|Now that would be a good defense!|
I thought I'd share with you a piece I put in the front of every playbook I've ever written. I think it sums defensive football up into a nice and concise manner that just about anybody can understand.
I use the acronym ART to teach the players. I tell them, a well coached defense is a thing of ART!
You cannot play defense if you do not know where to line up. We cannot give our opponent freebies by misaligning. All players must know their alignments for a given front or coverage. Misalignment is not tolerated, as it is the easiest of the four axioms to remember. All coaches should begin with teaching the basic alignments and working into the more complex ones. Make sure your players master these alignments as these alignments are crucial to our success as a defense.
Even if properly aligned, a player not knowing his assignment becomes a liability. Players who do not know their alignment and assignments play slower and more tentative than the player who knows and understands his role in the defense. Teach your players what their assignments are, and how these assignments relate to the overall success of the defense. Teach the players what it does to be out of position, or not know their assignment and show them how this lack of knowledge of one's assignment can hurt the defense. The coach need not worry about whether or not the player CAN do the assignment, the coach needs to be concerned with does his players know what to do on every snap. Coach the assignment first, and allow technique and repetition to assist the player in achieving his goal of being able to successfully implement his assignment.
Running to the Football
I am a stickler, to the point of being nauseating, when it comes to running to the football. I work under the premise of "It takes no talent to hustle". Running is a basic skill all our players can do in some fashion, never let them neglect it. Loafs will not be tolerated and will be handled by the entire defense doing extra pursuit drills for every loaf that occurs on film. When a play is over, all 11 players should be in the frame of the camera, or making their best effort to get into the frame (use your judgement here). If not, that's one extra pursuit drill for the defense. Never allow a player to loaf, whether you think he's tired or not, loafing is not allowed on defense. In practice reinforce this by requiring your players to hustle from drill to drill. Never allow your players to walk onto or off of the playing field or practice field. Promote a relentless approach to pursuit, rewarding players for their hustle. We want to promote an atmosphere of relentless pursuit to get to the football at all costs. Producing this relentlessness comes from the coaching staff pushing players in practice to hustle EVERYWHERE they go! Loafing will not be tolerated by any defensive player.
Tackling is the final piece of the puzzle. Many coaches overlook this very important skill, however we will not. I believe in tackling everyday during preseason camp, in some fashion, whether it be form-n-fit, or full tilt eye-openers. I also believe tackling with a purpose is important when using drills. Don't do tackling drills because I say so, do them because we need to be the best tacklers on the field. It does us no good to execute the first three axioms only to fail on the fourth. During season, we will scale down tackling to two days per week, and towards the end of the season we will tackle once a week. We will never NOT tackle during a week of practice. I know this will take a toll on some players, and we may lose some, but I'd rather have a mediocre player who can tackle well, than a great player that tackles poorly. Do not overlook, or under coach tackling.
There you have it, my Four Axioms of Defensive Football. I think, us as coaches, sometimes make things more complicated than they really need be. I have read many coaches defensive philosophies over the years and many of them have in there somewhere "We will be the greatest 4-3 defense out there!". That's not a philosophy. Defensive philosophy has nothing to do with a front, or stunt, or what coverage you run. Defensive philosophy is how you ingrain your players to attack an offense and prepare to stop an opponent. I have run the 4-3, 4-4, 5-3, Under, Over, 4-2, 46 Bear, the 3-3 and the 46 Nickel in my defensive coaching career. EVERYWHERE I've been, ART has been with me. ART is the defining philosophy of EVERY defense I coach, the front we use and the coverage behind it are just the vehicle I choose to execute said philosophy.
I thought I'd give you that right here before the season started. In this day and age of everybody wanting to be cutting edge, remember this, no defense can survive without ART. It doesn't matter if you run the Radar defense, the 2LD, or the good ol' Under, ART holds true for all of them. ART is the foundation you build your defensive house on, fail to teach it, and your defense will surely crumble. Think about your own defensive philosophy and how it relates to what you are teaching. It is not enough to simply know a defense inside and out, you must have a goal, a driving force to your defense, and then implement this driving force via. the vehicle you have chosen to do so. I hope this finds everyone entering preseason camp doing well. Good luck and coach hard!