Not counting the goalies, there are 10 players on the floor during a set play in indoor lacrosse, five offense and five defense. One player normally has the ball, meaning the other nine guys are either waiting for the one possessing the ball to pass to them, make a shot, or stop him from scoring. The guy with the ball and the player defending him are referred to as “on-ball.” For the other eight players in a set play, we consider them “off-ball.”
You’ll often hear of how important work is off-ball for both offense and defense. And while we covered this a bit with the first Film Room looking at what Randy Staats does after he passes the ball, it’s a bit tougher to break down for defenders. After the Swarm’s loss to the Bandits last Saturday, you would probably be correct in assuming that not a lot went right on- or off-ball for the Swarm defenders.
But that wasn’t the case for Jason Noble, who was arguably the best Swarm defender that night. This isn’t to say he wasn’t on the floor when the Bandits scored; he was. But two of the goals against he was directly involved with were power play goals from Corey Small, who has scored 10 of his 22 goals this season on the man-advantage. The other goals against Georgia when Noble was on the floor happened when Noble was on the opposite side of the defensive zone.
A lot of Noble’s success as a defender comes from what he does off-ball, which makes him perfect for us to examine in this Film Room. And it starts with his footwork and quick-thinking.
Noble spent most of the game guarding the right-handed Bandits players, and he wears black shoes with white trim at the base. In the below GIF, he starts off as the on-ball defender against Shawn Evans before Dhane Smith sets a pick for a pick and roll attempt. Teammate Lyle Thompson makes an excellent slide to shut Smith down as Noble hands his assignment off to Brendan Bomberry in the low right wing.
Noble leaves Evans to cover Thomas Hoggarth, a guy that lives inside and on the crease. His quick slide shuts down that avenue for Smith and helps lead to a shot on goal right at Mike Poulin.
Another good example is during this extra attacker opportunity for the Bandits at the end of the second quarter. Now with six Bandits offensive players on the floor, the Swarm have to adjust to the extra man. In the center of the zone, Noble does a lot of shifting from assignment to assignment before settling on Hoggarth with Chad Tutton having two guys tied up in front of him and a lot of traffic to his left.
It takes a lot of quick thinking to be able to decide how to adjust against such a fast offense, but Noble demonstrates some excellent footwork which allows him to change assignments as soon as the thought dawns in his mind. You can see it in both GIFs when he moves laterally. Noble never crosses his feet, helping him keep his body wide in front of the net and allowing him to move back diagonally pretty easily.
Earlier in the game, we see another good example of this. He starts on-ball once again, this time guarding Ian MacKay. A check to his back from Small doesn’t bother Noble as he pressures MacKay further out of the zone. But Jordan Durston tries to cut inside and create a lane by momentarily getting in Noble’s way.
Alex Crepinsek takes Durston, and Noble quickly adjusts to Small instead. An illegal pick on the other end of the floor turns the ball over to the Swarm.
Noble’s got the speed mentally and physically, but you need some strength and aggression to be a successful NLL defender. And while it may not seem like a guy listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds would be a force against dudes on the other side of six foot and 200 pounds, that’s not the case for the Cornell University alum.
Take when he got into Bandits captain Steve Priolo’s chest to tie him up for a spell. Priolo – listed at 6-foot-5 and 234 pounds – stayed out for an offensive shift and tried to set a pick against Noble. So Noble just spun around and chilled with Priolo for a few seconds.
Priolo’s really good at using his body to create space for his teammates, and he also has a pretty good scoring touch. Noble got his stick above Priolo’s and shut him down as Small tried to figure out where to pass to get the ball inside. The play eventually results in an errant pass that the Swarm collect.
While it’s important that Noble can get in opponents’ faces, what he does with the space around him is just as important. Let’s look at him on the penalty kill.
The Swarm normally run out Noble and Connor Sellars to guard the posts by the goal, with Bryan Cole and Jordan MacIntosh guarding high in case a fast break chance arises. The group does a good job of shifting appropriately, as we see below when Noble presses on Small.
Noble’s speed and aggression is on display again as he forces passes from Small and Durston with some quick slides and stick checks. But before he presses, the Orangeville, Ontario native places himself in the best spot to shift to either Bandits player Smith feels like passing to, simultaneously narrowing the passing window from Smith to Durston.
While positioning is important, especially while man-down, Noble is one of the better players in the NLL to use his wingspan effectively on the penalty kill unit. When he presses, it’s two hands on his stick, but when he’s off-ball, Noble spreads his arms out to help obstruct lanes.
Other defenders will do similar things. When your defense is down a man, the more space you take up, the better. But it’s hard to think of too many players that instantly swap between on-ball defensive checks to extending their wingspan off-ball as quickly and often as Noble does.
You want your off-ball defender to shut down one of the four weapons an opponent has on the floor, limiting where the ball can go and who it can come from. Noble uses a strong combination of brains, footwork, aggression and space management to be successful as an off-ball defender.
But just because Noble’s so good off-ball, that doesn’t mean he isn’t deadly on-ball. So here’s a quick video of him being successful at the other half of his game.