Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Five Spoke Secondary Part I

I've gotten a bunch of emails over the years about the 5 spoke secondary, or what is more popularly known as TCU's 4-2-5 secondary.  Most of these questions involve how to set the defense, how to train the safeties and how to remain sound vs. the myriad of offensive formations that any one coach may see throughout the season.  I'm going to break this down into several parts to keep it quite simple.

The Players
Before getting started on alignments and checks, I'm going to discuss the chess pieces of the defense.  Obviously having three safeties on the field is not terribly unique, but the way TCU plays these players does present itself quite interesting.  To a casual observer, many would think these three players are interchangeable.  In fact, TCU does not cross train all their safeties.  The Free Safety (FS) and Weak Safety (WS) will get a lot of cross training and are required to do very similar things, especially against 10, 11 and Empty personnel groupings.  The WS and the Strong Safety (SS) will be cross trained against more run heavy sets.

This is not to say that TCU's way is the best way or the only way.  I've talked with several coaches that run their 4-2's with  three identical players at these positions, and ask them to do everything from playing down in the box to being a deep half player.  If that works for you and you can defend what you're seeing, great.  The point of my post, is to answer a lot of the guys that ask TCU specific questions.  Now, let's look at the different pieces in the three safety look.

The Free Safety
The FS in many defenses is the fulcrum to which the secondary is built around.  In TCU's scheme, this really isn't the case.  Yes, the FS is the quarterback (QB), but not of the entire secondary.  Remember, TCU not only divorces the front from the coverage, but it also splits the coverage in half.  This means that now, instead of aligning four or five guys, the FS in the TCU scheme only has to line up two to three guys.  This is important, because he only has to effect one-half of the coverage.

The FS, ability-wise, is your prototypical deep half, type safety.  He needs to have the size, speed and range to be able to fit down in the box against two and three back run oriented offenses.  He needs to be able to cover, man-to-man as well as play pattern read coverage.  Being a solid tackler, and having a knack for distinguishing what it is the offense is doing are the two main characteristics of what needs to be looked at in the FS.  Depending on the level of play, this guy doesn't have to be the smartest guy in your secondary.  As long as he knows where to align, he will generally be playing a very similar coverage (Robber, Quarters) to where he aligns.  The biggest trick with the FS is getting him to understand where to go when blitzing so that nobody is left uncovered.

When looking for your guy, at this position, choose athleticism over intelligence.  Physical over mental ability.  This guy needs to be a ball hawk type player, but not so much like many are used to in the days of one-high FS's.  Without a doubt a good athlete needs to be at this position.

The Weak Safety
The WS is very similar to the FS, but does not need to be as much of an "in space" player.  He can be a lesser athlete than the FS, but needs to be able to do many of the same things as the FS.  The main difference between the two is mental capacity.  Because the away side coverage is so important in TCU's 4-2, the WS needs to be a very intelligent ball player.  Many coverages are tagged with a "check" or "choice" call to give the WS freedom to be the defensive coordinator (DC) on the field.  The WS has to have the intelligence to also understand  where he is on the field and what coverage works best against what formations and whether or not we are on or off the hash.

The WS does need to have some athleticism, but not as much as the FS.  The WS can be hidden over to the boundary if not as good of a run defender as the FS or SS.  Sacrifice physicality for speed, intelligence and coverage ability.  Even though against certain sets this player will be down in the box, or may even be called on to blitz, these items are secondary to his ability to put the away side of the coverage in the right call, and cover receivers either as deep zone player, or an underneath zone player.

The Strong Safety
The SS is really only a safety in name.  This player is really a LB that is very good at playing in space.  This guy should be one of the best "football players" on the field.  He needs to be able to cover, tackle in space and blitz.  The nice thing about the SS is he is not asked to make coverage calls.  The SS really only needs to be able to listen and communicate, instead of think.  As long as he can remember his assignment, then he'll be fine in terms of how he fits in the defense.

The SS is NOT a deep zone player in the TCU scheme.  This player is, as said earlier, a very athletic LB.  The SS reminds me a lot of the old "Monster" position in the 50 Monster defense.  The Monster was always the defenses "plus one" player.  They could put this guy wherever they wanted him to help them defend whatever they were seeing.  The SS in the 4-2-5 isn't much different.

When looking for this player, choose a good, sure tackler.  Find guys that always seem to be around the football.  For the most part, this has always been a converted LB for me.  He needs to be able to do some man coverage, and do some pattern reading at times, but the most important thing for the SS to do is help defend the run and set the edge of the defense.

The Overall Philosophy of the Five Spoke Secondary
The overall philosophy of having three safeties, is not to have three interchangeable parts, but yet to have the ability to dictate to the offense where YOU, the DC, are going to align certain players.  I remember years ago, running my old 4-3 defense and using the Will LB as the nickel, how a guy, by my own doing formationed my best player into the boundary and ran or threw the ball away from him all night.  Even if we blitzed him, he was able to know exactly where we were going to put him and could slide protection over there to help.  Well, needless to say, TCU's 4-2 doesn't have this issue.  The idea is that the SS can be aligned in one of three ways, as well as the coverage being set in one of three ways.

The other part of the philosophy of the Five Spoke Secondary is the ability for the defense to eliminate the inside run gaps with defensive linemen (DL) and LB's and spill these plays to the safeties who act as a "net", corralling the ball back in to pursuit.  This is very important to the success of the defense, as the players inside the "box", are rarely asked to play outside of it.  This allows these players to be physical and aggressive with their attack on the football.

In the next post, I will discuss just how this philosophy is executed and how it can be adapted to the high school game.  One thing to remember in all of this, you don't have to run the TCU defense verbatim to get the benefits.  Many of the things they do, don't fit well into high school football, simply because high school coaches don't see some of the things that TCU does on a week-in, week-out basis.  The philosophy of the Five Spoke Secondary is tremendously beneficial to coaches at any level because it gives your defense the flexibility that it needs to gain an advantage.  Stay tuned for the next post, as I'll go into great detail on alignments and how they play a factor in what you are looking to accomplish with your defense.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Two Gap, One Gap Defensive Line Revisited

I'm not sure any one post I've ever written has generated as much email, both pro and con, in my inbox.  What is amazing to me, is the lack of understanding folks have for this concept and technique.  What I'm going to do today, is revisit the original post and look at Two Gap/One Gap (TGOG) from the perspective it was meant to be run from and that was helping the 4-3 defense to defend the spread offense.

TGOG was developed as the shotgun, power run game came into effect in the landscape of college football.  As we all know, when facing doubles, in the 4-3 defense, generally both outside linebackers (OLB's) will have to walk out and honor each of the two receiving threats to the outside of the defense.  If not, the defense stands to become outflanked.  Enter in today's offenses that mix zone and power runs with fast, or bubble screens, or even down-the-field passes and you have a tremendous need for the OLB's to be able to play outside of the box.  There are many answers to having just a five man box in the 4-3, and one of those answers is TGOG.

Remember, when walking both OLB's out of the box in the 4-3 you are now playing to the offense's hand if you keep your defensive line (DL) in their respective gaps.  There are potentially six offensive blockers, which means there are seven gaps and you only have five immediate bodies there to help.  Even if you counted the OLB's in the fit, you end up cancelling them out because by alignment, they are in the same gap as the defensive ends (DE's).  Something has got to give.  Enter in TGOG which actually fits the pieces of the defense right into where the offense is attempting to run the football.  Because of this fit, the ball is pushed directly to where the offense doesn't have good leverage with its blockers.  By using TGOG you can now add the OLB's back into the count of the run fit, because, even though displaced, the defensive reaction is setting them up to be in the proper gap.

OLB's displaced from the box

In my original posts on TGOG, I drew it up against two back, power run game.  It can be used against these offenses, but the technique is at its best when attacking one back zone run teams.  The technique doesn't do too bad against one back power run game either.  If using it as a base DL technique, the only issue that needs to be guarded against is the three technique getting washed down inside on double teams.

The Basics
As you remember from before there are rules to follow for this technique.  On each snap, depending on the front, the DL has to figure out what kind of player they are (i.e. am I a two gap player or a one gap player).  The rules are simple, if your alignment puts you next to an open gap to your inside, you are a two gap player.  If your alignment puts you next to a gap that is already occupied by another DL, then you are a one gap player.  So, looking at the traditional open sets of 10 personnel, with the three technique set away from the running back (RB) in the shotgun, you can see, by alignment, the 3 technique (T) and the weakside DE are the two gap players.  The gaps to the inside, or in towards the football (center of formation) is open.  By rule, these players are now two gap players.  The remaining two players, the strong DE (A) and the Nose (N) are one gap players.  The Nose gets people confused because they feel like because the gap "inside" of him would be the strong A gap is open, he too would be a two gapper.  This is not the case.  The Nose is taught, early on, that if aligned in the A gap, he's a one gap player.

Many folks have been confused by this, thinking that there will be one two gapper and one one gapper on each side of the formation, and this simply isn't true.  Looking at the set up for 11 personnel and you can now see to the tight end (TE) side of the formation, you actually end up with two players that are two gapping (both the Tackle and the DE).  On the open side, the set up, is of course, the same as it would be for 10 personnel.  For me, the weak side rarely changes because I do not line up my weak DE in anything other than a five or a seven technique.

Fronts can change assignments.  If you look at the two illustrations below, the Indian and the Outlaw fronts make a difference as to what the DL is doing.  With the Tackle and Nose in 2I techniques (Indian), both of those players are now one gap players, while both DE's are now two gap players.  In the Outlaw front (both the Nose and Tackle in three techniques), the Nose and Tackle are now two gappers, while the DE's are one gap players.  Again, it is quite simple to determine who has what, by following the alignment rules.

Stance and Alignment
I get several questions about this as well.  I don't have a great answer for a lot of this, because it really depends on what kind of player you have where you're at.  Where I coach at now, we've got one hell of a DL, so we don't really change our alignment much when we run TGOG.  My last stop, however, yes, we had to change our alignment a bit for our guys to get the job done.

The one gap player, if anything, needs to align just a bit wider than he normally would.  For an interior DL, this doesn't matter as much as it does the DE.  In some of the fits, the DE will actually be the guy setting the edge, so he'll need to be in a position where he doesn't get reached.  Getting reached is the number one cardinal sin for the DE, so he will need to align where this cannot happen.

Difference in alignments of a one-gapper (DE) and two-gapper (DT)

Technique- The One Gapper
The one gap player is a very simple technique.  They are rush players.  Getting up the field is not an issue for them, even against the trap game.  Now this is not to say that they are so far up field they cannot defend the run, or they are creating a gap by their depth.  No, the idea here, is to get off the football, get up the field and find the ball.  Once this player reaches ball depth, they should set their feet and begin to play off the block they are getting.  The main two focal points for the one gap player, is to not get reached (if this requires the player adjusting his base alignment, then do so), and get off the football.

Varying angles of attack by technique.  Two-Gapper (T) attacks the outside eye to center of defender, where One-Gapper (E) plays outside using an "escape" or pass rush mentality.

Technique- The Two Gapper
The two gap player is more of your traditional, block down, step down (BDSD) type player.  This player's main concern is winning the stalemate battle with the offensive lineman (OL) over him.  The idea is to treat this just like the King of the Boards (KOB) drill.  The two gapper is not concerned about getting reached.  If this player gets reached, he's done his job, because his gap is actually the gap inside of his base alignment.  Many folks have confused this technique for a stunt, and THIS IS NOT THE CASE.  The two gap player, will play the inside gap from an outside alignment.  Against a base block, this player will work the blocker backwards until the ball declares, then, and only then, will they work into the inside gap.  Against a reach block, the defender simply allows himself to be overtaken (this should be pretty easy for the OL since the two gappers usually align in a tighter shade than normal).  One of the real benefits of the two gap technique is that of how it handles the down block or scoop block.  Because the defender is in such a "heavy" alignment this makes it very difficult for the down blocking OL to climb to the second level, thereby protecting the LB's.  Second, it puts the two gapper in a great position to spill any trap blocks by pulling OL.  On a pass set by the blocker, the two gap defender will bull rush, then rip under and work into the inside gap.

Linebacker Techniques
The LB techniques don't change all that much from traditional ones except for that of the inside linebackers.  When played from a 4-3 set with both OLB's outside the box, the MLB will use what is called a "fast scrape" technique.  It's called this because the MLB does not care about the cutback.  All he cares about is the angle of the ball, whether it's split zone, or gap runs and what side he's supposed to attack.

Against the split zone stuff, the MLB reads the block of the center.  If the center sticks his nose into the 2I, then the MLB jumps the front side A gap, because the center cannot cut him off.  If the center leaves the 2I and immediately climbs to the Mike, then the Mike sits and will actually allow the center to push him right back into where the ball if being forced to cut back to which is the B gap underneath the guard.  The guard should not be able to handle the one-gapping Nose because he's getting off the ball so hard (remember he's "rushing" not reading).  The guard pushes the Nose into the path of the RB, forcing him to cut back right into the MLB who is being pushed right back into the new path of the RB.  If the back continues to wind the ball back, he'll end up running into the unblocked DE.

Against runs that are full flow type runs (two backs in same direction), the MLB will fast scrape with either two-gapper depending on what side of the ball is being attacked.  Outside zone is a full flow run that when run at the 3 technique the MLB will fast scrape to the outside hip of the two-gapping Tackle.  The Mike takes a flat angle to the ball and if the ball has declared beyond the B gap, he will continue to pursue the ball inside-out.  The center will have a very difficult time getting to the MLB here in this situation because of how lateral the LB is.

If the play is being run to the weak side of the defense the Mike will scrape one gap wider to the outside hip of the two-gapping DE as shown below.  On paper, it looks as though the guard has the angle on the LB, but as long as your LB can rip across face he should be able to scrape to the outside hip of the DE.  If the LB gets reached, it is not an issue because the one-gapping Nose cannot be cut off by the center and will end up in immediate pursuit of the ball unblocked.  The force player can box the lead blocker back (who this is depends on coverage) to the chasing Nose who overtakes the two-gapping DE and can replace the LB if he gets cut off.

MLB gets cut off, Nose replaces in the fit, defense is still +1

Against split flow gap runs, the MLB keys the pullers, and again, has the same scrape aiming points.  This is all based on the fits by the DL and whether they are two-gapping or one-gapping.  If running a counter play to the three technique the offense has the difficulty of trying to double the three to get to the Mike.  As shown below, the two-gapping Tackle drives into the guard forcing a bubble in the offense.  The OT is forced to double to help get movement to get the lane cleared for the BSG to pull through.  The two-gapping technique allows the MLB to scrape off the hip of the Tackle and spill the second puller in the counter gap scheme.

Vs. counter gap to the open B gap side, the MLB simply scrapes one gap wider, again scraping to the outside hip of the two-gapping defender.  His job is still the same, spill the second puller in the counter gap scheme.  This allows the Mike to play fast, as with repetitions and seeing the guard pull, he knows where he  needs to scrape to in order to be in the correct position for his fit.

I get many questions about Power Read or Inverted Veer as well.  Again, just follow the rules listed above and defend the play.  The MLB's rules and fits do not change with the play, he's reading flow type and looking for pullers, then scraping to his fit.  In the case of Inverted Veer, he will scrape to the outside hip of the two-gapping DE and spill the lead blocker out to the OLB or safety (or both depending on how the coverage is set up.  The two-gapping DE also forces the offense to show its hand by forcing the give read to the sweeper.  The DE plays so heavy of a technique the OT cannot get out from underneath him to cut off the running MLB.  Also, many times the offense motions the sweeper back into the box, which adds another player, the OLB to the side away from the offset back that now can also get into the cut back fit if the offense were to fake the sweep and call the QB  keep automatically.

The OLB's are very rarely called into action to fit to an inside gap because of the two-gapping technique.  There are some situations that have the OLB to the Tackle's side of the defense that will have to scrape into the B gap, but due to the two-gapping technique by the Tackle it allows the OLB to be late getting there.

The OLB's run fits are very simple when it comes to where they should be.  Again, they have to know whether they are working with a one-gap DE or a two-gap DE.  The OLB to the two-gapper side has a perfect fit, because all runs will be spilled out to his side.  On runs away, or split zone looks, the OLB scrapes to the outside hip of the DE, replacing the DE and playing the QB on option-type runs.

Against a gap run at the two-gapping DE, the ball is spilled outside to the OLB.  In all actuality, the true fit is that the DE spills to the MLB who boxes to the DE and spills to the OLB.  Either way, the ball will bounce outside to either an unblocked OLB or an unblocked safety, depending on how the coverage is set.

When working with a one-gapping DE, the OLB will fit inside hip of the DE.  For some sets, this can make for a long run by the OLB, but the technique of the Tackle also helps delay the gap declaration because how he plays his two gap technique.

Setting the Front
I also get some questions about how to set the front when using TGOG.  I prefer to set the front away from the offset back.  The main reason is that with the three technique away from the back, the zone runs are tough on the OL and the gap runs, where the offset RB is the lead blocker, get spilled outside by the two-gapping DE.  I'm not saying that you can't set the front otherwise, just simply follow the rules for TGOG and you will be sound against whatever it is you're defending.

Some fronts that present both a two gapper and a one gapper on each side are illustrated below.  These fronts, with either two, 2I's or two 3 techniques change the dynamic of how the offense will attack the defense and keeps the opposing OC guessing as to what you're doing with your front.  With, what I call Outlaw, or 33, the two 3 techniques you get two, two-gapping DT's and two one-gapping DE's.  This front is very good for the zone teams that like to find your 3 technique and then flip the back so they can run zone opposite of him.  Well, don't give them a three technique to attack, give them two!

Outlaw or 33 front
Indian or 11 front
One of my favorite fronts was the two 2I's, or what I called Indian.  What I liked about this front was, you can essentially turn loose your DT's to wreck havoc and it takes the OL three guys to block two.  This keeps the MLB free to scrape C gap to C gap.  The two, two-gapping DE's spilled any gap runs outside to the scraping MLB and the OLB's.  This works great against teams that like to run QB zone or QB Wrap from empty or two-by-two looks that force both OLB's out of the box.  You are pushing the ball out to these players, making the player's job easier to defend both the run and the pass.

I'm hoping this will help to set the record straight on some issues.  This really is a simple technique that can vastly reduce the stress on your OLB's when having to be displaced from the box due to spread sets.  It can be used against two back run game, but is better suited to defend the one back spread run game.  What I really love about the setup is the fact that TGOG attacks gap runs as effectively as it does zone runs.  No need to guess what your opponent is going to run, or get caught in a bad defense, because TGOG is set up to defend both.  TGOG is set up to push the ball where the defense has an unblocked defender, which should be the goal of ANY defensive scheme, not just TGOG.  Again, I'm hoping that this post will shed some light and give clarity to what a good scheme TGOG is.