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Jon’s Postlife Crisis: Jay Foreman - What About This Defense?

Foreman was a standout on two national title teams.

Michigan State V Nebraska

I spoke with Jay Foreman, former Husker linebacker who has two national titles under his belt.

We talked about the 2019 defense. Keep in mind that this conversation occurred before the Purdue loss. I don’t think that changed anything. I also think Jay - having played during the hey days of Nebraska, and having spent many years in the NFL - knows what he’s talking about.

I especially would like you to consider his thoughts about individualism.

On the Transcripts:

The transcript has been run through a site that does it’s stuff automatically. It’s unbelievably difficult to do that with real accuracy. The transcript has been heavily edited. Even then it’s rough. Listen to the podcast, please.


Jon Johnston 0:12 Welcome to Jon’s post life crisis. I am your host Jon Johnston, founder of, your Nebraska Cornhusker site of mostly fun although this year it’s been more of a strain than usual.

Today we’re talking with former Husker linebacker Jay foreman. Jay is a two time national champion, playing for Nebraska from 1994 to 1998. He spent eight years in the NFL playing for the Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. Quite a career. How are you doing today, Jay?

Jay Foreman 0:50

I’m doing all right. How about yourself, I’m trying to stay warm. I see the little flurries coming down. So you know might be time to start batten down the hatches here but I’m doing pretty good.

Jon Johnston 1:00 Are you in Lincoln now or where are you at?

Jay Foreman 1:02

Yeah. I’m in Lincoln.

Jon Johnston 1:04 Okay. All right.

We’re gonna we’re going to jump right into this. Earlier in the season our defense didn’t look too bad. I mean, they they played, what was it South Alabama, they pretty much kind of won that game. They had some takeaways. But in the last two games against Minnesota and Indiana, they got they got pounded. I mean, they got pounded on the ground against Minnesota. And then they they Indiana look like they could do whatever they want through the air. So what do you think is going on with the defense?

Jay Foreman 1:38

I think it just comes down to Well, there’s two different games. I think Minnesota, I don’t think that a lot of guys were ready for the challenge or met the challenge. Like, I’m pretty sure that the coaches would like then they made the challenge. You know, I know there’s a big deal about the hoodie and all that stuff is more or less about the principal, you know, like Minnesota came out there without and you know, they were they were embracing the elements and the type of game it was and we were kind of you know, kind of going at it like it was just like a regular game or practice. So that game I think was more like we weren’t ready to play and then it was just like that bits and fundamentals as far as tackling and you saw a little bit at against Indiana and then what really hurt us against Indiana was there a really efficient passing attack. But what we did was we didn’t really, we didn’t really play smart football so that you know, like if we’re blitzing on third and six, we’re playing off coverage where, well then it’s a pitch and catch so then the Blitz can’t get there. And then people are like, well, we’re not getting any passwords.

Well, we’re not covering and we’re not matching up our front seven, rushes with our back four or five coverages that we need to do a better job playing down and distance fundamentals and of course, tackling and being physical at the point of attack. And that’s just not tackling. Getting off blocks that’s doing everything you need to do and you know, that’s football 101. So that’s where we’ve been struggling As teams of, you know, other teams have found our identity, maybe found some things that, you know, the tack and sell some weaknesses in our defense, whether they’re self induced or just by you know, good play calling, we haven’t remedied some some basic plays that we’re, you know, we’re really struggling and then so we’re getting behind eight ball and down in distance and momentum.

We’re just not doing well Now, one thing that we did earlier in the year, where people don’t really recognize is that we were, you know, we were really good on sudden changes and the beginning of the year what I mean by that is, we were still turning the ball over early in the season, but the defense was holding teams to field goals now teams are scoring touchdowns. So that’s a big difference there too. Because if you can, all the teams they’ll feel go when they’re getting the ball and you know, in their in their plus red zone and our negative red zone. You know, it’s a four point difference and you do that twice in a game, that ‘s eight points. they know how to really do that in Alabama game, or I mean an Indiana game, you know, winning that game and so there’s, there’s like, that’s a big turning point there. So you could you’re actually playing the same type of defense, we just got to do better and those calm special circumstances in the game and that’s what really hurt us.

Jon Johnston 4:13 This sounds like a lot of everything.

Jay Foreman 4:22

First of all, you gotta figure out what you you know what you gotta get back to doing one thing, one step at a time. Now, whether it’s playing better against the run, tackling open an open field, knowing the coverages you know, and really you play, it’s a lot of everything, but it’s a lot of little things. And a little things lead to big things. And that’s what it is. That’s what you practice. That’s what you prepare. It’s where you communicate, both you know, during practice before practice and the meeting rooms and then after, you gotta have some team meetings, that aren’t just with the coaches, they only get a certain amount of time. So you gotta have leadership is going to take all you know, the whole defense and then like,

Every single call and every single check and talk about every single play and I just something that you guys can’t figure out within that room and you got to go and bring it to the coach the next day and try to figure it out all together because what that’s going to do that’s going to create continuity it’s going to create accountability but then also is going to help.

The best defenses are the loudest ones that know what I mean by that is the ones that communicate over communicate and that leads to big things on the field so it goes hand in hand and yes there’s a lot of things that you know I just went over but in reality is not a lot of things because it’s all stuff that you can self correct and self you know remedy is just gone about the best steps about it and gone it now you know some guys are expected to really step up and and really be you know, Bell County sports habit and and so that really hurt us as well yet I think losing you know Williams

in the back end

You know really hurt the continuity of defense and so kind of pressing guys into different roles kind of, you know, an emergence of JR Jojo Dolman and then you know, he’s you know, he’s shown flashes was kind of playing out of position and then you know has a formula middle. And so guys I said just kind of, you know, hopefully get their bearings in these last four games and really finish out the right word.

Jon Johnston 6:21 Okay. Fabian Washington during the Indiana game tweeted that no one was talking on the defense and he would, obviously you have to communicate about like, Who’s picking up who or who’s going where, what is it? What, what does it say about the defense that nobody was talking, particularly when they were in that end zone? on that one play? We remember the play where the guy basically it was a pic play and they scored?

Jay Foreman 6:46

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, those are just pre snap communication. I mean, I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen that on tape. They haven’t they probably the you know, they have to know what’s coming. Regardless of what’s going on out there. The coverage is, you know, two people or if you’re playing in an covers between two defenders and you just kind of wait for him to come into your area. Or if you’re playing a triangle defense, which is like 213, you got to communicate and play it the same way and you can play a little bit more aggressive from outside and if you’re the outside guy, because you have safety help, and then the corner, there’s trips to that side. You know, he has to play hard and sign up for so you know, back shoulder thrower fade. And so the communication is key. And that’s what I mean, is preset communication is play recognition is for its formation recognition is player personnel recognition. You’ve maybe seen that play before, you know, maybe in another red zone that you know, depends a series or you you know, it’s on your alert sheet or what’s on your alert sheet, you know, in your game plan. And so, if there’s no communication there, then everything catches you by surprise and a lot of times on defenses in my you know, experience communication, it leads to calculated risk, right. So, you get these percentages of, of plague that are ran out of certain formations, our strength formations are down and distance or with this personnel, blah, blah, blah, so forth and so on. So if you’re going out there and something 75% out, I mean, there’s not a lot of things that are that high in light, you know, play your percentages. And then also communication allows not just yourself but everybody on the defense or who you’re working with, in this particular coverage to play faster, you play faster, in everything is faster down there in the red zone. So you know, you’re not getting a lot of deep routes because they can’t go anywhere. So everything that you’re doing, you want to disrupt the timing, you want to be you want to show color, which I mean by that is when you show color your show in coverage. And so then that’s going to allow, you know, if you got a blitz, or at least a second pass rusher, make the quarterback go to a second or third read and if the backside of the defense is playing good, you could get an interception or just better yet, stop them and maybe get into a field goal. And so that’s just where we’re lacking. Some of its from, you know, learning a new system still in the second year. Its leadership. It’s it’s going out there and a lot of times young guys are going out there not to make a mistake or just to do their job with these guys got a new and this is what’s got me like I have no fear of failure, just go out there and play football Don’t worry about the mistakes because he knows what he’s saying is if you go out there and having no fear you’re going to do some of the things that are ideally he’d like you to be able to do some of the things which communicate and be able to play faster. By you know, not having to worry about it make one mistake, you’re never going to play again or something like that. I think if you go out there, you’ve earned their trust. play as hard as you can do what you need to do be a good teammate, you’re generally get the benefit of doubt because they know the playmaking will come along with all those things. I miss all the things I mentioned before.

Jon Johnston 9:46 So you don’t think they’re that far away? I mean, you don’t think that the world’s falling apart in that bottom falling out of this and here’s the thing most fans, they would they want an easy answer right? We go Internet site. I mean in our forums and toys about its they blame lack of personnel scheme or coaching. You know, is there one of those things that’s more important than the others? And is that reflected in this Nebraska defense?

Jay Foreman 10:16

Well, I think obviously you know, there’s not a coach out there that is happy with that is 100,000% happy with their roster even if that think that if you know, you talk to Nick Saban and dabble Sweeney after winning the championship, they probably like Oh, I wish you know, they had you know, three five star linebackers and they’re all going to be first. I mean, there’s nobody that’s gonna be truly 100% You know, every single guy healthy plan to their best of personnel. So that’s just out of the equation. So yeah, you do need to upgrade some personnel. We I mean, obviously, you know, and it’s there for dealers and nice and pass rushers, but those guys are like unicorns, they don’t make those every day.

So it’s very hard to get those so you got to find guys come in and develop into pass rusher. So that’s a big, that’s a big tour there. So as you’re doing that, you gotta be able to make sure that you have defensive linemen and linebackers economically stop the run, but you know, play good and coverage. Well, you see a lot of teams are attacking our linebackers and coverage, one from lack of experience, but then also lack of execution, from how they’re playing the coverages inside with the crossing routes and stuff like that. That’s communication, play recognition, and some personnel issues. So it’s a little bit of everything. And it’s hard to match up your scheme to the personnel when they’re not doing the basics. And the basics are just aligning and being alignment, aligning, you know, assignment and being aggressive. They’re the three A’s they aren’t doing well. And those are things that have nothing to do with personnel or scheme guys just aren’t lining up, right.

Jon Johnston 11:47 I don’t know if I’m gonna ask this next question, right that because I’m not certainly not a guru of defense and offense and things like that and schematics. But is to Andrey asking our linebackers to do much too much in how they cover both the run and the pass?

Jay Foreman 12:08

No think it is. I really don’t.

I don’t I don’t think so at all. I think that it’s not nothing more than anybody else’s done. I think it’s a pretty rather rather easy scheme. So, you know, I think it’s, it’s a, you know, I don’t know what else to say besides that it’s pretty relative that we’re not you know, he’s not asking him to cover the deep middle or anything like that. So I don’t see where they’re doing any more, or any less than anybody else throughout the nation. And this he’s not asking them to do anything that they can’t do both just a matter of them doing it and doing it to the best of their ability and holding themselves accountable and everybody else around the around them accountable as well.

Jon Johnston 12:58 Okay, let’s get it done. Three, four defense, you get I mean, again and go back to the message boards and radio commentary and stuff like that. There’s a lot of people that think the three four defense shouldn’t be running the big 10. Is it? Is it? Did the schemes really matter? Or is it just that you know, people had say, You played in a four three defense under Tom Osborne, right? Yeah. And and now we’re in a three, four. And people constantly do this thing where they go, Well, if we just did the same things we did back then then everything would be fine and we’d be successful. That’s kind of an adjusted hit the easy button, isn’t it? What do you think of the three man? I mean,

Jay Foreman 13:45

I played in the four three you played in the present on the three floor and played in every single type of three for playing the bass for where you just have a zero to five techniques and you just line up and get after it. I played at Pittsburgh Steelers type of three, four, and then I played an Calm and a combination of kind of wish to nanda and those guys are doing right now. So it can be right here. You just gotta have really good defensive linemen and guys that know how to affect the passer, you know, you got Wisconsin, who’s running it, and they’ve done pretty well at it. And I think that, you know, I wouldn’t say that they got any more athletes and we do, I think it’s just the way that they kind of go about their business, they’re very physical team, they got to understand that you gotta, you gotta win with physicality first. And so that’s where we’ve really been, you know, lacking as a defense and so you can run it in the big 10. And, you know, and you can run three, four personnel out there and how for three fronts you know, so you’re pretty much doing your get your covered on both ends. And so, it just how creative you can get, but you can’t get creative if you’re not just doing the basics, and that’s where we’re struggling at it just doing the basics. And that’s, you know, it’s an on both sides of the ball running, blocking, tackling, not turning the ball over it. We’re just not doing that. VCs have football right now. So you can’t, you know, the coach, you can’t expect them to add on more stuff when they can’t do you can’t you know, I call it walk and chew gum. So, you know, ideally, you know, they’d probably like to do some more stuff, but we haven’t been able to win the line of scrimmage and do so so we’re playing, you know, behind the eight ball, you know, per se, you know, and down a distance and then not being able to be aggressive and then just kind of leading them what one thing leads to another

Jon Johnston 15:31 How do they get their confidence back? It seems to me that they have to start there.

Jay Foreman 15:37

Ah, well that was it. Yeah, they got to get their confidence back whether what they gotta do is just go out there and competent come from now, of course, you know, you want to pay off to be on Saturday afternoons. I mean, there’s no doubt about it. But confidence comes from, you know, the work that you put in during the week, and then you build that confidence out that you’re going to go out there and play it and I was going to come from each other. Um, you know, one thing I think that we’re doing is we’re waiting for the other team to fold. You know, I’m saying and so, you know, instead of, you know, let’s throw the first punch, you know, and let’s keep punching. Yeah, they end but we got to realize these guys on a scholarship to you know, whether it’s Purdue Indiana, South Alabama, Illinois, these guys, you know, all you know, it’s not like they were practicing all spring and all summer, you know, lifting weights and looking at film, you know, thinking like, man, we’re, you know, we’re going to get worse. They’re trying to get better. They’re trying to do anything. You saw it like Indiana last week. Those guys are so scared of tempo. They were up there faking injuries, they’re going to do anything underneath their power and their case to become bowl eligible and have a signature win with kind of teeter tottering on breaking the unwritten rules and football and it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. But at the end of the day, these guys are out there. They’re getting paid to and they’re planning they got good athletes and they got good weight room and they got you know, films Study and they got guys that can break down film I got analytics or whatever the heck it is they use. So they mean you can’t take anything away from and we just got to be able to step up to the challenge. And not only step up to the challenge is be able to dictate what we’re going to do when we have a challenge and that’s pretty much smash them in the face and out execute and what we’ve done is shown flashes of being good, and then shoot ourselves in the foot. And then next thing you know, we are you know, you know, turn the ball over with driving the ball and then you know, we’re getting down there then we get a you know, legal procedure penalty, legal formation penalty, and then we’re just now we’re in the negative and then we aren’t able to recover at least for a driver to

Jon Johnston 17:44 We’ll take a few more minutes and then we’ll be done because you’re busy guy. That sounded really sarcastic didn’t i didn’t know.

Jay Foreman 17:55

No, no, no. No offense taken.

Jon Johnston 17:57 My family complains that everything I say a sarcastic and you know, whatever. Okay, you played with Scott for us. You knew Scott for us back when he was a football player. I mean, we came into second year, there was a lot of hype. It’s not turning out that way. How much time do you actually think it will take before he has turned Nebraska into a team that will contend on a yearly basis for the big 10 West?

Jay Foreman 18:26

And they all know the time I mean, he just got here. I mean, so yeah, given time, he’s trying to change 20 yearsof bull bull crap in less than two years, and so he sent trying to change the culture, both in the football program and outside the program. He’s trying to change the culture within the athletic department, which is, Let’s face it, football is one of the keep the lights on, turn the lights on lights off. I don’t care what anybody else says. It kind of makes this state go and You’ve had a loser mentality that’s kind of been infused into our program for way too long. And we got away from our principles. And it’s not about the 90s. It’s not about, let’s try to recreate Scott Frost and the pipeline and the black shirts and all that. Wat we’re trying to do is try to take those principles, principles that help us be successful, which every team in this day right now uses or does and be successful, and we got away from it. And it’s hard to get it through these kids head when they’re so used to losing and doing minimal and receiving maximum benefits.

And what I mean by that is, they’re coming in and not going above and beyond when they’re on scholarship or when they’re here to play football, and they’re still treated as such as if they’re winning national championship.

So the reality of where we’re at is the reality that we created. And we’ve created it through the way we went about it and talked about these players in the media. Right, wrong or indifferent. We’ve anointed players that had no business doing it. We’ve anointed guys that are in leadership roles on past teams that were not leaders or individuals. And when you do that, what you do is, is forever if you have a guy that’s only about himself, but everybody use him as a leader, he’s teaching those guys how to do the same. So what you’ve done is you’ve created years and years and years of individualism when Nebraska has been on a team type of concept, regardless of who’s on the team.

We had guys on the team that could have left and then first round picks and decided to come back because of the betterment of the team. We got guys now that they’re leaving early and not even getting drafted, or they, you know, they before they even do anything you got guys out there talking about they got a decision to make. Now they don’t have a decision to make that the first decision that these guys need to make, whether they really want to play football and really, really dive into it when they really, really want to be a part of a Nebraska football program for five years and that’s just not doing the minimal effort - it’s the maximum effort every single day. day, every chance that you get on and off the field, and then some.

Jon Johnston 21:06 That’s quite a bit of stuff. We could spend a long time talking about every one of those things. But we’re going to just for you to end this What are you doing now? I mean, you know, any mean what’s what’s going on in your life? What are you doing?

Jay Foreman 21:27

A lot of public speaking, I was pretty busy. So I do some public speaking both high schools, Husker associations obviously nationally, to with some companies as I do that do a lot of mentoring with kids. You know, whether they’re trying to make that transition, you know, the high school or whatever, or not high school or, you know, going to college try to do some stuff so, I keep myself pretty busy. Obviously, my former foundation what we do is we hold an annual golf tournament which helps fund our turkey drives, so We were able to donate 100 or 200 free turkeys to the Center for people in need and then also you know, we also take some of those proceeds proceeds and donate to AFN which is autism family network here in Lincoln and and also center for the Center for people in need and then also clinic with the heart to help the diabetes or were able to spread it around and help some causes that are near and dear to my heart and affecting my family so it’s a you know, keeps me pretty busy, but I really enjoy the public speaking part.

Jon Johnston 22:37 Well, you sound good. Again, I sound sarcastic, I think. Is there anything else you want to add about this year’s team yourself that we haven’t covered? I mean

Jay Foreman 22:52

No, I mean, I think that’d be fine. I think it just takes time and it hasn’t been their best effort. They know it and so you know, I think that they can end it on a positive note. I think everything will kind of fall in line. So it’s a brilliant job to see how they can these last four or five games.

Jon Johnston 23:08 All right, well, we’re going to wrap it up then this was a interview with Jay foreman, former Husker linebacker who had two national titles under his belt in has done quite a bit since then. This has been Jon’s Post-life crisis. Thank you for listening.

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