John Butler is in his second year with the Penn State football program and his first year as the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator.
We caught up with him after Saturday's Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium to talk about a variety of topics, including his transition to DC, a handful of young Nittany Lion defenders, schemes and much more.
Check out the video above to get to know the new defensive coordinator.
Here are some key points he made.
• On the defensive game plan for the scrimmage:
He said it was “as basic as it could be.” Basic “day-one” fronts and coverages. The biggest thing in the game was that they were tackling. They are trying to get to the opener as healthy as they can be. So every time they scrimmage and tackle, it is an important evaluation piece. It's “huge” for the younger guys.
• On if it would have worked had he been mic'd early in the third quarter (as head coach Bill O'Brien was):
“I don't think so.” He said he was mic'd for something else recently and he had to “kick myself a couple of times.”
• On how the young corners are coming along:
“Everybody on defense is just light-years ahead of where we were last year at this time.” People are more familiar and comfortable with what they are doing. No big changes. “When nothing is new, they're gonna play better and faster.” Jordan Lucas had “an outstanding spring.” Trevor Williams had “an outstanding spring.” They have more secondary depth than they had last year which they hope will give them more flexibility.
• On if that will allow them to run more nickel, since they really didn't run any last year:
He said they ran their version of the nickel last year (the Roadrunner package, but that didn't really impact the secondary). “I feel comfortable leaving the spring that we're gonna be able to be a little more multiple this year.”
• On how the transition from offense to defense went for Malik Golden and Williams:
They both embraced it. “They both realized at the time it could be a great opportunity, and it was.” They still need to develop but the moves will be good in the long term for the players in question and the program. They both bring “value” to the defense.
• On the pass rush, which generated nine sacks in the B-W Game:
“We have guys that can rush the passer. We feel pretty good about that. That's the most important element of playing good pass defense, is the ability to rush the passer and hit him and disrupt him and get him thinking about the rush.” It is not only about hitting and sacking the QB, but giving him something to think about other than throwing to his receivers.
• On how LB Nyeem Wartman looked in the spring:
“He's a good player.” Butler was not going to get into evals of every guy, “But Nyeem is very instinctual, he loves football. He's a guy that prepares. He just needs to keep developing. He's one of the guys we're gonna count on, but he needs a lot of reps, a lot of seasoning, just more battle time.” He played with the ones most of the spring and if he keeps performing well he'll be playing a lot. But Ben Kline is a good player, too, but he was hurt in the spring. So there will be some competition at the Will.
• On how his first spring as D-coordinator went:
He looks at it from an organizational standpoint. They have a great staff with Ron Vanderlinden, Larry Johnson and Anthony Midget. “It was more, OK, now I'm in charge of putting this plan together. But from a coaching standpoint, to me, a lot of that stuff comes naturally -- getting out on the field and coaching football players. Developing 'em and putting plans together. Personally, I've been preparing for this for 18 years. It's just a matter of now is the opportunity.”
• On how difficult it was to try to keep guys healthy while limiting contact:
“That's our biggest challenge. We've got to practice as hard, as fast, as physical and as tough as we can. But we've got to make sure that our best players are fresh and healthy when we play games.”
• On whether departed DC Ted Roof's “multiply aggressive” philosophy will carry over under Butler:
“I think so. Ted and I are very similar. … We share a lot of philosophical things.” Being aggressive is not always about blitzing. It's also about keeping the offense guessing with different looks and disguises. They want to “confuse and disrupt” the offense.
• On, as first-year DC, the benefits of having veterans like Vanderlinden and Johnson on the staff:
“It's important in that they're really good football coaches. It's not about them helping me. It's about them helping us put together the best defense we can possibly put together. Ron is a great linebacker coach. Larry is a great D-line coach. They're also very good with their players. Their players love 'em so they play hard for 'em. Then they provide great experience … as defensive minds. So this is a collective effort. It will never, ever be about me. It's about us. And it just happens to be that I'm in charge and Billy has put me with the responsibility of putting the plan together.”