Dienhart: Q&A with Penn State's Ted Roof

Ted Roof knows the opportunity that lurks at Penn State. He knows what can be accomplished. That’s why he’s excited to be part of Bill O’Brien’s first staff. Roof also knows there’s work to do.

Roof comes prepared for about any situation. He has an extensive background, serving as defensive coordinator at Western Carolina, Georgia Tech, Duke, Minnesota and Auburn before landing at Penn State. Roof also was head coach at Duke from 2003-07. His offensive coordinator with the Blue Devils? It was O’Brien.

Roof, 48, was a star linebacker at Georgia Tech from 1982-85, then subsequently spending most of his coaching career in the south. But his one year as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator under Tim Brewster in 2008 gave Roof a taste of the Big Ten. And he had success with his aggressive defensive style.

Roof inherited the nation’s worst defense overall, ranking 119th. The Gophers also were 115th vs. the pass; 114th vs. the run; 109th in scoring. But Roof made it respectable, as the Gophers finished ranked in the top 25 in sacks and tackles for loss after being ranked 103rd and 116th, respectively, the previous season.

Want more? Roof’s Minnesota defense created 31 turnovers, second most in the Big Ten and 11th nationally in 2008. And Minnesota was seventh in the nation fumbles caused (16), fueling the team’s No. 16 ranking in turnover margin. The scoring defense improved to 61st, rushing defense to 69th, total defense to 79th and pass defense to 93rd. This quick turnaround on defense led to the Golden Gophers improving from 1–11 to 7–6, netting a bid to the Insight Bowl.

Roof helped Auburn win the 2010 national title, and I caught up with him to discuss among other topics the fact that his 2012 Penn State defense that must replace seven starters. Don’t forget to read my previous Q&A sessions with other Big Ten names and coaches, too.

Q: The secondary has lost four starters. How is it looking?
A: Good. We will be more aggressive: We are going to have to do that. That’s what we are going to hang our hat on back there. Not say that we are going to be a man team or a zone team, a this team or a that team. We have to be a team that mixes it up. There’s still some competition back there. That’s healthy.

Q: Are there any standout back there?
A: (Cornerback) Steph Morris, who played some last year. He had a great spring and is doing a good job leading that group. (Cornerback) Adrian Amos will be a sophomore, but I think he has a lot of potential. He and Steph played a little last year. We will need both of those guys to step up and be players for us.

Q: This is Linebacker U. How do they look?
A: (Gerald) Hodges had a great spring as far as adjusting to what we were doing schematically. I was really pleased with him. Mike Mauti, we get him back (from injury). He has started in the past. I’m anxious to coach him in the fall. He’s a guy who is a definite leader for us. Glenn Carson started last year and is a solid guy, a very consistent and reliable guy. I have a lot of respect for him. Khairi Fortt has a chance to have a great year and needs to have a great year. He got hurt midway through the spring, which was a shame. But he’ll be ready to go. He really needed to practice. I look forward to seeing him develop and get better.

Q: How do you look up front?
A: (Tackle) Jordan Hill is a good player. He has a great motor, a guy who has made plays in the past and is going to need to make plays for us this year. DaQuan Jones is an inside guy for us as well. He’s a big, physical kid. It’s his turn now. He needs to come on and embrace his role. On the edge, you have Sean Stanley who started last year. He has done a good job transitioning to our scheme. He has made plays in the past. And Pete Massaro missed last year but we should get him back. I am proud of him and have a lot of respect for him in how he has worked. And there are some young guys who have a chance. We are going to roll some people up there. We always have tried to do that wherever I have been. It’s so physical for those guys up front. It’s going to be interesting.

Q: You have been in the Big Ten and SEC. Do you see a big difference in personnel?
A: I am in the process of studying the league and our opponents. There are a lot of great players in both leagues, a lot of guys who can hit home runs and take it the distance. They both are great leagues, very physical leagues. The most physical teams win the most games, and that’s the way football is supposed to be.

Q: Who will be your leaders?
A: Jordan Hill did a good job in the spring with that. Gerald Hodges is in that group, Mike Mauti is in that group. Steph Morris. Pete Massaro. Those are five guys who have major leadership roles on our defense.

Q: How would you describe Bill O’Brien in 20 words or less?
A: Organized. Passionate. Clear communicator, very strong leader. Very fair.

Q: What did you see in him back when you worked with him at Duke?
A: He has a great knack for seeing players’ strengths and putting them in position to utilize their strengths and not asking them to do things they can’t. He has a real knack for that. He sees the game very well. He’s an excellent teacher. This is our third stop together.

Q: When did you first work with O’Brien?
A: When I was at Georgia Tech in 1998. We were on that staff for four years there and we were going to Notre Dame together (with George O’Leary) and were on the same staff at Duke and now at Penn State.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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