So it goes when an NFL team hires a new defensive coordinator. By all accounts, Tim Walton, who joined the Rams in February, is only tweaking the 4-3 defense St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher prefers. This, of course, makes the transition easier. But in the world of uber-complex NFL defenses, even the smallest changes cause significant ripples.
“Things have been great,” Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “We have good unity on defense. Coach Walton kind of inadvertently falls under the Coach Fisher tree from Coach [Jim] Scwhartz in Detroit. So, we are all speaking similar terms now. I mean, we had to change some language in it to get everybody on the same page.”
And that’s what is so mind-numbing. The Rams’ defensive system — the scheme, the plays, the formations — really hasn’t changed. But the words that make the system run have. This is more complex than players let on.
Numbers. Letters. Colors. Animals.
Laurinaitis has had to learn them all, and then some.
“In college, we grouped all of our fire zone pressures with cities,” he said. “I’ve heard them done with certain tribe names. It goes over and over and over. They are the same exact pressures, they’re just called different things.”
Walton came to St. Louis with his own set of terms, as any coordinator would. As the Rams’ defense has trudged through organized team activities, it has shed old terminology and learned new lingo. The goal is to have everyone on the same page as soon as possible. Then, the Rams will be fluent and no opponent will stand a chance of cracking the code.
“It’s just converting,” Laurinaitis said. “It’s basically just translation. I call this ‘X’, you call it ‘Z’. Let’s just all call it ‘Z’. That’s all it is.”
“Once you get it down, you stop thinking,” he added. “You just react. That’s where it all gets good. We’re getting to that point right now. We are six OTAs in. We’ve got four more. I think the main thing is, we just continue to look at the playbook. Those communication things continue to happen.”
Jenkins said he’s learning the new language just fine.
“It’s simple for me,” he said.
That makes one of us. Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org