Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Interesting Twist on Defensive Line Play in the Four Man Front

I recently had the privilege to sit down with a colleague of mine and share some thoughts about defensive line (DL) play in the four man front.  Both of us have very similar philosophies when it comes to the "big uglies" up front...LET EM' PLAY.  However, we also both agree that a DL cannot just be a loose cannon either.  So we discussed at length what our DL reads, and DL play was about and came to a very startling conclusion.  That is the purpose of this article, is to discuss several aspects of DL play, and how us as coaches can alleviate some pressure off of our DL by using simple rule changes to how we defend our opponents blocking schemes.  I think in the end you will be pleased with our findings, and these findings will actually help speed up your linebackers (LB's) as well.

The Big Four
I have always been a proponent of teaching the "big four" block reactions.  These are as follows:
  1. Base block
  2. Reach block
  3. Down block
  4. Pass pro block (high hat read)
As I was taught, here is how the DL should react to all of the following blocks.
  1. Base- DL should attack the V of the neck and fight pressure with pressure looking to collapse the offensive lineman (OL) back into the gap to the inside.
  2. Reach- DL works laterally to maintain gap integrity and still fights pressure with pressure, but this time in an attempt to not have his outside shoulder reached.
  3. Down- DL gets hands on the blocker and mashes blocker down into gap to the inside, and then plays down the line to up the field read looking to:
    1. Spill the first puller (trap)
    2. Spill the kick out block (power)
    3. Tackle the ball carrier (veer/midline)
  4. Pass- DL works up field in his rush lane and makes a move to attempt to sack the quarterback (QB).

Defeating the base block the traditional way

Defeating reach blocking

Wrong arming the trap block

I know these are generic ways of teaching the technique, but you basically understand what I was teaching to my DL.  Now let's look at a little history on how my colleague and I arrived at our DL philosophies.

History of DL Play
In my early years, wrong arming was the new wave of things, and the "big four" reads above were just being taught.  I remember sitting in clinics thinking of how simple and sound this stuff was compared to the old DL reads I'd been teaching in the 50 defense (yes, I was an odd front guy, many moons ago, but not by choice).  Anyhow, my defensive coordinator at the time was switching to the 4-3, and all of this made sense and really came into play.  We put teams on their ears as they did not know what to do with this new DL technique.  Wrong arming was especially tough on our opponents.  Back then we taught one-for-one and had our lineman cut any pullers they came up against (we were taught that way back then).  Later on we changed this to "running the circle" and getting a two-for-one advantage. 

Then comes the spread!  Well, being a 4-3 Quarters guy, there were several times we were left with a 4-1 box and had to something to alleviate some pressure on middle linebacker (MLB).  At first we simply ran a stunt we had in our base package called "knife".  The knife stunt simply told the defensive end (DE) to slant one gap inside his normal alignment.  This worked good until you ran up against a QB who could scramble.  The QB simple rolled outside  your DE that had pinched and had no pressure in his face now.  So we came up with a way to keep our base reads, but change the ones that were giving us trouble, by creating a stunt we called "Ed".  Ed stands, for end down and has been talked about in many of my defending flexbone posts.  Basically the "big four" reads remain the same, except for that of the base block.  In the Ed stunt, I had the DL wrong arm the base block, thereby putting them down one gap inside their normal alignment.  It was accomplishing the same thing the knife stunt was, but now on a pass protection read, the DL used the same technique we normally taught and was able to still contain the QB.  Later on, we added the "TED" stunt, which stood for tackle and end down, meaning that both the tackle and the DE's were going to wrong arm any base block they got.  The TED stunt was very good against the midline and counter iso plays I was seeing at the time from some of our flexbone opponents.

Ed stunt vs. base block

I have used the Ted and Ed stunts on and off for the past seven years, with a great deal of success.  We also used these stunts to help protect what some would call, less-than-adequate LB's as well.  These were LB's who could not meet the isolation play consistently at or around the line of scrimmage (LOS), for whatever reason (fear, inability, athleticism, etc.).  The stunt took away the inside gap that was being opened and spilled the ball outside where our lesser players could simply run it down.  The stunt and technique, coupled with safety run support, made for a very sound scheme, even when I didn't have a great corps of LB's. 

Ed stunt protecting OLB

Which leads me to the next historical point of my friend and his conversation with his DL coach a few years back.  Due to his request I will leave my friend and where he coaches out of this, but a few years back he and his DL coach were having a conversation in a defensive team meeting, when they noticed a weak kid they had at DE getting reached constantly.  The young man did good on traps and spilling the puller, and was a pretty good pass rusher as well.  The young man simply could not handle the reach block.  So my friend asked his coach, in preparation for an upcoming playoff game, "Will he get reached?".  To which the DL coach said "yes".  Anyhow, they lost the playoff game (not because of the DE, obviously), and in the off-season, my friend headed out in search of an answer to his troubles.  What my friend looked for were colleges that consistently did not get quite the same talent as those around them, or in their conference, yet were very competitive year in and year out.  Again, for anonymity I will not disclose where he found this technique, but the funny thing is, I had been doing some of it and never even knew it.

This technique is simply known to us as "Two-gap, one gap", and is probably not as revolutionary as some think, however in discussing this with coaches I find not many use this technique.  To look at how things work with the TGOG system, let's take a look at just what the scheme is from the ground up.

The Basic Scheme
The basic TGOG system is very simple.  There will be two one gap linemen, and two two gap linemen in the four down lineman system.  There will also be one of these to each side, so that the defense has a two gapper, and a one gapper on each side of the football.  Now let's look at how you determine which DL play which technique.

The simplicity of the system lies in the lack of specialization.  I used to be a coach that every player had to have a "special" job or quality, but have quickly found out that this leads to a large teaching problem.  Specialization, though it sounds cool, can and will frustrate you as a coach.  The more generic you can be with your coaching, the more you can accomplish with your players.  This is the old triple option coaches axiom of "Multiplicity through simplicity".  In DL terms, this means having two ends and two tackles, not a strong end, weak end, nose and tackle.  Both the tackles and ends should be interchangeable meaning that these players should be able to play both the strong and weak sides of a formation equally.

Ok, so now that the lack of specialization has been addressed, we can now focus on the first part of playing DL, alignment.  The alignment in the TGOG system is very important.  The one gap lineman aligns in a "looser than normal" alignment.  So for the DE, this would mean that if he were to normally align in a five technique, he would align in a seven technique (even if there wasn't a tight end present).  The two gap lineman aligns very tight, almost head up on the OL.  So if a DE were to be in a five technique he would align with his nose on the outside eye of the offensive tackle (OT).  The reasons for this variation in alignment, will be discussed later.

The way the TGOG system works is very simple.  For the interior linemen, if you are in a two technique or higher, you two-gap.  If you are in a two-eye technique or lower, then you one-gap.  So, in our base over front, the weakside tackle is in a one technique and he is a one gapper, meaning he will more than likely align in the A gap (wider than a normal one technique) and is only responsible for the A gap, getting upfield and wrecking havoc.  On the strong side the strong tackle is in a three technique, so he is a two-gapper.  The two-gapper will align much tighter than a normal three technique and will utilize the two-gap technique.  All the DE's have to do is ask themselves this simple question "Is the gap inside of my alignment vacant or occupied (you can use open or closed either one will suffice).  If the gap is open, then the DE is a two-gapper.  However, if the gap is closed, then the DE is a one-gapper (as shown above).

The one gap lineman is quite simply summed up in one phrase...pass rusher.  When you coach the one gap lineman the main goal is to get off the football, get up field and disrupt blocking schemes via penetration.  Now I know many of you die-hards are going "Oh yeah, well I'll just trap your ass".  Well, it isn't quite that easy, however that is the main focus of coaching the one gap player.  The one gap player should avoid blocks, and get up the field.  If the player is the one technique, think penetration and disruption.  The DE is simply turned loose, and allowed to rush around the corner.  Now I know what you are thinking, however there are block reactions.

The one gap DL is very simply put, to maintain the gap they are aligned in.  The reaction to the base, reach and pass set are all the same, get up field and rush around the corner.  The only thing that changes on the down block, is the angle of attack that the DL will take to the football.  When the OL down blocks, the one gap DL will get into "chase" mode and come flat down the LOS.  It does not matter how the one-gapper handles the trap block.  When in doubt, he is to spill if he can, however if he boxes, this is not a problem either.  That is the beauty of the system, let the one-gappers go and wreck havoc.  That's it!  The one gap technique is very aggressive and very simple, which allows you to teach both the one gap and two gap techniques to your DL.

1 gap DE reaction to base, reach and pass set

1 gap DE reaction to down block (chase)

The two gapper, is also every bit as simple as the one gapper.  The two gapper is only a two gapper on paper, meaning he aligns in one gap, but is responsible for another.  When coaching the two gap DL, think King of the Boards drill.  The two gapper is in KOB mode all the time.  The reason for this is simple, in the KOB drill, there is no advantage to either side, it is simply put, man-on-man, may the best man win.  In a game situation however, OL have to react to stunts and movements by the DL to maintain leverage.  Even zone teams, will anticipate certain movements or reactions from DL aligned in certain techniques.  Basically, OL in game situations are more tentative than they are in KOB drills.  The DL however, knowing what he has to do (basically bull rush), is clearly at the advantage.  No matter what the OL does, the DL's job is to drive this defender backwards.  The DL is actually assigned to the gap inside his alignment because of this technique.  So against the base, reach and pass set, the DL will bull rush directly at the OL he aligns over.  Once the block is read, contact is made and the OL driven back the DL will then slip into the inside gap.  Against the down block scheme the DL is still trying to mash the OL back, but will now mash him down inside, thereby physically placing himself looking down the line into either the path of the puller, or the running back.  The key element for two gap players is contact and hands.  Two gappers must always get hands on the OL.  The two gapper cannot run around or avoid blocks, yet he must run through them, at least through contact, before getting into his assigned gap.  I keep the movement into the gap very simple and have the DL execute a rip move inside.  This does two things, it defeats most OL blocks that are base or reach, because the blocker has lost leverage on his backside gap.  This rip move also turns the DL down inside whereas he can still wrong arm any influence trap that may occur.

2 gap DE vs. base, reach and pass pro blocks

2 gap DE vs. down block

The only tweak to this scheme is that of the two gap DE.  The two gap DE, against a pass set will still bull rush, but will not work inside until he's on the same level as the football.  This allows this DE to still keep contain on the QB if he was to roll or scramble to the two gap DE's side.  Once the DE sees the football and can react to it, then he makes his inside move.

Why Choose the TGOG Scheme?
The reason is very simple.  On the Huey board I took a poll to see how many DL coaches had that could consistently defeat the "big four" blocks.  The answers were pretty astounding, as you can see here.  As you can see, most coaches voted for either one or two DL that could consistently handle the "big four".  Basically put, on average only 50 percent of your DL was able to execute sound technique.  I'd be willing to bet, of that 50 percent, half of that could only execute half the time. 

Why is this you ask?  BDSD came from coaches who coach on Saturdays, and make their living finding and recruiting the best athletes possible.  High school coaches do not have the recruitment luxury (unless you are a private school), so what are we left to do?  There are two thoughts here, coach up what you have and let them play and when the fail you can simply chalk it up to lack of talent (see how long you keep your job).  Or, you can coach up your players and find ways to help them succeed.  There is nothing mentioned in the techniques above that a below average lineman cannot do.  However a below average lineman if he's worried about the trap, is going to get reached or kicked out.  If he's now worrying about the reach or base block, then he's susceptible to the trap and so forth.  You can argue this with me until your blue in the face, but you will not convince me that year in and year out you will find four guys that can execute the proper technique 70 percent of the time.

This is because college DL are asked to attack and react, quite simply put.  You must realize, that of all the high school DL probably less than five percent of those make it to the college ranks.  So why ask your Friday night player to do something they see on Saturdays?  Doesn't make sense.  To be honest, I feel this is the number on reason of the resurgence of the odd fronts such as the 3-4, 3-3, and the 3-5.  These schemes, usually, do not read blocks, yet slant their DL to certain areas to create confusion and to level the playing field by also knowing where they are going before the play starts (similar to the advantage an OL should have on any given play).  The four man line is weak in this area, because the linemen are asked not only to attack, but to react, and this puts them in pinch (no pun intended).  My friend and I, through years of watching DL getting reached, or have the trap mercilessly carve up our defenses, have turned the tables and are now able to get our players to attack similar to our odd front cousins.  If I had to choose one of the two traits of the four man DL, it would be that of attack.  I don't want players reacting, I want them attacking.  First off if you are reacting you are already a step behind, if you are attacking you are always a step ahead.

By now having predetermined gaps to go to on the snap, your LB reads can also become quicker and more aggressive.  Again, now you have your players attacking, not attacking and reacting.  The goal here is to remove the reaction as reaction is always a step behind.  A step behind on defense is giving up yardage, something we can all ill afford to do.  I will discuss these LB reads in another post, yet you can clearly see where utilizing this technique can have a major advantage for the defense.

An Added "Twist"
Another technique, that was added by my friend later was between the inside two DL.  The idea here was to always run a twist stunt to keep the OL on their toes.  How it works is when the two gap DL bull rushes and comes inside, he continues to work behind the center and into the A gap on the complete opposite side of the football from where he originally aligned.  The one gap DL will work up the field hard, as usual, but will then work off the stunt by the tackle and cross over the center into the A gap opposite his alignment.  The stunt is shown below.

In Conclusion
Our job, as coaches, is to put our players in the best position to make a play.  Quite simply put, however, how often do you try something you learned from a college coach at a clinic, only to have it fail?  Here is a simple solution to the woes many DL coaches have in getting their players to attack and react to offensive blocking schemes.  Now, by using the TGOG technique, you have the upper hand, and are creating attacking defenders instead of attacking and reacting.  This "is" putting YOUR players in a better position to be successful. 

Well, the off-season has been very quite, not much to do in junior high football I guess, but review film and tweak schemes.  Anyhow, I'm really looking for some aggressive onside kick stuff.  Even onside all the time type stuff.  If anybody has ANYTHING they can share with me, please email me at  Hope all is going well for you and your program, don't snooze though, for many spring football is on its way!

Are you ready for spring football???