Monday, January 23, 2012

Defensive Backs in the 46 Nickel

Well, the last position manual in the defense is complete! The unique thing about the 46 Nickel compared to its cousin the old standard 46, is that there are five defensive backs (DB's) on the field at any given time. This allows you to use athletic players as adjusters against spread-type sets, yet coupled with the 46's patented base front, you can also play these smaller, quicker players inside the box because they are protected. It is imperative to understand that the use of the 46 against the spread is a pressure concept, if you are not a "man to man guy", then you might as well forget this's not for you. The heart of the defense is built around the idea of "Get to them, before they get to you". This idea should be ingrained in your defense players if you so choose to use this defense.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at personnel in the 46 Nickel!

  • Strong Safety (Spur)- The Spur is a good "all around" athlete. He's probably the second best pure athlete on your defense. He has the ability to play in space, but is not shy about playing inside the box. He must be physical enough to play the seven technique, yet agile enough to cover a slot receiver man to man.
  • Weak Safety (Whip)- The Whip is the least athletic of all of the DB's in the 46 Nickel. Even though he aligns in the box, DON'T think linebacker (LB) here. The Whip is protected by two defensive linemen (DL) and an outside linebacker (OLB), so he doesn't have to be as physical a player as a LB. He does need to like contact, I mean after all, he's on defense! The Whip should be able to cover man to man, look for that ability first, then move on to what else that player can do.
  • Free Safety- This is the man in the middle. He's the best athlete in the secondary, and possibly on the team. He must be able to cover ground, love to hit, and tackle well in open space. He must also make all the adjustment checks in the secondary. This is probably your best football player on the team. DO NOT skimp at this position!
  • Corner- Corners are cover guys. The more physical the better, but it's not a must. The ability to be able to cover a receiver in single coverage is paramount, everything else is secondary. Look for good feet and hips, speed is a plus, but not a must.

Man Free-Pressuring With Coverage

As was stated earlier, the 46 Nickel thrives on pressure. If a defense is going to base with a pressure philosophy, then they need to cover with a pressure philosophy as well. Man free coverage, typically known as Cover 1, is the base coverage in the 46 Nickel. It's not the only coverage, however this is the coverage you will teach from day one.

The rules are simple and concise with Cover one. The corners will take the number one receiver to their side man to man. The Spur and Whip will cover the number two receiver man to man to their respective side. The Spur and Whip are the adjusters to each side and the FS is the final adjuster.

The Spur has a pretty simple job. First, he listens for the strength call, given by the Mike LB, and goes to that side of the formation, and covers the number two receiver man to man. If this receiver is a tight end (TE), he will align in a seven technique and cover the TE man to man. If the number two receiver is a split receiver, then the Spur will move to five yards off this receiver and in inside leverage of this receiver. The only time the "cover number two rule" does not hold true is against TE trips, or "Trey" sets. In this case, the Spur will stay in the seven technique and cover the TE man to man, while another DB in the secondary will cover the number two receiver. The reason behind this is that the Spur is usually the more physical of the outside safeties (OSS's), so he's better suited to stay in the seven technique against Trey sets.

Alignment- Whip
The Whip is similar to the Spur, but has a few different alignments against certain offensive sets.  If there are two or three backs in the backfield, then the Whip will align in a weak 40 technique and will essentially be the weakside LB in the defense.  If the offense comes out in a one back set, and puts a TE to the weak side then the Whip will align in a seven technique and cover the TE man to man.  If the number two receiver is a split receiver he uses the same rule as the Spur does in the same situation.  The Whip will be called on, in certain situations to move to the strong side of the defense.  This is when the FS gives a "help" call, alerting the Whip, that there is a trips or trey set on the opposite side of the defense.  The Whip's rule is to go to the call side, and cover the number three receiver, unless the number three receiver is a TE.  If the #3 receiver is a TE, then he adjusts and covers the number two receiver man to man (see illustration above).

Alignments-Free Safety
The FS's normal alignment is over the center at a depth of no less than eight and no greater than 15 yards off the line of scrimmage (LOS).  This depth is dependant on coverage or down and distance, or both.  If the FS expects a run play, I like him to be around eight yards, whereas if he expects the pass, then he should move back to ten or 12 yards.  In a double coverage scenario, the FS will cheat over late to inside leverage on the double covered receiver.  The FS must learn to time this move, as we do not want to give away what our defense is doing.  If the offense presents three backs in the backfield, the FS will move to a "backer" alignment, putting him over the center, at LB depth. 

FS Cheats Late in Double Coverage

Alignments- Cornerback
Corners have three basic alignment, normal, press and off.  The normal alignment is five yards off their receiver and in inside leverage.  Press is inside leverage but on the LOS as close to the receiver as legally possible.  Off is inside leverage, but eight yards off the receiver.  It's important that the corner know not only how to align in these alignments, but how to stem to these alignments as well. 

There will be some cases where the cornerback will have to play the seven technique as well.  If the offense comes out in two or three backs and has two TE's then the weakside corner plays the seven technique.  If you are not comfortable with this, an easy adjustment is put the corner in a weakside 40 technique and move the Whip safety to the seven technique. 

Weak Corner Plays the Seven Technique

A Note on Dividers
Some coaches use divider rules to align their DB's, and this is perfectly fine.  Most of these rules are pretty standard.
  • #1 Aligns outside the top of the numbers, inside leverage
  • #1 Aligns inside the top of the numbers, outside leverage
  • #2 Aligns outside the hash mark, inside leverage
  • #2 Aligns inside the hash mark, outside leverage
I currently coach junior high football, and we don't use divider rules.  I just don't feel it's necessary at my age level.  I'm not sure I'd use them all that much at the high school level either, but whatever you feel comfortable with is just fine.

Vs. the Run-Spur
The Spur has very little to do with the run game when in man to man coverage.  All DB's use the catch man technique, but when involved in man coverage all DB's are secondary run support ONLY.  When the Spur is in the seven technique, he has NO run assignment whatsoever.  He must be conscious of the TE and his ability to run a route.  At the more advanced level, you can have the SS read the TE's release for run or pass, however this is difficult and time consuming.

One way to give the offense fits is to blitz or stunt the Spur.  The Single Spur blitz is very simple, the Spur will blitz, from wherever he is on the field and take the C gap.  This is a very good blitz that the offense will not expect and get you an extra run defender to the strong side of the formation. 

Single Spur

A good stunt to use, especially against wing-t teams or teams that like to run Power is Spur "X".  The "X" in the call tells the OLB to that side to run the Jet stunt (discussed earlier) and the Spur will loop outside for contain.  These stunts and blitzes are used to keep the Spur, who is one of the better athletes on the team, involved in attacking the offense and not just covering receivers.

Single Spur "X"

Vs. the Run- Whip
The Whip, in some cases is like a LB, whereas in other situations he is like a DB.  When the offense has two or three backs, the Whip is in LB mode and will play using LB keys and reads.  Against one back or empty teams, the Whip is a DB first and has no run assignment.  Just as with the Spur, you can blitz the Whip in a bunch of different ways to get him involved in pressuring the offense.

Vs. the Run- Free Safety
The FS is actually quite an important factor against the run.  The FS is the alley player to either side of the formation on outside run plays, and plays the cutback on inside run plays.  This is one reason the FS needs to be one of the best athletes on the field as he must be able to play like a LB or a DB depending on what the offense is presenting the defense.  Against option teams the FS is VERY important as he is used in tracking down and helping take away the QB and helping defend the dreaded option pass.  This run responsibility is the major reason that the FS will align so close to the LOS in run situations.

Vs. the Run- Cornerback
The corner has no run assignment, as he is always involved in coverage.  A good way to mix things up is to run a corner blitz from the boundary, if you have the personnel to do so.  This means the corner must be able to get there, and must be able to do something once he gets to the football.  In normal situations, the corner is purely a cover man though.

Corner Blitz From the Boundary

Vs. the Pass
Against the passing game, the rule is quite simple...cover your man!  The main component of the man free coverage used, is the FS.  He plays a robber technique and assists on all routes coming into the middle of the field.  All the other DB's must realize this, and can play their man accordingly.  What this means is that if a corner gets an inside move, he does not necessarily have to "jump" the route, because he knows he has help to the inside.  However, the corner should be overly concerned by outside breaking routes, because these routes move away from the FS, thereby not allowing the FS to help. 

This middle of the field robber technique, can be modified by deepening the FS to allow him to play over the top of any inside route (he normally is inside and underneath these routes).  The tag "deep" added to the coverage tells the FS to deepen his alignment and play over the top of any inside route in the middle of the field. 

All defenders must learn how to play catch man.  The catch man technique is the backbone of the 46 Nickel's pressure coverage package.  Catch man allows the DB's to read and react to a receiver's movement and then play off of that movement accordingly.  This technique also allows man defenders to react to running plays quicker than when using traditional man to man techniques.

Adjustments-Aligning and Attacking

The adjustments in cover one are pretty simple, but here are a few of the basic ones so you can get an idea on how the secondary handles the adjustments.  One rule to keep in mind is I don't ask my LB's to leave the box to cover anyone, this is why I declare the FS to be the final adjuster.

Against any nub set, the call is Flip. Flip tells the corner to the nub side to go cover the number two receiver to the side he was called to. This keeps your best athletes covering their best athletes.

Two by two is pretty simple, the SS will go cover the strong number two receiver and the WS will cover the weak number two receiver.  The FS should align splitting the middle of the widest vertical threats.

When the offense presents three or more receiving threats to one side of the defense, the FS makes a "help" call.  This tells the WS to move over and cover the number three receiver.  The only time this doesn't hold true is if the number three receiver is a TE.

Against the empty set, I check to cover zero and auto-blitz the Mike LB, however there are other ways to do this.  The first adjustment I've seen, is simple, have the Mike slide out and cover number three strong and keep the FS in the middle of the field.

A problem with that adjustment is QB draw can be a little rough to defend from that alignment.  Another adjustment that can be used is to drop the nose back to LB depth and have him spy the QB.

However you choose to do it, all of those adjustments are simple and easy to get in to.  I choose to keep the Mike as the "man in the middle" as that is what he normally does in the defense.

Additional Coverages- One High
There are several other coverages that can be run out of the 46 Nickel.  The first of these, would be cover three.  Since the defense is pressure based, I don't recommend utilizing cover three as much because I feel cover three does not pressure the offense, however if you want a zone coverage to fit with the defense, this is the coverage for you.

In cover three, the deep zone droppers are the corners and the FS.  This is just your standard three deep zone, although you can use pattern reading if you like, but then why not run cover one?  The Sam and Spur are the key to the coverage and they must communicate at all times.  The widest of these two defenders will drop to the numbers and play the curl to flat area and is the swing deep of two player.  This means this player will run with the number two receiver through the zone man to man.  The inside-most of these two players is the hook zone player to his respective side and will drop to just inside the near hash mark.  The Mike drops to the opposite hash mark and is the weak hook player.  The WS will drop to the weak numbers and is the weak curl to flat, swing deep of two player.  Another key element is that there must be an automatic "Spike" call given to the DE who is on the side the Sam LB is on.  This tells this DE to cross face of the OT to the outside and contain rush. 

One coverage I particularly like if you want to play zone in the 46 Nickel, is cover six.  Cover six is a three deep, three underneath fire zone package that allows you to still send five after the QB.  The rules are very similar to some of the pattern reading coverages discussed here before (most notably Saban's Rip/Liz adjustment to cover three).  The corners will take all of number one vertical, while the OSS's will take number two vertical or outside.  If number two is inside, then they release and relate to the number one receiver.  The Mike LB will handle allow shallow crossers and the FS handles any of the deeper inside routes.  The Sam is now free to rush the QB. 

Again, not sure why anyone would not want to run cover one.  When coupled with the catch man technique, there is no real need for any other coverage.

Additional Coverages- 2 High
This defense is completely capable of morphing into a seven man front if need be with coverage.  Not sure exactly why, but the concept is relatively simple.  Using split field techniques the defense can easily get into a seven man front and provide for sound pass coverage.  Utilizing what we know about split field coverage from TCU's Gary Patterson we see against a two by two set the 46 Nickel would align as follows:

The rules are the same as discussed in earlier posts on TCU's famed Blue coverage.  The Sam will drop to the strong hook, and will have number three vertical, whereas the Mike is the away side slice player.  To the strong side of the coverage, the SS is the curl to flat, swing deep of three player, while the corner and FS play their Blue reads to the number one and number two receiver.  The away side can play Blue, or Bronco (man), whichever you choose.

As you can see, the 46 Nickel is not some "flash in the pan" defense.  It has all the capabilities of doing what any other defense does.  However, this is not what the defense was built for.  This defense, as stated earlier, is built to pressure.  If you are not comfortable with this, I suggest a different defense.

In my next posts, I'm going to look at and break down how the 46 Nickel handles various offenses that you might see.  The first offense will be the dreaded Flexbone offense!

Well, the Super Bowl Matchup has been decided, who are you taking the Pats or the Giants?  I'm going with New York, they play good defense and well, I don't care for Tom Brady!  Anyhow, who you got in the big game?