Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Five Spoke Secondary Part III

In this segment on the Five Spoke Secondary Posts, I'll delve into the blitz strategy that one can institute using TCU's blitz scheme as a template.  Now, a lot of this IS NOT what TCU does, but IS some thing that myself and other coaches have done in the past when utilizing the 4-2-5 defense.

The Basics

To review the coverage aspects of TCU's blitz coverage scheme, simply known as Cover 0, we need to review the rules and the adaptations that TCU has in adapting their coverages to fit their blitz scheme.  The rules in TCU's Cover 0 are very simple and are as follows:

The scheme is completely based upon match ups.  Generally speaking, in college football, unless the tight end you are covering is Gronkowski, then there's no need to waste a corner here in that match up.  So, vs. closed sets (twins closed, or trips closed) then the corner to the nub side will simply "flip" over to the other side and cover the other "number one" receiver in the count.  An illustration of the count system is shown below.

Typical Count System

Count System vs. Twins Closed

Count System vs. Trips Closed

As you can see from the illustrations above, this count system is adapted to the Cover 0 scheme to keep corners covering receivers, and linebacker (LB)/safety types covering tight ends (TE's) and running backs (RB's).  One thing missing from the list of rules is the diagnosing of the position of the number two receiver.  In general, the Strong Safety (SS) and Weak Safety (WS) will have the number two receiver to their respective side, outside the tackles.  If no number two receiver outside the tackles, then they are deemed as "free".  The Free Safety (FS) will handle the number three receiver outside of the tackle box, and if there isn't a number three receiver outside the tackle box, then the FS is listed as "free".  The Read Side LB, will have the number three receiver inside the tackle box and the Away Side LB will have the number two receiver inside the tackle box to his side.

Now, as we know, somebody is blitzing, so there won't be seven defenders involved in coverage.  As is the case with  most six man pressures, there will be five guys in coverage.  The FS is generally the adjuster when it comes to blitzing in this scheme, however this isn't always the case.  There are also some calls when a defender, by alignment, does not have good leverage on who he is supposed to cover (as is the case when the SS is asked to cover an attached TE).  In this case, the SS and FS can "banjo" the TE, so long as the FS is not covering somewhere else for another blitzer (think Bullets vs. two back sets for instance).  The LB's also have some calls and rules that help them distinguish who is covering who, but for this post, I am just concerned with the fact that you know the basics.

Banjo concept

Blitz Coverage

Now that the basic rules have been established a quick review of some basic man blitzes from the 4-2-5 is listed below:

  • Bullets- Both LB's blitzing.  This means all five defensive backs (DB's) will be involved in the coverage (although the coverage is not just limited to the DB's, the defensive line (DL) can also be involved by adding certain calls).
  • Smokes/Lions- One or both of the outside safeties (OSS's) are blitzing.  In this case, the LB's, and the FS would be involved in coverage along with the Corners.  If tagged, a DL could also be involved.
  • Dogs- An OSS and a LB are blitzing to one side of the formation.  Now, both Corners, the FS, a LB and the OSS not blitzing are part of the coverage.
  • Bullets Thunder- This means an OSS, and both LB's are blitzing.  Now a DL must be added into the coverage mix along with the OSS not blitzing, the Corners and the FS.
  • Mob- Here, both OSS's are blitzing (if they can by rule) and the LB's are blitzing.  The DL, the FS and the Corners are all now part of the coverage.
Again, this is just the basics.  I know TCU does this, and Boise State does that, etc., but this is just meant to be a review.  I strongly suggest going to Cripes! Get Back to Fundamentals or to Blitzology to get a better understanding of each individual blitz if you aren't familiar with them already.

For this post, I'm focusing mainly on the secondary and how it handles blitzing one of its own.  Bullets are not a major factor, because the five "cover guys" are doing just what they do best...cover.  What I'm more concerned with are when one, or both of the OSS's are involved in a blitz.  

To understand the blitz coverage, one needs to review the second post in this series about alignment.  Your blitz attack, should mirror your base defense against the offense you are facing.  To drastically alter your alignment just to blitz is to tip off exactly what you are trying to do to the offense.  When blitzing members of the secondary (mainly Dogs and Smokes) there are a variety of ways to tag the blitz as to know who and where the blitz is going to be coming from.  These tags are critical when matching the blitz up to base alignments.  Let's take a look at each series of blitzes involving a member of the secondary to  understand who this system works.


As mentioned above, Smokes are a safety blitz, by either one or both of the OSS's.  Smokes can be tagged Wide, Short, Thunder or Lightning.  A wide call indicates that the safety to the wide side of the field will be blitzing.  A short call would be just the opposite.  Thunder indicates the safety to run strength will be blitzing, while Lightning is the opposite tag, meaning the safety away from run strength would blitz.  A Double Smoke call would indicate that both safeties are blitzing.

Coverage, when blitzing a DB has to be set up in a way that no man is left open.  One unique thing I noticed when learning this defense is that TCU rarely checks out of blitz.  If a cover guy is needed to cover instead of blitz, he covers and someone else will blitz for him.  For instance, if a Double Smoke is called vs. a 2x2 set, then one of the safeties, by rule, cannot blitz because you have a match up issue with an inside LB (ILB) covering a speedy wide receiver (WR).  This situation is where one of the safeties will make a "switch" call.  What switch does is put the DB in coverage and lets the ILB take the responsibility of blitzing.

Where the flexibility of the defense comes into play is clearly evident with the switch call.  I'll add to this even further.  I faced a very dangerous RB  in the past that was as deadly running the ball as he was catching it out of the backfield.  During that week, we changed the Smoke scheme up to where we ended up with the FS coming down into the box to cover the RB and both ILB's ran the Smoke, instead of the safeties.  This is illustrated below.

What this allowed us to do was keep a six man pressure on, and keep our best coverage options in place.  The reason we didn't simply call it Moe and Woe (in TCU terms this is Mike off Edge and Will off Edge, although I think TCU calls their ILB's Mike and Sam) was that sometimes they would line up said good RB as a slot receiver and bring in their backup.  In that case, we didn't want to switch both sides, only the side this player was on.  Again, you can see the flexibility of the defense.  Our guys were simply trained, that when this player (who wore jersey number 21) aligned in the slot, that safety covered and gave a switch call.  Everyone else simply ran Double Smoke.

If this would've been to the other side of the defense, we had our FS cover number 21, and ran the exact same look.  The reason for this is simple, despite the fact our SS is labeled as a safety is only in name.  This player, generally has been more LB than safety.  In the theme of keeping the best match ups possible, our FS was a better cover player than our SS, so we let the SS run the Smoke, and the FS would cover number 21.  My main point here is to not get caught up in what TCU does, but understand the basic concept and the dynamics of the scheme.


As I discussed earlier, Dogs are both a Bullet and a Smoke to one side of the formation.  Dogs are similar to Smokes in that they can be called Wide and Short, as well as Strong and Weak.  One common problem with Dogs, is that of coverage.  The FS has to cover for the blitzing OSS, whereas the opposite OSS may be asked to come across the formation and handle a third receiving threat.  This was never more evident that when TCU faced Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl a few years back.  The play that sealed the game was a Dog blitz run into a Trips formation.  The problem with Dogs is if the WS doesn't get over in time to cover the number three receiver out of these formations.  I've alluded to this in other posts on TCU's blitz scheme.

In the above example, the "Frog" Dog is a Dog blitz run to the side of the offset RB (in this example it would be called Frog Dogs C in TCU terminology).  As we can see the blitz coverage rules hold up, with the FS covering for the blitzing SS and the WS handling the number two receiver outside the tackle box.  The away side LB would have the RB.  Now, the away side LB doesn't have very good leverage here, so the blitz would more than likely be tagged with something such as a "peel" call so that there would be flare control on the RB.  No matter, the basics are pretty much covered.  Against a trips set, things would shake out as follows:

Again, all of this is just the basics.  The FS covers for the blitzer, but must signal to the WS to cover the number three receiver to the read side.  The away side LB will take the RB.  Again, TCU utilizes some other calls that assist the LB that isn't blitzing in his coverage on the RB.

Where the flexibility comes into play is with something I encountered back in 2013.  I had two prototypical deep safeties.  Long, rangy, and both ball hawks.  Both were pretty good in coverage, and did a decent job of coming downhill and playing in the box when needed to.  My problem was my SS.  My SS was a young man, of tremendous heart and character, but extremely small stature, and minimal athletic ability to be labeled a "DB".  His coverage skills were poor, but he had a knack for getting to the football.  His 5'5" 165 pound frame didn't lend him well to playing inside the box, because as soon as an offensive lineman (OL), got his hands on him he was finished.  Where this young man really excelled was when we brought him off the edge, these same OL, couldn't block him.  His quickness and lateral change of direction speed in tight areas made him a nightmare to block.  To add to this, my WS was almost the complete opposite.  When he blitzed him, he was easily picked up, and quite simply put, didn't care anything at all about being blitzed.  Don't get me wrong, he was smart, and was a master at keeping the away side coverage aligned and in the proper call, but he just didn't have that knack for getting after a ball carrier, or QB when being blitzed.  What would end up happening to us, is we'd get into a blitz, and by alignment or motion, it would end up being the WS getting blitzed and not the SS.  This caused us some grief early on, until discussing the subject with a good friend, shed some light on the flexibility of the scheme.

This was pretty much my SS

What my friend and I came up with is what I later coined "Scottie" blitzes.  Since my SS's name was Scottie, I named it after him!  What a Scottie tag did was tell my SS no matter what the blitz was (Smoke or Dog) he was running the blitz.  For instance, if we wanted to bring a blitz from the boundary, the SS (Scottie) simply switched with our WS and ran the blitz.  The WS would become the safety away from the blitz and cover.  The FS would travel with Scottie and would cover the number two receiver to the side the blitz was being run to.  We had Scottie Dogs and Scottie Smokes, but all of them were consistent.  It was quite simple to teach, and even easier to execute as it actually gave the players less to  think about.  My FS, who could be absent-minded at times, simply had to follow Scottie, and cover the number two receiver outside of the tackles.  My WS, who was very intelligent simply covered the number two receiver outside the tackle box away from the blitz.  A good illustration in the differences between the two blitzes is shown below with a Frog Dog.  Normally, to a trips set with the RB set weak, the weak side LB and WS would blitz this formation and the SS and FS would cover number two and number three, respective, to the trips side.  Well, if we were running a Scottie Frog Dog, then our SS simply went to the side of the RB and blitzed, whereas the WS replaced him, covering the number two receiver into the trips side.

What this little tactic did to our blitz scheme was actually twofold.  First, it put our best blitzer doing what he did best, blitz.  It also kept him from being in coverage, where he was, quite simply put, a liability.  Secondly, this made blitzing our WS EVEN BETTER.  Yes, you read that right.  Teams would scheme us, and figure out who our blitz guy was and so we were seeing them adjust protection in the direction of "Scottie".  Well, we'd Dog or Smoke away from Scottie every now and then and those blitzes hit pay dirt over 95 percent of the time that season.  Even though we weren't sending our best blitzer, it's easy to blitz when a team doesn't think your blitzing!


Again, as with the other posts in this series, one can see you don't have to run the 4-2-5 verbatim to what they do in Fort Worth.  The general idea behind Gary Patterson's scheme is so much more than just being able to call "Field G Army Wide Dogs B Silver".  It's the ability to pigeon-hole your players into what fits them the best within the defense.  Had I just simply stuck to what TCU did in 2013, we wouldn't have been anywhere near as good of a defense.  If there is one thing that you should take away from these posts, it is the age-old football axiom of "Think Players, not Plays".  This used to be an offensive point of wisdom, passed from one offensive coordinator to the next, however it can also be adapted to the defensive side of the football.  Don't ask your players to be something they are not.  My Scottie, was not a DB, as he struggled with man-to-man coverage, despite us doing one-on-ones' on a daily basis.  What he could do, was be the most disruptive little "fly-in-the-ointment" when we blitzed him.  Flip that around and the same could be said for our WS.  He wasn't going to do well if we blitzed him, yet, he was very solid in coverage.  Again, adapting the scheme to fit your players is the common theme or thread that needs to be taken away from these posts.  Hopefully I was able get you to understand that in just three posts!


Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Five Spoke Secondary Part II

In the first installment of the Five Spoke Secondary, we learned about what type of player to look for at the three safety positions.  We also took a look at the overall philosophy of "why" you would want to run or consider running a three safety defense.  In this segment, we will talk about alignments of the three safeties and how this dictates run support based on coverage.  We will talk a bit about coverages, but nothing in-depth as the main focus here is the flexibility and adaptability of the three safety secondary.

Aligning the Defense

TCU, generally speaking, sets the coverage to the multiple receiver side.  When this is balanced, then they will set the coverage to the "most dangerous" side.  This could be the twins side of a Pro Twins formation, or to the quarterback's (QB's) arm in a Doubles formation.  Also, if balanced, and both threats are equal, they may set the coverage to the wide side of the field.

For the Strong Safety (SS), he will align to the strength of the formation when the ball is in the middle of the field (MOF), and will align to the wide side of the field when the ball is on a hash.  The Weak Safety's (WS) rules are pretty simple, align away from the SS.  The Free Safety (FS) is the guy that has to distinguish where he needs to be in the coverage setup.  In zone, as mentioned above, the FS will set the passing strength, or what Gary Patterson refers to as the "Read Side" to the most dangerous side of the offensive formation.

For example, as shown below is a Pro formation (two backs, one tight-end, and two receivers).  In this particular example, the offense has three immediate vertical threats, the two receivers, and the tight end.  Numerically, the offense has a two-by-one vertical threat alignment.  The FS would set the read side to the most dangerous side, which in this case would be the pro side of the formation, or to the tight end.

Against a one back, 11 personnel look, that I refer to as Pro Twins, the FS has to know where he is on the football field as to where to set the passing strength.  If the ball is in the MOF, then by base rule, the FS would look at which side of the offense is the most "dangerous".  The base rule for "most dangerous" is that the FS should look at where the speed threats are in the offense.  Since two receivers in a twins set is generally faster and more athletic than a pro side, the FS would set the strength to the twins side.  However, the flexibility of the defense, allows you, the coach, to predetermine if that is where you want the FS reading or not.  For instance, let's say your opponent has a TE that is a poor match up for either of the outside safetys (OSS's), but is a good match up for your FS.  Well, when they come out in Pro Twins, you can set the read side of the coverage to the pro side.  Herein lies the beauty in the system is that the offense can no longer dictate to you who and how you cover them.  You can always get the best players in the right spot to defend what an offense is attempting to do to your defense.

Pro Twins, read side set to Twins

Pro Twins read side set to most dangerous player

I literally get an email a week about what somebody saw TCU do, and how this doesn't fit their rules etc.  Listen, these guys are game planning every week to stop what another offense does.  They may have their base rules, but they have the ability to align however they need to based on what they want to take away from the offense.  Just because their base rule tells the SS to go to "the strength of the formation when the ball is in the middle of the field" that they can't tell him to go away from the strength of the formation.  The idea here is that you have a hard and fast rule players can hang their hat on when the bullets are flying (like Baylor running a bazillion plays at you 90 miles to nothing) and still be sound against both the run and the pass.  Aligning the back end of the defense is extremely important because if somebody's left uncovered, or an underneath defender thinks he's got deep help, but he doesn't, it could easily result in six points.

Manipulating the System for High School Football

I get this all the time as well.  "How should I play it?".  I bet that has to be the number one question I get on a week-in, week-out basis.  To be honest, not being on YOUR staff and seeing exactly what it is your seeing makes questions like these very difficult to answer.  I will say this, a good friend of mine, who runs this defense has a very good way to set the Five Spoke Secondary up for high school football.  I will elaborate on the basic rules.

In the defense, as shown below, you have two tackles, two ends, a read side LB and an away side LB to along with the two OSS's that present a balanced eight man front.  The call side end, labled "S" in the diagrams, the call side Tackle ("T"), the Mike ("M") and the SS will all travel to the call based on the run strength of the formation.  Opposite of this call is the Nose (N), End (E), Will, and WS that will travel opposite of the call.  Now many will argue that this isn't the way TCU does it, and in some regards you are right, but they have been known to align this way.  In high school though, let's face it, most teams run the football.  Sure, early in the year, many suffer from a disease called "Summer Seven-on-Seven Disease" where everyone thinks they can chuck the pigskin all over the gridiron, but by the middle of the season, most OC's have figured out, you better run the damn ball if you want to move the chains and score some points.  So, the theory behind aligning the SS to the run strength is geared towards doing what most high school teams do, and that's run the football.  With the SS being more LB in nature, this makes absolutely perfect sense.  Remember, the SS is one of your best pure "football players" you have on your defense.  He's the old Monster in the 50.  This is the chess piece you put where you feel, by game plan, your opponent is wanting to run or throw the football.

Now I know what many are thinking and that is there are several formations that you can get the SS away from the FS.  Well, that's where some of our coverage nuances and adjustments come into play.  Without going too much into depth, here is a breakdown of what coverage each of the three safeties needs to master in order to play in the defense.

Setting the Pieces

For the most part, the SS will be coupled with the FS and will be playing a "sky" technique where he is a flat dropper and will be asked to carry the third receiver through the zone on a wheel route.  However, by rule there could be some situations where the FS will not be with the SS and the SS will be asked to now play a Robber technique.  The other coverage, other than "sky" and man that the SS must master is that of Bronco coverage.  Bronco has been discussed at length on the Huey board as well as in other blog posts around the Internet.  The basic rules are simple:

  • SS- Will take the number two receiver man to man on anything other than shallow drag.
  • Corner- Man-to-man coverage on the number one receiver.
I've talked with many coaches who simply "man up" on that side, or put just the corner in man.  Any of the above work, so long as vertical routes by both the number one and number two receivers are handled.  The idea behind Bronco coverage is to have a way for the defense to defend two immediate vertical threats away from the FS.  The coverage is not ideal vs. two quick receivers (Twins), but it will work.

So now we can see some of the brilliance in the system taking shape.  The SS only needs to know the following:

  1. If the FS is to me, play the "sky" technique.
  2. If the FS is away from me and I have two backs, play the "sky" technique".
  3. If the FS is away from me and I have one back and two immediate vertical threats, play Bronco.
  4. If the FS is away from me, it is one back and my vertical threat is in the backfield, play "sky" technique.
  5. If we are blitzing, and I'm not involved, I cover the number two receiver outside the tackles.
Now, many will say, dang that's a lot, but in reality the SS gets told what to do by the FS.  Remember the SS is not really one of the communicators in the secondary.  Sure, he'll announce motion, or may call out some game plan key, but the SS shouldn't be setting the coverage, that is the role of the FS and the WS.  What the SS will hear, based on the above criteria is the following:
  1. The FS will set the coverage based on receiver structure or game plan, but will generally be in Robber or Quarters to the read side (to which he'll announce this to the Corner and SS by calling the direction he's reading as well as the coverage).
  2. When the FS goes away he must give the SS a call that lets him know this, then tell the SS and corner what coverage to play.  This is pretty easy because it all relates to the number of vertical threats these players are getting.  Only one vertical threat, the FS gives his removal call (I've heard some coaches use "I'm gone", YOYO for Your On Your Own, and "Adios" to name a few, I do not know what TCU tells their FS to call this) and will set the coverage to "sky".
  3. Again, the FS will give his removal call, and then set the coverage to "Bronco" because of the two immediate vertical threats.
  4. This one is the same as number two.
  5. The FS doesn't communicate much to the SS when blitzing.  It's the FS's job to cover for the blitzer, or be the free dropper.
(Note: the number above correspond with the number for the SS)

The WS's job is basically two-fold as sometimes he's going to be like the SS and have the FS to his side, whereas other times, he's going to have the FS away from him.  When the FS is away from him, he is going to be taught that he is setting the coverage.  When the FS is coming to him, the WS does not set the coverage, but now must listen to what coverage the FS is setting his side to.  I will not go into the coverage options that the WS has to set his side to in these posts.  That could easily be setup for a separate post all of its own.  Just remember, this is the reason why the WS needs to be the most intelligent member of the secondary.

The system really sounds more intimidating than it really is.  One reason I say this, is back in 2013 I played, almost exclusively, Quarters to the read side.  I had a SS and FS that combined may have scored a 15 on the ACT.  I couldn't have these guys playing a myriad of coverages and checks etc.  If these guys were able to understand the system, then believe me, it's not complicated.  Where it tends to get a bit more complicated is on the away side.  The WS I had in 2013 was a very intelligent, and fortunately, athletic young man.  He did a very good job setting us up in the proper coverages that we needed to be in.  We didn't run that many on the away side (we ran Quarters, Halves, Bronco and Man), but he was able to manage these choices very well.

Yes, even this guy could play SS...

Now that we understand how the verticals are handled by basic coverages let's look at alignments.  I will start with two back sets and work our way to empty sets.  These are basic formations!  I couldn't possibly have the time to discuss every formation and adjustment.  This post is meant as a basic guide to aligning the Five Spoke Secondary.  Use the rules as they are laid out to set up your defensive structure.

Two Back Offenses

Two back offenses don't have much they can align in that really threatens the players mentally as it does physically.  If setting the SS to the run strength, then the SS will generally follow the TE, unless otherwise dictated by game plan.

As shown above, the SS travels with the run strength set to the TE.  If the SS is called to be set to the passing strength, nothing would change in the above diagram.  Where the differences in alignment and coverage come into play are against twins sets.

In the above example, the FS will set the coverage to the most dangerous side.  None of this matters to the WS or SS because the SS is set to the run strength, while the WS aligns away.  The FS gives the call letting the SS know he's no longer there.  In this case, the away side coverage can be game planned to whatever it is that the SS can play.  These coverages are man, Bronco (zone/man combo) or zone (sky).  Against most two back teams, the base rule here would be "sky".  To the read side, the defense can play any number of coverages.  Robber is shown, but halves, quarters, man free, you name it can be played to this side.

The next illustration only switches the SS and the WS.  There are any number of reasons for this.  I have seen twins teams that actually run more to the twins side than they do the nub side.  In that case, you better have the flexibility in your defense to set your key player (the SS) where you need him.  Again, the coverages presented to either side are a laundry list of what is that you want/need to defend?  Obviously Robber or Quarters is the standard answer to the twins side, but really whatever it is you need to play over there you can.  Again, to the away side, the WS can set the coverage by himself.  He has some options at his disposal, but the base rule would be to play "sky", the same as if this was the SS.

Another option to keep in mind is that of playing the SS fixed to one side of the field or the other.  In this case, for many, the SS will be set to the wide side of the field.  This is a great way for those teams that try to get slick and figure out where your SS is being set, then go formation to the sideline (FSL) to get this player away from the wide side and then run to the wide side.  By setting the SS to the field, neither run nor pass strength dictate where the SS aligns.  This is also a good way to handle up-tempo offenses, as it creates less moving parts for the defense to attempt to handle.

Again, when the offense sets the run strength to the field, not much changes.  It is when the offense attempts to put the run (or pass) strength into the boundary in an attempt to isolate and run (or pass) away from one of your best defenders.

Now we see that the offense has put the formation to the sideline (FSL).  In many cases, teams will not read into the boundary due to the constricted space and will generally check to some generic zone coverage such as quarter, quarter, half, or cover 3.  You can read into the boundary if need be, though, but it's not a necessity.  Since the SS doesn't have an immediate vertical threat to deal with, he can play "sky" coverage.  If the offense checks to a play away from your SS, they are playing right into your hands, and running (or passing) the ball into the 12th man, the sideline.

Twins to the field doesn't change much either.  The SS simply aligns to the twins set, and plays whatever coverage the FS has called.  The WS sets the coverage based on game plan and plays into the boundary as shown below.

Lots of two back teams I see set twins into the boundary to get the coverage rolled away from the field so that they can run Power O, or Toss Sweep to the field.  Many will even motion to this look.  Again, the flexibility of the system allows for none of these attempts at mis-aligning the defense to work.  The SS plays to the nub side and will play whatever coverage he has been instructed to by game plan (generally "sky").  The FS can either read into the boundary or can check to some generic zone coverage.

Twins Open, isn't really an issue, and is treated pretty much the same as Twins.  The SS can be set to pass strength, run strength, or fixed to the field or boundary.  One beauty, as illustrated below is with over shifted backfield sets.  I see plenty of teams do this, where they align Twins to one side, but play an over shifted backfield (think offset I) on the opposite side.  While it may not seem like much, this gives the offense a numerical advantage when they do this by having a player align off the midline.  If the defense doesn't adjust, then it can easily find itself a man down to one side or the other.  In the case of setting the SS to the running strength, this offset back may be the key for you.  The defense can still put it's players where they are needed, but set the passing strength and put the FS where he is needed, as shown below.

As you can see the defense is protected from toss sweep and lead option to the offset back, whereas they are also three-over-two on the twins side by having both the SS and FS over there to handle an Twins route combinations.  Also, boot away from the twins side, where the fullback (FB) leaks into the flat is easily handled by the SS, and should be a decent match up, if the FB decides to convert this route into a wheel route.

The same can be said for an offset back into a Twins set.  These sets are ones that power run game teams like to run power pass flood into.  The SS, is in great position here to help on the run, as well as help in the passing game.

One Back Offenses

I honestly think where the real beauty of the Five Spoke Secondary comes into play is against 11 personnel.  11 personnel can really stress an offense because of the varying nature of the offense's personnel.  To one side, you have a run side with a TE and flanker.  To the opposite side you have a passing side with two quick receivers.  Obviously, through film study and game planning you will be able to decipher what it is that you want to take away from your opponent.  However, if setting the SS to the run strength, care will be need to be taken to insure that the match up between the SS and the TE isn't a mismatch.  If this isn't a mismatch, or they don't throw to the TE particularly well, then setting the SS to the running strength is a great way to limit your opponent's run game out of 11 personnel.

Some sort of man or match up zone coverage will need to be employed on the away side to keep the offense from hurting the defense with four verticals.  To the read side, again, the coverage is totally up to the end user in what it is you are trying to defend.

Again, no matter who the defender, the coverages can remain the same whether it's the SS or WS set to the run strength.  Once again, coverage to the read side is unlimited based on what it is that you're defending.

Again, where the beauty can be seen is when "fixing" the SS to the field or boundary.  Now you have your chess piece to where your opponent is likely to attack.  All the SS has to know is am I alone, or is the FS to my side.  Again, the SS makes no calls, but listens to see if he's given the signal that he's alone.  Coverages are completely based on game plan.

In both cases, the FS will set the read side to the field (due to the offense being balanced, or 2x2), indicating he will be reading in that direction.  Since Pro Twins is a two-by-two (2x2) set, this means there are four potential vertical threats.  Robber, Quarters, Palms, Robber etc. can be played to the read side.  A bit more care needs to be exercised to the away side of the coverage.  If given a Pro side, the WS cannot play "sky" because of the two immediate vertical threats.  The WS must play a coverage that accounts for both of these verticals.  Into the boundary, Quarters, or a version of Palms (2 read) would be fine, however if playing to the field, I would recommend man or Bronco.  If given Twins to his side, the WS can then play Palms, or Quarters to that side, regardless of where they are on the field.  Here we see, once again, why it is so important to play a smarter defender at the WS position.

Three-by-one (3x1) sets can be tricky, but the 4-2-5 does a good job of being able to handle these formations out of 11 personnel.  Again, if defending the run is your thing, then setting the SS to where your opponent wants to run the ball is critical.

In the above example, the pro's of the setup are that if your opponent likes to run the ball to the TE side of the formation, you have one of your best ball players set there.  The cons are, now you cannot handle three verticals to the trips side of the formation very well.  The ideal coverage here is quarter-quarter-half, or cover three to the read side.  To the away side, since there is only one immediate vertical threat, the coverage should be "sky".  Like I stated, this is good vs. the run, but not so solid vs. the pass, since you only have three dedicated deep zone defenders (the FS and the two corners).

In the second example, now the SS is set to the pass strength.  This move, allows the defense to handle four verticals, because the WS is a better deep zone defender than the SS.  There are many coverages you can utilize to gain the WS in the trips-side coverage.  One of the major weaknesses of the second version is that of being weak to the run to the nub side of the formation.  The WS's job becomes much tougher if he's designated as defending a player vertical on the trips side, but is also allocated in the TE side run game fit.  Choosing which method is critical in setting up the defense for success.

If you are setting the SS to the field, then the alignment are pretty much the same.  Trips to the field allows you to attack the offense with a myriad of coverages that can handle four vertical threats.  The SS is also in great position to play the bubble screen or wide runs to the field.  Where Trips closed hurts some defenses is when it goes FSL and puts the passing strength into the boundary and the run strength to the field.  If you over rotate your coverage to passing strength, you could be soft to the field vs. the run.  However, by keeping the SS to the field, you are strong vs. the run and are sound vs. any sort of passing game the offense might employ into the boundary.

Against 10 personnel the defense is just as strong as ever.  Against Doubles (2x2), the offense is balanced and the SS can be set in the manner I have discussed earlier.  The problem with 10 personnel is that you don't want the FS to be set away from the SS if you can help it.  The reason for this is the match up that is presented with the more linebacker type player of the SS vs. a WR.  Not an ideal match up, but if your SS is good enough, you could play it this way.

The ideal way of setting the coverage is to keep the FS with the SS vs. these sets.  This is not hard to do, and can be done easier by just keeping the SS to the field, but in some cases you may want your SS to the run strength.  Whatever you do, I'd make sure the SS traveled exclusively with the FS against these types of formations.  The WS is adept in covering WR's, so having him, the away side linebacker (AB) and the weak corner (WC) to a twins side (that would generally be into the boundary) is not a bad setup.  Again, coverage options are limitless here, I'm not going to delve into that part of the defense, but you get the basic principles being applied here.

Trips Open is no different than Doubles, in that you really need to have the SS travel with the FS if you can.  However, there are some times when it's better to have the SS travel with the run strength to be sound vs. the running game.  There are many teams that will set the Trips side away from the RB in the shotgun in order to run speed option at a soft flank.  If you are in a coverage, such as Solo, the WS's job is tough, in that he must account for number three vertical, but also be the primary force player on the away side.  Speed Option, or QB sweep to the away side, with a vertical release by the number three receiver is something I have seen, and can really stress your WS.  Of course, other coverage options are worth exploring, but if the offense is really hurting you, and easy way to stop this is setting the SS to the side of the RB as shown below.

One downfall of setting the defense like the above illustration is that of not being able to handle four vertical threats.  Again, this comes down to film study, and knowing your opponent.  This may not be the adjustment you need, and you may need to handle the issue with coverage instead of alignment.

As shown above, the "ideal" way to handle Trips open is to let the FS travel with the SS.  This puts the defense in a better position to handle the four vertical threats presented by the offense.

One thing teams will do with trips is either motion out of 2x2 to 3x1 and create FSL or simply align with trips into the boundary (as shown below).  I've seen many teams do this and then try to run to the field, or away from the motion.  By setting the SS to the field, you can eliminate such headaches of not having your best player into the boundary.

Obviously, you are somewhat weak here in coverage, but get four verticals out from the boundary is not an ideal thing most offensive coordinators (OC's) want to do.  If the offense does what most do and sets the passing strength to the field, or motions from 2x2 to 3x1 with the Trips to the field, there really isn't much adjusting that needs to be done, other than getting the defense into whatever Trips check coverage you might want to play vs. your opponent.

Empty Backfield Offenses

Against Empty sets, since they are not predominately known as running sets, the easy adjustment is just set the SS to the passing strength, which for many is also the run strength.  This is a fairly easy adjustment, and then the defense just plays whatever your Empty check coverage is.

Now, for whatever reason, if your opponent likes to run weak or attack weak out of Empty sets you "could" set the SS to the Twins side if you like.  It is not ideal, for two reasons.  First, you aren't as protected against three verticals coming off of the Trips side (the only real check you can make over there is Quarter, Quarter, Half or Cover Three).  Secondly, despite having your SS aligned where they are attacking, he will be somewhat passive in that the only real check to me made to that side is some sort of man, or match up man coverage, meaning the SS will have to at least "peak" at the number 2 receiver.  This will make him a bit less aggressive in stopping the run.  However, it "can" be done, I don't recommend setting the defense up this way.

The main theme here though is that if for some reason, your defense gets misaligned, there still able to play somewhat sound defense.  This is why the SS MUST learn Bronco coverage.  It keeps the defense sound in situations like the one shown above.  Again, this is not ideal, but it is manageable because even if your SS misaligns, by rule he will know if I have two quicks, the only coverage I can play is some sort of man or match up man, such as TCU's Bronco coverage.

The same situation is presented if setting the SS to the wide side of the field.  If a team aligns or motions out of Empty sets to present FSL, your defense needs to be able to handle this.  Aligning to FSL is easy if you simply want a check to put the SS to the pass strength, you can do that, it's motion that can make life tough on the defense.  You don't want your SS chasing motion across the formation and then having to have the WS run to the opposite side of the field with an uncovered number two receiver standing there.  That is not an ideal situation at all.  By having the automatic Bronco check built in, the defense, though not great, is still sound.

As you can see the 4-2-5 has a very simple, easy way to keep the defense sound, all the while allowing the defensive coordinator (DC) align his chess pieces where he needs them.  Sure, while some are not ideal, all defenses have their weaknesses.  It's up to you, the end user, to choose what is right for your situation.  The defense is a very flexible defense, and many of it's general, underlying principles can be passed on to other defenses.  I'm not planning on coverage discussion in these articles, as I think I've covered that ad nauseum on the blog.  What I will say is however you choose to set up your defense, the above scenarios are a great, generic, place to start.

Next, we'll look at how the Five Spoke Secondary handles blitzing by using TCU's Cover 0 and Cover 0 Free to keep things simple.