Central Michigan defensive scheme: 'Fast and physical' play expected from Chippewas

Central Michigan defensive coordinator Robb Akey answers a question Aug. 16 at football media day inside a small trailer near Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Ask any member of the Central Michigan defense about the scheme, and they'll likely give you the same type of answer.

"Our scheme is great," said junior safety Alonzo McCoy. "You just have to come to the games and see."

"We are going to be way more aggressive this year, and we are trying to get more hits on the quarterback," said sophomore safety Devonni Reed. "That’s all I can say.”

"I can just say, we plan on playing very aggressive," said senior defensive tackle D'Andre Dill. "That's all I can say. It's being really aggressive and taking the ball away."

"We've got a lot of different formations and packages," said senior linebacker Michael Oliver. "Defensively, we are going to give offenses a lot of trouble trying to figure it out. We've got athleticism, size and speed at a lot of different positions."

What's that mean?

Nobody is giving anything away, but the repeated concepts used in recent history include the words fast, physical and aggressive. That's exactly how defensive coordinator Robb Akey wants his unit to play.

Akey runs a traditional 4-3 base defense, which is all about making aggressive reads and exploiting matchup advantages. If the 3-4 is used, it'll like be as a change-up to keep offense players on their toes.

Since the defense has inexperience all around, there might not be a true schematic identity until a few weeks into the season. 

“What I like is the way they are responding," Akey said. "We’re still trying to find out who we are going to be. They’re gaining some comfort in using the tools in the package. We’re hoping we will be able to build some strengths.”

The three safeties returning are Jamison, Reed and McCoy, and that position group is probably the deepest CMU has this year. Oliver is the only linebacker with ample experience, and it helps that he's a senior. The defensive line features seniors Dill and Sean Adesanya, but the others are still learning.

But with youth comes energy. Akey plans to use that to his advantage this season.

"If you want to have success on defense, there needs to be some juice and energy," Akey said. "You better be flying around. If we can get more bodies there, we have an opportunity to make some things happen. It’s got to be that way. We have to be attacking and aggressive. To play that way, there has to be energy.”

First-year coach Jim McElwain, who is an offensive-minded leader, has been thoroughly impressed with the way CMU's defense has learned to attack. With inexperience at linebacker and cornerback, he's focused on making sure communication during adversity doesn't become a problem.

"They have to drop that and go win the next play," McElwain said. "I'm excited about the aggression. We aren't just sitting back. We are going to force people's hands."

The schemes Akey has given to his defense aren't anything brand new, Oliver said. Most of the formations were familiar, which allowed everyone to focus on the details and improve.

Just one season ago, when the Chippewas went 1-11, the defense was ranked No. 70 of 130 Division I FBS teams. To compare, the offense was ranked 128th in the nation.

Noted by his teammates as the captain of the defense, Jamison said it's all about buying into Akey's philosophy.

"Once you buy into the system, good things will happen,” he said. "Not to say that we weren’t bought in last season, but this season we want to focus on buying in more to the culture and the tradition and what they are trying to do."

Specifically speaking to Jamison's defensive back room, the safeties are going to be more violent. There may be situations where three of them are on the field at once, allowing one player to get in the box or blitz in certain formations.

“We can really do anything," McCoy said. "We can have three or four safeties out there. The scheme is just adjusting to what happens.”

Focusing on creating a tradition and culture of a fast, physical, aggressive defense is easier said than done, but it's what Akey expects. It starts with this season and will continue for years to come.

In Akey's opinion, succeeding on defense becomes much easier when energy is passed from coach to player, so it's something he models his personality around.

“If they see it from an old man, I think that gives them a little freedom to go do it themselves," Akey, 53, said of his energy. "I would hope they’d give themselves the freedom to do that, as well."