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Weather: Overcast, 43° F

Defensive pursuit: Chizik getting UT's defense up to speed

04:47 PM CDT on Sunday, August 28, 2005

By CHIP BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Talk about a perfectly executed game plan.

Texas co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik learned his speed-based scheme by watching the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his spare time.

Part of the reason Texas co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik left Stephen F. Austin and took a job as defensive coordinator at Central Florida in 1998 was the opportunity to attend graduate school with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dozens of times, Chizik climbed into his Jeep Cherokee at 6 a.m. for the 1-hour, 15-minute journey on Interstate 4 from Orlando to Tampa. He was an unknown assistant coach in the predawn darkness with nothing but ambition and an ABBA CD playing on his stereo.

He ended up spending so much time with the Bucs' coaches, watching practice, watching film and sitting in their meetings, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin gave Chizik a jacket to wear to practice on a cold day.

Tony Dungy, the Bucs' head coach at the time, insisted Chizik eat the food the team had catered for coaches and players during minicamps.

"I was embarrassed," Chizik said, laughing. "I didn't want to look like a complete freeloader. Here I am watching their film, asking questions, trying to get in meetings and eating their food. I was thinking it had to end somewhere, but it didn't. That's how good they were to me.

"I was more of a pest than anything else, like the kid who gets an inch and takes a mile."

Five years later, Chizik is no longer an unknown assistant with nothing but ambition. ABBA Gold is still in his CD changer, but he's one of the hottest defensive coaches in the country.

He was the 2004 Frank Broyles Award winner as the nation's top assistant after helping undefeated Auburn post the nation's top scoring defense. And he could be the person who will most determine Texas' success this season.

Vince Young and a veteran offensive line should be able to move the ball as Texas did last season, when it was the nation's second-best rushing offense. But can Texas' defense become suffocating, dominant and capable of a four-man pass rush – something each of the last four national champions (Miami, Ohio State, LSU and USC) has displayed?

UT's defense hasn't been any of those things on a consistent basis in almost 15 years.

Learning from the best

One thing is certain. Chizik is the guy who did such a good job of studying the Bucs' scheme under Dungy and Kiffin that Kiffin no longer opens the team's film room and practices to the extent he once did.

"Gene is a great guy, a great young coach," Kiffin said. "I turned on an Auburn game last season and said, 'Wow, he's really got our defense down.' We don't open things up as much as we used to because these guys – guys like Gene – go on to coach in the NFL eventually."

Kiffin said Chizik asked many good questions when visiting, and "you could tell he was going to be a good one."

Said Chizik, "I can say most of the stuff I do started with the foundation I got from Tampa. I kind of developed it over the years to mix in some different flavors I thought would complement that."

Chizik's industrious attitude about using his own time to learn the Bucs' defense while coaching at a school 90 miles away wasn't lost on Mack Brown. Brown hired Greg Robinson as co-defensive coordinator before last season on the recommendation of USC coach Pete Carroll, in part, because Carroll and Robinson worked with Kiffin on the New York Jets in the early 1990s.

"When we studied what happened in the Super Bowl three years ago when Tampa won, they were not as productive as most of the offenses in the league, but they had by far the best defense," Brown said. "Monte Kiffin is the most innovative defensive person in my lifetime in college and pro football.

"You see what Pete Carroll's taken from him, what Greg Robinson took from him and what Gene Chizik takes from him. Monte's a guy people call and say, 'We can't pay you. Who can do what you're doing?' "

The right tools

Chizik, hired to replace Robinson when he left to become head coach at Syracuse, likes the speed he has to work with at Texas. He says the Longhorns' defense has a chance to be as good as the Auburn unit he led last year to the No. 1 ranking in scoring defense (11.3 points per game).

Rarely does Chizik dole out individual praise, because he doesn't want to put one player ahead of the entire unit. But outside linebacker was a concern going into the season, and he has said people will see great things from two young players expected to fill those positions – Rashad Bobino and Drew Kelson.

Players say Chizik's scheme is easier to digest than Robinson's was last year.

"Coach Robinson was straight out of the NFL, so his stuff was more complex, and there was more to it," defensive tackle Rod Wright said. "Coach Chizik does a great job of making his defense user friendly by asking us how we want things to be called."

Chizik again credits Kiffin for his teaching ability.

"Monte has a great scheme," Chizik said. "But what he does better than anything is teach it and make it so every single player on the field understands it. That may be the biggest lesson I took from Monte."

Kiffin is quick to point out that Chizik has returned some favors for the Buccaneers over the years. He gave them scouting reports on Auburn players, and Tampa drafted running back Cadillac Williams with the fifth pick this year.

"It's not like Gene hasn't helped us," Kiffin said. "And we didn't mind helping him because he's about as respectful and humble a guy as you'll come across. And trust me, we'll keep asking him for scouting reports on guys, because he always seems to be working with great players."

E-mail chipbrown@dallasnews.com

The 'Tampa Two'

NFL coaches Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin are widely credited with what is known as the "Tampa Two" defense, which new Texas co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik is employing this season. The scheme relies on speed, not size.

Undersized defensive ends take wide splits to force bigger offensive tackles to get out in space and chase them down. Defensive tackles aggressively get into gaps and stop the run on the way to the passer.

Fast, undersized linebackers chase down plays from sideline to sideline. And the secondary lines up in zone pass coverage with both safeties back deep, also known as Cover Two – thus the "Tampa Two" nickname.

By playing zone with both safeties back, the intent is to avoid giving up a big play. Always make an offense drive the length of the field while using your team's speed to disrupt the offense's rhythm and force turnovers.

Chip Brown

Louisiana-Lafayette at Texas, 6 p.m. Saturday, FSNSW

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