Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ian Williams: Freshman All American

Yesterday, it was released that Ian Williams has been named a Freshman All American. Following the text of the release, I share my thoughts on Ian and what his performance shows:


Notre Dame nose tackle Ian Williams (Altamonte Springs, Fla./Lyman) was named to the 2007 AON Insurance Freshman All-America Team, the Football Writers Association of America announced Jan. 7 during the association's annual awards breakfast.
Williams finished his first season with 45 tackles, including 19 solo stops and 1.5 tackles for loss. He played in all 12 contests and started the final two games of the season for the Irish. Despite playing primarily as a reserve for much of the year, Williams ranked sixth on the team in tackles and was the only player ranked in the top-12 in tackles on the team who did not start at least four games.
He was one of six true freshmen named to the defensive unit on the FWAA Freshman All-America Team and was one of 13 of the 28 freshman All-America selections who was a true freshman this season.
Williams was named to the all-freshman third team and was an honorable mention member of The Sporting News all-freshman team.

My thoughts: Before anything else, big tip of the cap to Ian Williams. This award is a tremendous honor and is truly deserved. Ian played hard, played with passion, and was extremely productive with the playing time he earned this season. Perhaps what impressed me most about Ian was how much outward emotion he displayed in his play this year. You could just tell watching him that football was important to him, that winning was important to him, and that protecting his teammates was important to him. Ian is only going to get better as he refines his technique and gets stronger.

On a more macro level, I like what this award symbolizes as far as the evolution of the Notre Dame defense is concerned, especially in light of the Omar Hunter decommit. With the switch to the 3-4 defense, a lot of misinformation has been spread to recruits about what they can and cannot do in this defense (I am thinking of one misguided coach in particular... ahem Urban). There is a myth out there that in the Irish 3-4 defense, D Linemen are essentially glorified statues, where their only responsibility is to engage O Linemen so that the LBs can make all the plays. This is a myth about the 3-4 in general and is especially untrue in the version of the 3-4 personnel that the Irish employ. For example, when Omar announced that he was decommitting, one of the reasons he gave was that as a NG in the 3-4, he would be constantly double teamed, and therefore unable to truly display his talents as a playmaker. Now I love Ian Williams and have already lauded his performance, but the reality is that he was not busting through double teams on every single play en route to recording his 45 tackles. Why? Because the Irish defense was able to present offenses with multiple looks, shifting, stunting, and playmakers at other positions. You couldn't simply double team a freshman NG every play because that would leave either Trevor Laws or one of the young athlethic OLBs either single covered. The reality is that Trevor Laws is the guy who was double teamed on most plays. And that is why the talent on defense that is being brought in with this recruiting class is so critical.

I am often asked who I think is the most important recruit in this class or most important recruit on defense. Honestly, the best part about this class, especially on defense, is that there is big time talent being brought in at ALL positions. The balance of this class as far as talent dispersion is critical. The best feature of the 3-4 is the unpredictability it creates for opposing offenses. It is much more difficult for opposing offenses to discern where the pressure is coming from in a 3-4 as opposed to a 4-3. This year, however, the Irish simply didn't have top level talent at every position on defense. Offenses could target a Trevor Laws and isolate on him because they weren't real worried about a guy like Dwight Stephenson on the other side beating them. They could concentrate on picking up the outside rushers Neal and Smith because they knew that with their inexperience, the Irish coaches weren't going to use them in pass coverage a whole lot and they had very little fear that a guy like Joe Brockington could make them pay with an inside rush.

Now fast forward a couple of years, when you have talent at depth at NG with Williams, Newman, and Hafis. You have playmakers at DE in Ethan Johnson and Sean Cwynar. At LB, you have guys like Kerry Neal, Brian Smith, Darius Fleming, etc. who are bigger, stronger, and faster. On the inside, you have the talent of a Steve Filer or Anthony McDonald. Then add to that the athleticism of guys like Harrison Smith and veteran lockdown corners like Darrin Walls, Raeshon McNeil and emerging Gary Gray. That is a scary thought for an offense. You can't just pick one guy like Trevor Laws and target him. Are you really in that scenario going to take 2 blockers and assign them to the NG on EVERY play??? Fine by me if that is what you choose to do, because I will just make you pay with a LB or corner blitz off the edge.

This is sort of a long winded rant against the misconceptions about the 3-4. The bottom line is Ian Williams had a heck of a year and is going to have a heck of a career. He is one of the many building blocks that are going to restore this program to prominence. How many days till spring ball kicks off????? GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Face Mask said...

In a 3-4 defence your pass rusher is usually one of the outside line-backers to the QBs blind side.Who do you see at this position.Also in order for that to work you need a NG or TKL scarey enough to draw a double team.Then you need an inside line-backer man enough to hold the middle agaist draws & quick enough to cover outside containment to the blind side once you've blitzted the blind side LB.Anyway my point being the 3-4 needs at least 2 play makers at LB and one on the line.Am I right or wrong on this IG??

IrishGlory said...

Facemask - I think you are right in the sense that you need playmakers both on the line and at LB. However, I think the 3-4 can be manipulated and really used to tremendous advantage the more playmakers you have. For example, in the 4-3, the more playmakers you have, the better they will execute a traditional looking defense. The defense still looks the same, it is just executed at a faster, higher level. In the 3-4, by contrast, the benefit is that the more playmakers you have, the more exotic and unconventional and unpredictable the look you can give to the opposition. Blitzes don't always have to be from the QB's blind side. Kerry Neal is easily the scariest athlete the Irish will have at LB next year. Don't underestimate the pressure possibilities from the ILB position though and don't underestimate the importance of a big time DE. For example, if you have a DE that scares teams enough that they have to roll a guard and tackle over to block him, and you have a stout NG, if that NG can take on the center, you are going to open up some really nice seams for an ILB with blitzing ability. Likewise, if teams choose to use a T and TE to block that DE, who will they use to account for an OLB such as Kerry Neal rushing from the outside? I will take my chances with Kerry Neal against a RB left in to protect any day of the week.