Sunday, July 10, 2011

Florida's Nickel Tracer/Auburn's Heat Package

I'm gonna get you sucka!!!

A few years ago, after the University of Florida won the 2006 National Championship by stunning Ohio State 41-14, Doc Holliday came to a Nike Coach of the Year (COY) Clinic to discuss UF's pressure package they used that season.  I happened in on the lecture and learned a very valuable lesson in nickel pressure philosophy.  I will say this, I did not run this blitz to anything but 10, 11, and 00 personnel.  I did not feel that it was a good matchup vs. anything else.  This package does have a "cumbersome" feel about especially since learning TCU's blitz package.  With that being said, you can gain a lot of knowledge, not necessarily from the scheme of things, but from the techniques that are utilized in this pressure package.  As with some of this stuff, resources on this pressure package have been like Osama Bin Laden...hard to find!  Anyhow, Chris Vasseur (vassdiddy) bent my ear a little while back about writing a piece on this particular pressure package, so since I'm doing nothing else, I took him up on it.  Let's see if I can't dissect this pressure package and coverage scheme so that we can understand, and even potentially install this scheme.  Let's roll!


The General Scheme
The general scheme of things is simple, bring everyone who's not covering a receiving threat.  The first item you have to deal with though, is the definition of a receiving threat.  Any eligible player aligned anywhere but the backfield is a receiving threat.  These players will have a dedicated defender, who's sole job is to cover this person.  So, against your standard 2x2 set with doubles on both side, you will have 4 defenders dedicated to covering those 4 receiving threats.  Simple enough right?

Any eligible player in the backfield is handled by the rush.  This is done in 2 ways.  First there are interior rushers who rush the A through C gaps on either side of the offensive formation.  These players, as they rush, if they encounter a running back (RB) on their way to the quarterback (QB), they wrap him up, and take him with them (straight outta Doc's mouth on that one).  This keeps the draw and middle screens from hurting this blitz.  Next is the edge rushers.  The widest rushers are "peel" rushers, meaning they do not allow a back to cross their face.  If a back attempts to check release, or run a swing pattern, they will cover this receiver man to man.  This keeps any quick outlet pass or hot read by the QB from hurting the blitz.  If this sounds familiar this is the exact technique I used to alter TCU's blitz package, so that it was not so intense on the safeties and allowed me to run more man free than pure man the past 2 seasons (go here to read the article).  So, once you've figured the receiving threats, the inside and outside rushers, now it's on to the coverage.

The coverage of this blitz scheme is what really caught my eye.  It's man coverage with a twist, and an aggressive twist at that.  On film, it looks simply like off man, which basically it is.  The defensive backs (DB's) align 8 yards off their man, NOT the LOS.  On the snap of the ball, the DB does not gain any depth, yet buzzes his feet and keys the near shoulder of his receiver.  This technique is known as the "Banzai" technique, and is the crux of the coverage.  If this shoulder is going vertical, the DB maintains his inside leverage and as the receiver approaches...he tackles him!  Now I know what you are saying, but that's exactly as ol' Doc explained it at the clinic.  He said tackle them, knock them on their ass, whatever you have to do to keep them from catching the football.  He also stated a 15 yard penalty didn't hurt as much as either a touchdown, or receiver's not being afraid to run down the field.  Now, if the DB reads an inside or outside cut by the receiver he attacks immediately, and again, tackles the receiver, irregardless of whether or not the ball has been thrown.  This coverage scheme is NOT for the squeamish, it is aggressive, get after your ass (GATA) football.  This was proven in the 2006 BCS National Championship Game when Ohio State had no answer to Florida's defensive pressure scheme known as Nickel Tracer.  Of course it helped to have the speed and athleticism the Gator's had, but it's not a bad pressure package.

Alignment and Assignment
As with any defensive package alignment and assignment are vital.  Here are the rules for the Heat/Tracer blitz package.

  • Nose: Align in a 2I weak, cross face of guard into B gap.  Listen for a "Gaps" call.  If given a Gaps call, slide alignment to a weak 3 technique and rush the weak B gap.
  • Rush (weak end): Align in a loose 5 and peel rush at near shoulder of near back, or near shoulder of QB (if back offset opposite), unless given a "bull" call.  Vs. bull call, bull rush OT, do not allow him to double release on outside defender.   
  • Tackle: Strong 3 technique, rush the B gap.  Listen for "Gaps" call, if given a Gaps call, align in the weak A gap and rush the weak A gap.
  • Anchor (Strong End): Align in a wide 9 vs. a TE, or a ghost 6 vs. no TE.  Peel rush unless given a "bull" call.  If given a bull call bull rush TE, or free rush (no contain responsibility) QB.
  • Sam (LB to strong side): Vs. a TE, align in a 7 technique (stand up, 2 point) and cover TE man to man.  Do not allow TE off the LOS, and control the TE vs. the run.  Vs. no TE, align in a 5 technique.  C gap rush vs. no TE.
  • Mike: Align in the A gap on the side of the offset RB.  If no offset RB, align in the A gap to passing strength.  Blitz the A gap.
  • Strong Safety ($): Align in A gap opposite the offset RB.  If no offset RB, then align in the A gap away from passing strength.  Rush the A gap.  Be alert for "Gaps" call.  Vs. Gaps call, must go to passing strength and cover #3.
  • Weak Safety/Nickel/Will LB (W): Align to passing strength and cover #2 man to man (banzai technique).
  • Free Safety (F): Blitz the side of the offset back.  If no offset back, peel rush (give bull call) to the side opposite the Nickel back.  If #2 weak is a WR, then cover #2 man to man.  Vs. trips, cover #3 man to man to trips side.  FS handles all motion.
  • Corners- Cover #1 man to man.  Can check corners over vs. closed sets.  Use banzai technique.
Shown below are some of the alignments and adjustments to some popular 2x2 formations:

As you can see, the FS will blitz the side of the offset RB, unless the #2 receiver is split away from the formation.  If the RB were to motion from the backfield in the first 2 diagrams, the FS would take this motion.  If the RB motions in the 2x2 open set example, the SS would have to move out and cover him, and make the "Gap" check mentioned above (and will be discussed later). 

Here are the adjustments to some standard 3x1 formations:

In the first example the secondary plays corners over and the FS is able to blitz the side of the RB.  In the second example of 3x1, the FS is called on to cover #3 strong, and thereby cannot rush.  In the first example it is important that the FS let the DE (A) know to bull so the DE does not peel off if the RB crosses his face.

Next is a look at the adjustment to empty sets.

To be honest, I did not get this adjustment from Auburn or UF, as it is not discussed.  Empty was discussed at the clinic I attended, however it was discussed with a TE and not without.  When I ran this blitz, we made this a "Gaps" call.  Gaps, slide the Tackle over to A gap away from passing strength and put the MLB in the A gap to passing strength.  The Sam, and Anchor would keep their normal alignments, but the Sam would blitz the B gap, instead of the C, and the Anchor was the peel rusher to the strong side.  The Nose would kick over to a weak 3 technique and rush his gap, and the Rush didn't have to change a thing.

I used this pressure package in it's entirety for 2 seasons out of the 4-3 package and a nickel package.  You can do it from any front you care to, as it's all about filling gaps, and covering detached receivers...aggressively.  The key to installation, is to divide your defense based on their job.  There are 3 jobs in the Tracer blitz, inside rush, outside rush, cover eligibles.  I'm going to break these 3 facets down, so you can see how to apply the proper coaching of the techniques of each. 
  1. Inside rushers- These are rushers responsible for the A through C gaps on either side of the football. 
    1. Keys- Near foot of nearest offensive lineman to near pad of offensive lineman. 
    2. Reactions- The object is to get into a gap and go, that being said, run plays have to be carefully defended especially zone plays.  Defenders do not want to get washed and need to maintain gap integrity at all times by not getting reached.  This is the key for reading near foot to near pad, so that the rusher can deduce whether or not it's a run play, or pass play.  All inside rushers will spill, so if they trap, or kick out on power type plays, the normal spill reads apply (should be no new teaching here if you are a spill philosophy guy).  Pullers are chased, flat down the LOS and any downblocks are fought underneath and worked laterally.  Vs. a high hat read, or pass set, defenders maintain strict rush lanes and if blocked occupy the blocker and drive backwards in the direction of the QB.  If any defender, upon either rushing, or defeating a blocker, encounters a back, wrap him up (high tackle) and run him to the QB.  Do not release him, and do not worry if he has the ball or not.  If the ball is thrown, retrace your steps, and get to the football.
  2. Outside rushers- These are rushers responsible for the D gap on either side of the football and are declared by their width, or basically put, they are the widest rushers.  Outside rushers notify players inside of them, that they are the peel blitzer by an "I'm here" call, letting the next defender inside of him know that they are now a spill player.  If the FS is involved in the rush, he will give the next man inside of him a "bull" call if it is a DE, letting him know to bull rush the OT the DE is aligned over.
    1. Keys- Near offensive lineman and Lane of Ball (LOB).
    2. Reactions- On run plays toward this defender, he is to work upfield and force, and will take pitch on option.  On run plays away, this player will pursue as deep as the football and look for boot, and reverse before chasing.  On a pass set by the near lineman, this defender will now attack the near back, working upfield executing a contain rush.  If the near back, attempts to cross the face of this defender, the rush is off and he will cover this defender man to man.  If the near back attempts to block this defender, the defender will throttle down, engage the blocker with a high tackle and carry him to the QB.  A good rule of thumb for this defender is do not allow an offensive player or threat to get to their outside shoulder.  The peel rusher should box all trap or kickout blocks by attacking the blocker with the inside shoulder.
  3. Covering the eligibles- These are the defenders responsible for the coverage of detached receivers.  These defenders will align 8 yards off their respective receiver NOT the LOS.  Corners will always cover the #1 receiver (numbering from outside in) pre-snap.  Against closed sets, corners can flip sides and play corners over.  The nickel back or OLB responsible for covering #2, will cover #2 to the passing strength.  The FS will cover #2 away from the nickel back, or will cover #3 to the trips side.  The FS handles all motion.  If a TE is present, the strong side LB aligns in a 7 technique and covers the TE man to man.  Vs. empty sets, the SS must be called into action and will cover the #3 receiver to the nickel back's side. 
    1. Keys- Inside shoulder of receiver.
    2. Reactions- If the inside shoulder works down the field and stops or stutters to stalk, engage the blocker and get eyes inside to the football.  Shuck blocker and support the run only after it has broken the LOS.  Important note here is the eyes don't go inside until the receiver has been engaged, so as to make sure the receiver is blocking.  If the shoulder works vertical up field, and stays vertical up to a point 1 yard from the defender, the defender will maintain inside leverage, and execute an open field tackle on the receiver.  The key is to not take the receiver to the ground, but tie him up in a manner that does not allow for any more depth on the route, and impedes the receiver's ability to catch the football.  If the near shoulder, breaks inside or outside the defender is to drive to a point 1 yard in front of the receiver's direction, and again, execute an open field tackle.  The eyes should never leave the receiver and all DB's should use the sideline for leverage when making this tackle. 
    3. Additional notes- The FS handles all motion, either change of strength (COS) motion, or backfield motion.  All DB's will "buzz" their feet and must NOT lose ground, they buzz their feet and react to the near hip (shoulder came from UF, Auburn taught the banzai technique by reading the near hip).
This is the basics of the blitz.  One other item to note, you can stack the SS and MLB over the center and play games with where they go, thereby confusing the center.  I did not do this much, as we stemmed quickly from our base alignment and basically hit the thing on the run.  Yes, Heat/Tracer is a bit complicated, but the major emphasis I liked was the coverage of RB's out of the backfield and how it handled the screen and draw game.  The other key component to this blitz is the "bluff" package.  I called it "Trick Heat", since the blitz to us was "Heat".  Bluff or Trick, whichever you prefer is a must.  When I ran this in a game, I tried to achieve a 1:3 ratio of Heat to Trick Heat.  That means, for every 1 time you run Heat, you then follow that up with 3 times of running Trick Heat.  I'm going to now discuss the nuances of the bluff scheme that goes with this blitz.  Please keep this in mind, Trick and Heat go hand in hand, and are not to be separated when installing this system.

The General Scheme
The general idea behind bluffing is just that, get the offense to think you are coming, and bail out.  With that in mind, you have to have a plan for dealing with what the offense is going to check to if you show the Heat/Tracer blitz.  Most offenses we saw checked to 1 of the following:
  1. Slant/Hitch hot route
  2. Screen/Swing pass to RB
  3. Draw
So, with than in mind, the most dangerous of the above items is the slant/hitch, especially the slant.  Screens and Draws are some issues to, but since you now only rushing 4, you will have more eyes on the RB and more players will be in a better position to react to the screen or draw.  I still told my DL, that if they encountered a RB on their way to the QB, they were to grab him and take him with them.  This little added technique in the bluff scheme really helped against the screen and draw game. 

Ok, so on to the basics.  Basically Trick Heat was a 3 deep zone scheme that had 4 underneath droppers.  They were divided as follows:
  • SS/MLB- Hook droppers, dropping to 2 if balanced of rotating their drop to passing strength vs. trips formations.
  • SLB/FS- Curl Flat droppers, dropping at #1 to either side.
  • Corners- Deep outside 1/3 players.
  • Nickel- Deep middle 1/3 dropper.
So, now that we see the basics, let's move on to alignment and assignment.

This is important, and to me this part of the scheme is what complicates things.  The alignment is not exactly the same as that of the regular blitz.  Here are the alignment rules for the bluff package:
  • DL- Align the same as you would for the normal Heat/Tracer blitz.
  • SS/MLB- align the same as you would for the normal blitz.
  • SLB- algin the same as you would for the normal blitz.
  • Nickel/WLB- Align over #2 to passing strength.  Vs. trips, align inside of the #3 receiver.
  • FS- Always align on the open side of the formation, on the LOS, or opposite the SLB.
  • Corners- Must align on either side of the formation (cannot align in corners over) due to having deep 1/3 responsibilities.  They can stem though (which I had ours do, as did UF and Auburn).
The assignments are as follows:
  • DL- rush your assigned gap, use draw/screen protect rules if you encounter a RB.  DE's must contain rush (peel assignment is off however).
  • SS/MLB- At the snap drop to #2 to your side.  Do not look at QB, drop to your man and buzz your zone, reacting to your receiver's break.  Vs. trips, MLB drops to #2 and SS will drop to #3 to the trips side.  Treat empty the same as trips and drop to 2 and 3 to passing strength.
  • SLB/FS- At the snap drop to #1 to your side.  Same rules/techniques as the SS/MLB.  Only difference is vs. empty the FS drops to #2 away from the passing strength (ignores #1).
  • Nickel- Rotate to the deep middle 1/3, must wait until the snap and bust tail to get there.
  • Corners- Drop to the deep 1/3 to your side.
Here is Trick Heat (as I called it) to various sets:

The underneath droppers (FS,MLB,SLB,SS) all leave at the snap, they do not leave early (this is important in disguising the blitz, however if they do cheat the snap and get caught, they are not to move up, they should continue to drop out).  They are to drop at their receiver, and expect slant, if the receiver breaks off early, on a hitch the work to the upfield shoulder looking to make a quick open field tackle.  The deep droppers play their normal cover 3 rules, with the WS having the toughest job of the bunch, because of his alignment and having to get to the MOF quickly.  Don't have him cheat though as you will lose the element of surprise. 

Don't leave early!

Here are some clips of the blitz in various forms against different sets. 

So to recap, the basics of the package is a "plus one" blitz (bring 1 more than they can block) and a bluff package that allows you to keep the offense off balance.  I liked this scheme, and quite frankly didn't use it enough.  What I really used was the inside and outside rush techniques on the blitz to adapt them to TCU's blitz package to make the alignments and keys of the secondary simpler out of the 4-2-5.  I mainly did this blitz out of standard 4-3 personnel, but I switched the Will linebacker (W in the diagrams, WS in nickel package) with the FS, because I did not have a fully developed nickel package in my defense at the time.  The Will in my defense was a converted DB though, so it still worked out.  As with so many of these things we get from the college game, there is usually some adapting you can do to make it fit what you are trying to accomplish.  This simple switch between the Will and the FS was not a major issue, and fit us better because our FS was used to rotating to the MOF, and playing the deep 1/3 as well as covering receivers man to man.  Later, I did run it exclusively out of a nickel package, but to start I just kept my 4-3 and aligned everything as shown above, with the Will and FS switching roles.  Some other tidbits of information, are that when running this, you need to rep the bluff package 3 times as much as you do the blitz.  The blitz is fairly self explanatory, once you get the alignments down, but the bluff package can take a little work.  The part I had difficulty on was the underneath droppers getting caught with their eyes in the backfield instead of to their receiver.  Anyhow, a very fun and exciting blitz package for those that are in spread heavy leagues.  Hope this helped, and thank Vassdiddy over at the Huey forum for getting me off my duff to write this thing!

Thanks Coach!