When the ball is in play, it’s not just Todd Orlando’s eyes that are in pursuit.
In practice, Utah State’s new defensive coordinator hangs behind his unit, but he moves to the ball carrier, looking a bit like the linebacker he once was years ago.
The closest he’ll truly get to the action is well out of range of any tackles. But he knows his new players sense his energy. And like any leader, he wants to set an example.
“We want them to give great effort, we gotta give it,” Orlando said. “Obviously there are constraints to that; I don’t want to pass out in the middle of the field. But I want them to know we’re in it all together.”
Orlando was only hired in February, the last man standing in a long search for a new Aggies defensive mind. He was hired to take on a defense that was among the best in the country last season: seventh in scoring, sixth in sacks, eighth in pass efficiency and high in a number of other marks.
But early reviews indicate that Orlando has made the most of his short time with the team thus far, blending in to Utah State’s program while standing out in a number of positive ways.
The way he coaches — with passion and energy — has made an impression. Defensive end Connor Williams said after the team’s first scrimmage that he pops up on film, acting out what he wants his players to do while the play is going on.
“It’s funny, but definitely energy is there,” Williams said. “He has the same mentality as last year.”
Orlando has the background to fit in well with the Aggies, familiar with 3-4 defenses like the team used under Gary Andersen.
But he also has the background — competing for Big East championships with UConn — to help take Utah State where it wants to go.
Chuckie Keeton has been among those who acknowledges that the different looks the defense has installed under Orlando have been disorienting, and it’s helped the defense get the better of him a few times in practices and scrimmages this spring. He’s also over the safeties group, helping develop Brian Suite and Maurice Alexander.
But Orlando also credits the existing staff for helping him to adapt to his role in Logan.
He has a number of long-tenured assistants at his disposal: Frank Maile, Kevin Clune and Kendrick Shaver all helped the defense become elite last year.
It’s also his personnel that have held up their end of the bargain. Dave Aranda left behind a solid foundation.
“These guys have obviously been coached like crazy,” he said.
“They take a lot of pride in what they’re doing. You can see it when they go up and watch film on their own. You can see in terms the details and questions they ask when they’re on the field. You know they’re football kids.”
What Orlando sees in his players, Matt Wells saw in him. When he pulled the trigger on Orlando, he saw a passionate coach who could bring that same energy to his defense.
In spring, early though it may be, he’s been meeting that expectation.
A closer look Todd Orlando
• Led a top-15 defense at Connecticut in 2007 and 2008.
• Helped lead the Huskies to the 2010 Fiesta Bowl.
• Developed players such as safety Jonathan Cyprien and linebacker Lawrence Wilson.