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.
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!