depth. At linebacker, he had two respectable players (who had to play every single snap!), and walk-on level talent otherwise. In the secondary, he had one NFL cornerback, one banger a step slow, one slow run-stopping safety, and an 18-year old true freshman two-star recruit at free safety. Defenses would pick on the slow pass defenders, and run at the suspect lineman and linebacker.
In year two, Roof was greatly helped by the emergence of Lombardi-winning tackle Nick Fairley. Fairley was quick and mean and had an incredible knack for jumping the snap count and being in the backfield before linemen could rise up out of their stances. However, Auburn was still thin numbers-wise in the front seven, and very patchwork in the secondary.
At corner, Auburn still had the one tough corner without enough speed, or two little bitty guys who could fly, but not necessarily deal with the plethora of big receivers in the league. You didn't want either safety in 2010 trying to cover one on one, due to a lack of speed. In Roof's third season, he finally had a secondary that was fast enough, but still very young. But a front four with no upperclassmen is going to very a difficult situation for any coordinator in BCS AQ conference football.
AB: What was Roof's recruiting role at Auburn and how well would you say he executed it?
AB: Roof was expected to recruit the state of Georgia, for the most part. If you look at Rivals ratings, here are pretty much the guys he contributed to Auburn's cause:
1. Philip Lutzenkirchen - TE, 4 star
2. Taikwon Page - DB, 4 star - failed to qualify
1. Jawara White - LB, 3 star
2. Jessell Curry - LB, 3 star - dismissed from the team
1. Justin Garrett - LB, 3 star
2. Thomas O'Reilly - OL, 3 star
3. C.J. Uzomah - TE, 3 star
Of those players, only Lutzenkirchen has been an impact player. Luckily for Auburn, most of Auburn's assistants have picked up the slack.
AB: Any general thoughts about Roof and Penn State?
AR: The thing I'd be most concerned about is that Ted Roof coaches linebackers in addition to coordinating, and Auburn has made no progress at that position whatsoever during his tenure. Nationally, Penn State is known for producing outstanding linebackers, and that certainly didn't happen for Ted at Auburn. Ted did put linebacker Josh Bynes into the NFL, but Bynes was already a veteran junior when Roof arrived. Auburn's starting linebacker candidates going into 2012, which would have been Roof's 4th season, are an undersized converted safety, and three veterans who've yet to be terribly impressive.
It's important to note that Ted Roof has been a successful defensive coordinator everywhere he's been, except for at Auburn. I think Penn State has a much better situation numbers-wise, and Ted may do very well in that situation. Time will tell.
Last, for more of Roof in his own words, here's a video of Roof's sit-down interview with GoPSUSports.com's Tony Mancuso.