Friday, December 6, 2019

Developing A High School Defense-Coverages

This is part one of my defensive series on developing a high school defense.  Most people start from the ground up, but the way I was educated in defensive football was that you set the coverage first.  By determining the coverage first you can then dictate what front you'll run and where you need to align the rest of the defense to defend your opponent.

The Basics
First off, there only three types of defenses out there.  I know most of you just gave a hardy "What the hell???", but hear me out.  Coverage is what determines the type of defense you are.  In my offensive coordinator days running flexbone, I learned there are simply three types of defense that can be presented at any one time.  The three types are the seven man front, the eight man front and the nine man front.  I'll elaborate some on these:

  • The seven man front- This front has the middle of the field open (MOFO), or better known in the defensive world as a two-high safety look (think Quarters, or Cover Two).  Your typical seven man fronts are the 4-3, the 5-2 or the 3-4 (see those numbers add up to seven!).
7 man front

  • The eight man front- This front has the middle of the field closed (MOFC), or better know to us defensive guys as a one-high safety look.  The most common of these being the 4-4 or the 5-3 or even the new 3-5 defenses are all eight man fronts.
8 man front

  • The nine man front is an all out man to man defense where there is no deep defender.  
So, based on the premises above, I believe a defense needs to be able to get into all of those types of looks.  I don't care if you are a 4-4, in today's game you need to be able to play 2 high coverages.  If you're a 3-4 cover 2 scheme you need to be able to get into a 5-3 Cover 3 at times.  Too many coaches get hung up on "being something" that they don't understand that every defense has limitations against certain offenses.  The 4-3 Over Front is not a good front against Power O.  Nor is it very good against the Wing-T.  A 5-2 Cover 0 is probably not going to look very good against a no back five wide spread team unless they just absolutely have some studs playing in that defense.  

Years ago I head the age old axiom of "Play defense, not defenses".  What I thought this meant was if you're going to be a 4-3 Quarters team you have to be a 4-3 Quarters team ALL THE TIME.  Since my younger days I've learned that is not the case.  What it means is, be consistent with your teaching.  Whatever defensive philosophy you have, stick with it despite running a 3-3 or a 4-4.  If you're a squeeze and spill team, then be that way in whatever front you're in.  If you're a two-gapping read and react style of defense, be that in whatever front you run.  

My point in all of this is, in order to be successful against all of the schemes we see in today's game, you need a scheme that is flexible enough to defend them, by being able to get into a myriad of looks with no change in the way the philosophy of the defense is taught.  I will give you a list of the various defenses we ran vs. our opponent's offenses this past season:

  • Game 1 Spread Jet Sweep Single Wing/Wing T Look
    • Defense = 3-4 Cover 2 and Cover 3
  • Game 2 Pure 10 and 11 Personnel Spread
    • Defense = 4-3/4-2 Cover 2
  • Game 3 Air Raid No Huddle Up-Tempo Spread
    • Defense = 4-3/4-2 Cover 2
  • Game 4 I Pro
    • Defense = Under Front Cover 0
  • Game 5 Spread Single Wing/Wildcat
    • Defense = 4-4 Cover 3
  • Game 6 10/11 Personnel Oklahoma Style Spread
    • Defense = 4-3/4-2 Cover 2, 2 Trap and 1/4, 1/4, 1/2
  • Game 7 Pro/Wing T
    • Defense = Under Front Cover 0
  • Game 8 Shotgun Wing T
    • Defense = 50 front/50 Slant Cover 3
  • Game 9 No Huddle Up Tempo Spread
    • Defense = 4-2 Cover 2/3-3 Cover 2
  • Game 10 10/11 Y Off Personnel Power Spread
    • Defense = 4-3 Cover 2
  • Game 11 10/11/12 Personnel Power Spread
    • Defense = 4-2 Cover 2 and 1/4, 1/4, 1/2
  • Game 12 11 Personnel Y Off Power Run
    • Defense = 4-4 Cover 3
To the average coach, this looks like a lot, and quite frankly it is.  However I'm going to explain the key ingredients in being able to be so multiple at the high school level.  The first topic, is always and will always be, setting the coverage.

Did somebody say "cvoerages"?

Coverage, What to Run?
Most who know me think I'm a Quarters guy.  For a long time I guess you could say I was.  I've run it a majority of my coaching career.  I actually cut my teeth on the old Miami Hurricanes Cover 2.  When I first started coaching this was my go-to coverage.  When I say Cover 2 I'm talking old-school flat corners and 1/2 field safeties with the middle linebacker (MLB) running the rail down the middle of the field.  Later, I would learn a soft version of Cover 2 known as "Palms" that I would adopt and use.  I actually called it Cover 4, because our Cover 2 was our squat corner version of the coverage and since Palms is very closely related to Quarters, I used the number four to signify this coverage.  As my coaching career progressed I moved further and further into Quarters, but the one adjustment I always seemed to carry with me every where I went was Palms.  There's just something about having that corner covering a route entering the flats that I like.  The one thing I absolutely never cared for in Quarters is the fact that you ask a linebacker, who is a lesser athlete in most cases, to cover the flat area from inside-out.  So basically you're asking a run first defender to cover a zone that is outside the hash marks to the sideline, from the inside.  Nah, I'll pass.  So Palms allowed us an easy adjustment to not have our linebackers doing this.  Anyhow, what I'm getting to, in a very roundabout way is, you need to have something to hang your hat on.  In other words, a signature coverage.  Ours is a soft cover 2, we simply call "Blue".  If you're a 4-4 guy, maybe your go-to is Cover 3, or Robber.  If you run the Bear maybe you are going to run a lot of man-free, but whatever it is, you need to have a starting point for what your basic coverage is going to be.  For us, that's a soft Cover 2, or what many would refer to as Palms (we don't play ours quite like Palms, but it's close).

I stole this from Coach A at Match Quarters.  Go visit his site, you won't be sorry.

Secondly, you need to have adjustments to said coverage.  No one coverage defends every offense out there.  Sorry Quarters fans, but you're "catch all" coverage isn't all it's cracked up to be (hence why people run both Quarters and Palms together).  When you are building a defense, and you've picked your basic coverage, you need to understand where this coverage is weak, and when said coverage should be avoided.  Once you know the weaknesses, you now know how to build adjustments into said coverage to help you defend conflict offenses.  

Lastly if you're a two-high team, you need to have the ability to play one high, and no high looks (eight man and nine man fronts).  If you want to base out of an eight man front (one high) then you will need ways in your scheme to go both two high and no high (seven and nine man fronts).  I don't recommend a nine man front as my base defense, but if you choose to do so, you'll need a way to get into the other two looks as well.

For those saying this is too much, listen, hang in there and I'll get to the part about teaching carry-over and technique carry-over that will make some this fit into place a bit better for you.  With that being said, below is a list of coverages that we teach from day one of spring football as our "base defense".

  • Cover 0- man to man no man free coverage (our way of getting into a nine man front).
  • Cover 2- 2 deep 5 underneath zone coverage (adaptable though-think Palms).
  • Cover 3 Cloud- a rolled 3 deep 4 underneath coverage that has the strong corner has the flat player with the safeties rolling strong and taking the deep 1/3's while the backside corner is generally in man coverage.
  • Cover 4- True 4 deep 3 underneath zone coverage (no this is not Michigan State Cover 4).
  • Cover 6- 1/4, 1/4, 1/2.  A combination of Cover 4 to the strong side and a version of Cover 2 to the weak side based on whether we are facing twins weak or a single receiver weak.
That's it.  For other coverages we run, here is the extended list:

  • Cover 3- Pretty much old school Cover 3.  We can either roll to it pre or post snap with a tag, but it's generally Cover 3.  We will lock up the weak side corner if we get single width though.
  • Cover 1- Man free, plain and simple.  Same as Cover 3, we can roll to it pre or post snap AND we have a double tag if we need it.
  • Rip/Liz- Yes the Saban version of Cover 3, though we do play it slightly different than he does.  It's more soft or catch man than it is Cover 3.
We can also play combination coverage as well.  Some combo's we play are 20, 31, 200 (similar to TCU's Special but not quite as complex) and we have a way of "buzzing" our safety down into the curl and playing an inverted Cover 2 look as well.

Now, I will explain the "whys" of the coverages we run and how it relates to how not only do we cover our opponent's but also how we align to them as well.

Why You Run Certain Coverages
I get this asked quite a bit actually.  I've run tons of coverages in my career.  I've also been stubborn and sat in one coverage with only a handful of adjustments as well.  The latter was not very successful, and I'll tell you why.  Teams today are too adept at putting in coverage beating pass plays to simply sit in Quarters or Cover 3 etc.  They quite simply will pick you apart.  Now this is my opinion, but you need to be able to do the following, for the reasons listed below:

  • Play some sort of 2 shell coverage.
    • Why- These are the most adaptable coverages.  They can spin, disguise can be both four deep, three under, or two deep five under.  
  • Play some sort of 1 high safety zone coverage.
    • Why- Let's face it, Cover 3 is popular because it's simple and it does cover a lot of what you'll see.  If you don't see good passing QB's and play in a run heavy league, I'd say base out of it.  In today's spread world though I'd be wary of using it as my base.
  • Play some sort of 1 high safety man coverage.
    • Why- In the world of run pass options (RPO's) this is sometimes the simplest adjustment.  It also allows you to add pressure to a package by not having to have defenders out of the box focused on both the run and the pass.  Sometimes, when dealing with high school players, it's better to reduce what they have to focus on than to add to it.  Simply put, man is about as simple as any coverage you can run, and you have a deep safety so in case something pops it can be run down, or held up until the Calvary arrives.
  • Play Cover 0.
    • Why- Not a lot will like this because folks all think they need to run these elaborate zone pressures so they can look like they are the second coming of Brent Venables.  However, in my experience, high school QB's cannot make the throws, under duress, into tight man-to-man coverage.  They have an easier time doing so against zone coverages, or against teams that void a zone when they blitz.  This is coming from experience too, as I have done both.  We do not currently "zone blitz", but we will void a zone, or drop the occasional defensive lineman (DL) when we bring pressure.  However, I would not call us a zone blitz team.  We generally blitz from Cover 1, or Cover 0.  We also play Cover 0 to single width as a base check and I'll tell you the why of that as well.  If your a zone team and playing this to single width, you're asking to get thrown on.  Why have a deep third corner sit there and watch a receiver catch slants on him all day when he's guarding the deep third of the field?  This makes no sense.  Press Quarters guys are basically playing Cover 0 to single width anyways, so why not just play Cover 0 and be done with it?  Simple, that's why it makes a good check to single width and you know won't give up those simple underneath throws to single width receivers.
This are not...

  • Have More Than One Way to Play 3x1
    • Why- Because 3x1 sets are what offenses are using to get the most out of both their run and their pass games.  Offensive Coordinators (OC's) aren't stupid, they know what stress out their counterparts on the opposite side of the football.  I recommend at least two ways to handle 3x1, but we have at least six in our toolbox ready to be installed at any time.  This past season we used three.
Trips, Trips, Trips...

  • Have More Than One Way to Play No Back
    • Why- You can file this under the same reason as having more than one way to play 3x1.  No back sets are getting more and more popular, and with the advent of putting a passer back that can run, or a runner that can pass at QB you need to have various ways to defend this set without stressing your defense.  
  • Have a way to double one of your opponent's best receivers
    • Why- I'm not sure I really have to answer this right?  This can be a specific coverage or a tag to any coverage.  I prefer the latter as it lets me be more flexible in my approach on how I want to double a certain defender.  However you choose to do it, you need to be able to double a good wide receiver.
Yeah, you need to double THAT guy!

Again, the above is just my opinion and if you notice is not necessarily tied to any specific coverage, with the exception of coverages 0, 1 and 3.  If you want to be a Quarters guy, do so, but also be able to play one high.  If you're strictly a 4-4 Cover 3, fine, but be able to get into two high coverages at least on one side of your defense, because I promise you, somewhere along the line in a season you're going to need it.

In the next segment, I'm going to explain what I do in coverage so that you can understand the rest of the High School Defense articles.  These may not be along the lines of what you do, but it's going to be what I recommend for having a quick way for your kids to understand how to align and defend the offenses you are seeing.

Checks Based on Receiver Distribution
Receiver distribution is how many receivers and offense deploys to one side of the formation.  For us we simply group these by number.  Below is our base checks to these looks by coverage.

  • Single Width- this can be a single receiver to a side, or a single tight end (TE).  This also includes pro (TE/flanker).
    • Check- Man, usually Cover 0.
Single Width

  • Double Width- this is two speedy receivers to one side, better known as "twins".
    • Check- Cover 2
      • Note vs. Twins Closed we have a cover 2 check that rolls down the strong safety (SS) and he replaces the outside linebacker (OLB) in our 4-3 and the free safety (FS) rolls to the twins side and plays the half field safety.  Keeps the LB's in the box to defend the run.

Single Width Twins

  • Triple Width- this is three receivers, in any combination, to one side of the formation.  It can be a tight end with two receivers outside of him, or three receivers outside of the tackle box.
    • Check- our "clouded" version of Cover 3.
      • Note: we also stated we had to have more than one adjustment to this look and we do.  We can also play quarter, quarter, half, and Cover 3 to name a few of our other coverages we play to three receivers.
Triple Width

  • Four to a Side- Same as three receivers to a side, but now you have four.
    • Check- We use clouded Cover 3 check to this look as well.
Four to a Side

What these "checks" do is give you players solid alignment and assignment looks for when the bullets are flying.  Now that's not to say I might not play Cover 2 to Pro, or Cover 3 to No Back.  I want the freedom to call what I want, but having basic coverage checks based on receiver distribution is sound defensive principal.

Doubling a Good Receiver
As mentioned above I believe any coverage package worth its salt must have this built in.  There are many ways to do this.  I choose to do it a couple of different ways.  We can turn single high Cover 1 into a double by simply tagging who we want the free safety (FS) to double or shade to.

The other way we can do it is Belichick's Cover 1 Double ## (for more information on this coverage go here).

1 Double Jersey ##

 The last way to do it is to have a tag in any coverage that allows certain players to know they are doubling.  We do this mostly out of Cover 0, but can do it out of any coverage.  We even break our tag into two different forms as well.  The first way I choose to do it is to have an underneath defender over the receiver play aggressive press technique with help over the top.  If we tag this coverage with a "switch" call, we then get the underneath defender bailing at the snap and playing over the top of a deep defender rolling down to take the receiver.  I do this to "bait" QB's into throwing into the rolled coverage, since it looks like we are bailing out at the snap.

Technique and Teaching
This segment is probably the most important.  To be able to run everything I usually run throughout the course of a football season the technique needs to carry over and needs to be simple to teach.  I'm going to break down not only our techniques used, but also how we implement our coverages so that they build on one another.

The first part is the technique.  How do you want your players defending your opponent?  I used to be hard and fast that I wanted to shuffle and bail, or press and bail and I was going to stick with that no matter what.  Let me tell you what I've learned.  Teach some fundamental footwork, and let your players decide what they are comfortable with.  I'll give you an example, just from this past season.  My right corner, was sent to the defensive side of the football late from offense (he was a running back and receiver that just didn't pan out on that side of the ball, so naturally I got him).  Being an offensive player he's not used to backing up, so backpedal made this kid look like a newborn deer.  The shuffle, however, was his niche.  He's also a point guard on the basketball team, and this technique fit more to what he was used to doing in that sport.  My left corner, was completely opposite.  He did not like having his back to the sideline.  To be honest, he should've been a safety, but this past season I was safety rich and corner poor, so he had to do.  So, we allowed him to backpedal.  Being flexible has allowed me to "turn loose" kids I would have otherwise pigeon holed into doing what I wanted them to do, instead of letting them do what is comfortable to them.  I do this so long as what they are doing can be taught and is sound in how we are trying to cover our opponent.

So with that said we use both the backpedal and the shuffle.  We use both in zone and man to man, but mostly zone.  We also use "hot feet" and several other of the techniques shown in this article for our man-to-man coverages.  We also do our standard 45, 90, 135, 225 degree turns and we also teach press and bail (which isn't much different than shuffling and bailing).  My main points about technique are that you need to be flexible and adapt to what works for your players.  This may mean, doing as I did, and have one corner shuffling and the other pedaling.  The other thing is have a reason for all of the technique.  If you don't want to teach hot feet in press man, and you like hop-hop-strike instead, then do that, but just remember the other technique in case you have a struggling player.  Teaching him the other technique might benefit you.

In regards to teaching, "carry-over" is very big.  I learned this when studying Gary Patterson's TCU defenses all those many years ago (it has been 10 years!).  What I noticed was that terminology was carried over from coverage to coverage and certain calls/checks only created minute differences in what one or two defensive backs (DB's) would be doing in a coverage call.  I have tried to adapt this to as much of what we do and how we install our coverages.

I'm fortunate enough to have spring ball where I coach.  The state allows us 20 practises which includes a game against another team to get our season jump-started in the spring of the year.  Our install always begins here.  What I like about spring ball is that it's almost like a true training camp at the collegiate level, meaning that you have a limited time to get it all in before you have to play.  Really holds the coaches feet to the fire, so to speak, to keep on task with the teaching.

So, our install is as follows:
  • Day 1
    • Cover 0
    • Cover 2
      • We also install our combo coverage 20 (2 to one side 0 to the other) and our pro twins adjustment (shown above).
  • Day 2
    • We review the above for 1/2 of the practice time.
    • We install man free.
  • Day 3
    •  We review Day 1 and Day 2
    • Cover 3
    • Cover 3 cloud (3x1 adjustment)
  • Day 4
    • Review Day 3
    • Cover 4 (true 1/4's, not pattern match)
    • 1/4, 1/4, 1/2 with all weak side tags
  • Day 5
    • Review all

By day five we should be able to play a game and have all of our checks shown above installed.  Here's the logic behind the installation.  Always teach man first.  For us, somebody is going to be "manned up" somewhere in our coverage most of the time.  Remember our auto check to single width is man.  So I teach based off of the fact that you'll see quite a bit of single width and we need that check.  Plus this allows you to have the front jump right in to installing blitzes (hence, keeping their interest).  I teach Cover 2 second, because again, the second most popular look I'll see is going to be two quicks to a side.  I add the combination coverages and our pro twins adjustment because there is 100% carry over in those coverages from the first two installed.  Day two we go and work on one high coverages.  Man free is quite simple to teach once you've taught Cover 0.  It's basically the same thing, but you add a LB as an underneath man defender and have a middle of the field (MOF) safety to teach what to do.  In the spring we teach our man-to-man motion adjustment to be to chase your man.  Again, keep it simple.  I'll go into teaching adjustments later.  Day three is a continuation of day two.  Cover 3 is an easy install once you have taught Cover 1.  Their virtually the same as one is man everywhere he goes (MEG, Cover 1) and the other is man only deep (MOD, Cover 3).  Not a hard distinction to teach.  On day one, in our pro twins adjustment we taught the safeties how to drop underneath a receiver.  Cover 3 is no different, the only exception is that instead of being inside two and dropping under two, he's outside of two and drops under number one. 

Our 3x1 adjustment takes the most time as it has the most moving parts.  The safeties are the real kicker here.  The reads they have must be reviewed and repeated to get them to understand where they fit.  Also getting them to understand that the weak side of the coverage is in man, so the two safeties have to protect that side from a strong crosser.  The corners are easy here, as one is man, the other is playing Cover 2 technique.

In Days four and five we move into our other 3x1 adjustment and our no back adjustment which is 1/4, 1/4, 1/2 (we call this Cover 6).  Cover 4 is quickly taught and then 6 is taught by teaching the strong side of the coverage is in Cover 4 and the weak side is in Cover 2.  Now, we play Cover 6 a bit different than most on the weak side to single width.  Cover 6 for us is a 3x1 adjustment to a good X receiver and is our standard check to 3x2 (no back) looks.  Vs. 2 quicks weak we simply play our regular Cover 2 to that side.  Against single width we are doing one of three things.  Out first check is a trap corner and 1/2 field safety.  Secondly we will teach them to double the X with the corner playing aggressive underneath with a safety over the top.  The last install is to blitz the corner and have the safety man up the X receiver.

On day five we review everything.  Now, we usually get four weeks of spring ball, so our teaching is not over.  The second week we start all over, but now we condense the days.  What this means is we reinstall days 1 and 2 on Monday, days three and four on Tuesday and then used the rest of the week to review.  This will keep going until the final week or week-and-a-half is left to the game and then I'll add anything that might be game specific into the mix.  By the end of spring we should be able to align and play against any opponent we face that plays the "standard stuff".  

Now I know most of you are probably asking "What about the linebackers"?  Well I haven't forgotten about them, but I have a very simple philosophy about them, that I will explain.  When I first started coaching, I thought LB's had to do all sorts of things in coverage.  Anything from run the middle of the field as a post player in Cover 2 to walling vertical routes out of Cover 3 and running with the wheel route by number two in Quarters.  I failed miserably at all these things.   Was I a bad teacher?  Not exactly, but I was a dumb teacher.  I was asking my guys on Friday night to do things some guys on Saturday afternoons struggle with.  Let's face it, in all my years of coaching, I've only had two or three LB's that could run with a wheel route.  I've had less that could play the post.  I was asking my guys to do things they simple could not physically do successfully. 

In the past four years I've adopted the philosophy of let DB's do DB things and let LB's do LB things.  Now yes, I do ask my LB's to cover man to man sometimes, but this means they aren't a run first defender anymore (I'm talking specifically covering a receiver out of the box).  When we go to cover a team, the DB's are going to cover the WR's and TE's.  The LB's handle the RB's.  This keeps the match ups similar.  So with that said, we teach landmark drops to our LB's in our zone coverages.  We don't have them wall, we don't have them carry.  We don't do any of that Saturday afternoon stuff.  We have them drop to a landmark and read the QB's eyes is all.  I also keep these underneath drops very simple.  Whatever receiver you align inside of, you drop underneath that receiver.  For example, in our 1/4, 1/4, 1/2 scheme against 3x1 the Sam LB aligns outside of the number two receiver and the Mike LB aligns inside the number three receiver (see illustration).  The Sam, being outside of two, is also inside of one, so he drops under number one.  I don't tell him he's a flat dropper, even though he is.  Kids don't understand zones, they understand landmarks.  The Mike, since he's aligned inside of three, will drop underneath of number three.  Very simple, very clean and puts the LB where they need to be in coverage.

I get it.  This isn't going to make you look like Kirby Smart Volume Two, but if you were, you wouldn't be coaching high school football.  Every good high school football coach I've been around has been able to do the following without using all of the fancy gimmicks people are passing off on Twitter these days.

  • Carry over.  This is easy.  Keep the same concepts and techniques throughout each coverage you install.  Many calls this multiplicity through simplicity.  
  • Simplistic nature.  Don't be overly technical if you don't have to be.  Don't tell a guy he's a hook to curl player when dropping underneath the number two receiver will do.
  • Make the simple look complex and the complex look simple.  I once had a great high school football coach (261-48 career win/loss record) explain to me his base blocking rules.  He told me it was "block the guy over you".  His offenses used to rush for upwards of 300 plus per game.  
  • Use simple consistent terminology.  I love this one.  I hear guys all the time throwing words out you see in playbooks trying to look like they know what they are talking about to high school kids.  Fellas, I promise you your guys have no clue what "apex, wall, swing deep, shimmy, rob two to one" or any of that stuff means.  Using terms like that only confuses your guys when you can use more specific ones like  "split the difference, run with him if he goes vertical, run with him if he goes out, buzz your feet, read two to one" instead.  Be direct and concise when you choose your verbiage.
  • Be persistent in your teaching.  Too many coaches give up on a scheme or technique with kids before they allow them to develop.  I was wildly guilty of this in spring ball.  My DB's were terrible.  I was trying anything and everything to find footwork that suited their non-athletic bodies, but all I was doing was confusing them by not being consistent with what I was teaching them.  Finally I settled down and just kept pounding the basics into them and slowly but surely the light came on for all of them.  You know the Grand Canyon wasn't cut into that rock instantly by the Colorado River.  It took millions of millions of years to do so.  While, as football coaches, we don't have that much time, don't stop teaching something because kids don't get it.  Keep working on it and keep changing your approach to how your teaching your skills until they do get it.
So in conclusion the first step in developing your defense is to figure out how you're going to cover people.  Are you going to need to be a seven man front or an eight man front?  This is why you must take a good long look at who you play.  I always evaluate what I have to face in my district first.  If everyone is power run, wishbone, wing-t I'm probably going to be an eight man front.  If everyone is spread then I'm probably going the seven man front route.  You have to find something to call your 'base" and then work from there.  Once the back end is set then you can develop the front end.  

In the next segment I'll address the front.  Regardless of what front you choose, I'll discuss how to make sure that you are always gap sound, be able to align quickly, and be able to adapt to other fronts from your base.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Developing a High School Defense

I'm going to start a series where I discuss what I think is important, both philosophically, as well as schematically in high school football.  One of the main pitfalls I see in high school coaches is they get schemes from teams that play on Saturdays and Sundays and attempt to make them work on Friday nights.  What I'm referring to is coaches getting college and pro schemes and wondering why their teenage-led defense falls short on Friday nights.  I feel I can talk at length about this topic because I've been guilty of being one of those guys.  Do not get me wrong, in some places I'm sure you can run what the "big boys" run.  However, for most of us in the high school ranks these schemes and what they ask players to do simply does not work for our athletes.

Why College and Pro Schemes Fail at Lower Levels
Ability.  Simply put that is the main reason that coaches, who attempt to imitate what they see in college and the NFL, fail at implementing these schemes.  I've heard guys talk about what they ask their defensive linemen to do and who they ask their linebackers to read and I'm thinking "who do you have on your defensive line and at linebacker that can do that, because I don't have those guys!".  The number one reason the idea of adapting higher level schemes for lower level play doesn't work is at the high school level our athletes simply do not have the ability to run these schemes.  When I started out as a young coach I was a big Tampa 2 guy.  I loved me some Monty Kiffin and thought hey if he's doing it for the Buccaneers, why on Earth can't I do it.  I never had a middle linebacker named Derrick Brooks, and hence, never had one that could run down the middle of the field and cover a post route either!  Thank goodness I've adapted and learned through the years!

The second reason why these upper-level schemes do not work in lower-level football is the fact that they are much more complex.  Many of the coaches that coach these schemes get to, not only practice longer than most high school coaches, but also are working these schemes eight hours a day (think NFL).  Even the restrictions the NCAA put on practice and meeting time is more time than we has high school coaches get with our players.  There's no way you can install the Dick Lebeau Fire Zone package efficiently with the time we have allotted in the high school ranks.  I attempted to install Gary Patterson's TCU defense and fell well short of what was needed to do so, and hence we struggled mightily until I found a way to compress the scheme and only teach what we needed.

Lastly, many of these schemes fail at the high school level, because let's face it, our ability as coaches.  Look, I'm not calling anyone out here, so do not take this personal.  What I am saying is, how well do you grasp an entire defensive scheme from an Internet download or a breakout session at a clinic?  The guy giving it has probably spent countless hours in the office as well as on the practice and game fields honing his scheme and you expect to learn it in a 60 minute breakout session at Glazier?  Good luck!  My current defensive scheme was adopted from a friend who has honed his craft in the high school ranks over 20 something years in the business.  Over that time he's taken bits and pieces from here and there to compile a very solid scheme (hell he even got some stuff of mine in there!).

What Should I Run Then?
I can't tell you what you should run, but I can tell you how it should be run and how it should be taught.  I'm also not saying go ultra simple, as I have a motto, "Be simple get beat simple".  There are way too many coaches out there that run simplistic schemes because they, quite frankly, aren't good teachers.  In order to run the complex schemes we need to run to defend today's prolific offenses, you need to be able to teach in a manner that your athlete understands.  Remember, in some cases you are going to be getting kids that are going to give you a blank stare when you ask them to line up in a five technique.  These same kids are going to have tons of other items in their lives that are demanding their time as well (parents, schoolwork, girlfriends etc.), so you need to have a way to teach them and hold them accountable for studying the material when not at football practice or in meetings.

In the coming articles I'm going to discuss how to set up your defense, and how to install and implement it over the course of a school year.  Yes, you need to be coaching ALL YEAR.  If you're not doing that in 2019 (almost 2020), you are behind the 8 ball.  Get with the times fellas!  I look forward to writing again, and plan to do some more this off season looking at these very topics of how to make things work on Friday nights to where it looks like you should be coaching on Saturdays.

Some Background
It's been awhile since I did any writing and I'm probably most known for the TCU defensive stuff as well as the Two Gap/One Gap method of defensive line play (TGOG).  I've run every defense under the sun.  You name it, I've done it.  Started out as a 4-4 guy, moved to the 5-3, then the 4-3, and the Bear (46 Nickel, you can find those articles here), as well as the 3-3 stack.  I'm back to a 4 man front, but just to give you some statistics from this past season on what defenses we ran, see below.

  • 4-2-5-6 games
  • Under front-2 games
  • 3-4- 1 game
  • 50- 1 game
  • 4-4-1 game
Coverages run with these defenses:
  • Cover 0 (pure man)
  • Cover 1 (man free)
  • Cover 2 (soft cover 2/Palms)
  • Cover 3 (Old school country cover 3)
  • Cover 6 (1/4, 1/4, 1/2 for us)
  • Cover 3 Cloud (I'm planning an article for this coverage, been very good to us)
  • Rip/Liz Cover 3 (The Nick Saban Special!)
As well as a multitude of variants and combinations of the above.  I get what many are probably saying right now and that's the old defensive axiom of "Play defense, not defenses".  Well, that may have worked in 2005 when I first joined the Huey Board (and heard that repeated ad nauseum), however in today's game you better be multiple.  I also can hear you saying "In the first part of this article, you talk about being simple, now you're talking about being complex?!".  No, what I'm talking about is the art of looking complex but being simple.  This is where you make your money as a defensive coordinator.  Remember our job is similar to that of a magician in being slight of hand and making one thing look like something else (i.e. simulated pressures).

I'm going to discuss how we were able to do all we did this past season and how you can implement this where you're at.  I firmly believe in order to make this work you must be willing to ask your guys to study on their own and hold them accountable when they do.  You, as the defensive coordinator need to prepare teaching tools for your players and have them ready every week.  These tools are video cutups, scouting reports, and any other data you have on your opponent that will help them line up and defend said opponent.  This is where many coaches fall short.  You have to do the grind work.  What makes this easier, is a staff that's on board with you and can help you generate the data needed, as well as teach the schemes that are going to defend said data.

Very good tool!

The Theory of Check Defense
I used to be a big proponent of check defense.  We would always check out of certain things I called etc. if we saw a certain look.  However, back in my younger years I felt this pigeon-holed me into bad calls at times.  As I took up learning TCU, and Michigan State's defenses, I got away from this premise and tried to call my way out of bad situations.  This didn't work well either.  What I learned about four years ago is that you need to mesh the two philosophies together in order to make things work.

So what is check defense?  It is a system, where we come up with what we want to run against our opponent that makes their life miserable for what they want to do.  I'll give you a for instance from this past season.  We are a 4-3/4-2 team, however we were facing a shotgun wing-t team that was averaging right around 280 yards a game rushing.  In my experience the wing-t does not like a slant 50 defense very well.  These guys were no different and our check became our 50 defense (shown below).  We slanted and stunted out of this look.  I don't feel we'd have done very well staying in a 4 man front vs. these guys.  Anyhow, when we would call "check" our team lined up accordingly in the defense shown below.  The beauty is, I could, at any time, revert back to our base package and the kids would've know how to line up.  We didn't have to, and the end of the story is a game where we held our opponent to 114 yards rushing and zero rushing touchdowns.  

Check defense is building a scheme that attacks what your opponent does best.  Many coaches will align in their base defense and run stunts and pressures at their opponent to defend their best plays.  I've done this, and I'm telling you right now you're guessing.  Many 3-3 guys do this and think they are experts at it, but I'm telling you, they are gambling and not playing with house money.  Sure this might work in the playoffs when you have 12 films on a team, but I know many of these guys that pound their chest about them knowing what their opponent is doing that have only watched the last film on their opponent.  We watch them all and break them all down as well.  It doesn't matter if it's 4 films or 14, they get broken down.  Even then, we still play check defense.  What do you do when you only have one film on a team, such as in a pre season game?  If you're a stunt or pressure to defend guy you are guessing, I don't care how you argue it.  You cannot get enough data from one film to effectively call a pressure-based defense.  Check defense allows you a solid "fall back" for when other calls may not be working.  We even rep checks to standard offenses such as I Pro, Doubles, Trips etc., and have rules built into our base package for how we align to these various offenses.  All of this gets installed in spring football and over the summer.  We go to one summer camp a year and here check defense is on display for all to see.  We have no film.  You simply line up and play.  Our basic checks allow us to do that and play fast.  Check defense will be a big segment in these upcoming articles on building a high school defense.

Anyhow, like I mentioned before I'm glad to be back coaching and writing.  Keep an eye out for future articles.  I'm not fancy like Coach Vass and have my own website and "pod casts" and coach tube etc.  If you're in to that stuff go check him out at his new site (it is pretty awesome).  Here we're old school, but chocked full of information if you care to read it.  Stay tuned!