Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mailbag Volume 3

Continuing with the mailbag theme, I'll go over a few of the emails I got over my vacation.  I actually have had a lot of questions about Saban's "Mable" adaptation to Cover 3 versus 3x1 formations (follow the link for Brophy's original post).  I'll start there.

Saban's Mable Adaptation to Cover 3
I don't get all the fuss over this coverage adaptation, because it's nothing really ground breaking here.  I think the major problem is folks wrapping their head around what Saban asks his linebackers (LB's) to do in the coverage, but since there are several of my readers having trouble with this concept, I'm going to break it down piece by piece for you and position by position.

Strong Corner
Typical Cover 3 corner, he will play by his normal divider rule and read rule as "old school" "Country Cover 3" corners would do.  You can do many things with him such as press and bail (giving the illusion of Man Free), or align him deep splitting the number one and number two receivers.  What matters here is, this player is playing a traditional deep 1/3 technique.

Strong Safety (RV)
The Strong Safety (SS) will be the flat dropper and will drop off the number two receiver.  If two is outside he'll jump it.  If two goes in, then he'll look to relate to the number one receiver.  Again, standard flat player stuff for Cover 3.

Strong LB (by passing strength)
The OLB to the pass strength will do the exact same thing as the SS, but reading the number three receiver.  Basically look at the above and change the numbers.  The LB will relate to the number two receiver once the "dust has settled".

Free Safety
Standard middle-of-the-field (MOF) safety.  This is the post player.  The free safety (FS) will read from the number three to number two receiver and will favor number three.

Weak Corner
The weak corner will play man-to-man on the weak number one receiver.  I prefer to press over here, but if that's not your gig, you can play off man if you like.  Basically, he's got to lock up on the back side in order to keep the weak quick game from killing your coverage.

Inside LB's
Now for the nuts and bolts of the coverage, the two LB's that remain in the box versus trips sets (Mike and Will in the diagram above).  These two LB's must relate off the running back (RB).  The LB that gets RB flow to him, will jump the back.  This is very important against 3x1 sets that put the RB offset to the trips.  Again, the idea is to push the coverage where it's needed, or to have, as I've said a thousand times on here, the "plus one" advantage.  In the illustration above, the defense has a four-over-three advantage on the strong side (to the trips) and a three-on-two advantage weak.  In the illustration below, where the offense has set the RB to the trips, the defense will use the leverage and reaction of the Mike to gain a five-on-four advantage if the RB were to release strong.  If the RB releases weak, then the Will LB would jump the RB.

Mike's read on the RB puts him on the weak side of the coverage initially

Now the Mike reads put him on the strong side of the coverage
The key in all of this is the reaction to the back.  A better example to look at, is when the RB is neutral, or aligned on the midline of the formation.  In the first example, the RB releases strong, so the Mike will jump this route, and the Will is now reading to the number three receiver.

Now, if the RB releases weak, the roles are simply reversed.  The Will jumps the RB and the Mike now reads the release of the number three receiver.  Again, as you can see the reads help the coverage relate to receiver distribution post-snap.

The big kicker, I think most folks have with the coverage is Saban's term "Three up is three", which basically means take number three vertical.  Now, mind you, this really isn't "man" because you have a FS playing centerfield, but the FS has to split number two and number three if they both go vertical.  The idea here is that the LB will carry the receiver if he goes vertical in order to force the quarterback (QB) to throw the ball high, allowing the FS time to get over the top of the route.  To see how this looks I'll illustrate it from the above diagrams.

So here's how the coverage would handle four verticals with the back flaring to the strong side of the coverage.  The Mike can jump the flare, while the Will takes the first crosser, and since "Three up is three" he will run with the "F" in the diagram above.  The coverage is still Cover 3, the FS has to split the two verticals in the MOF, while the strong corner will split the two outside receivers in his third.  One key is that the underneath coverage players such as the strong outside LB (OLB) can reroute these vertical routes as they get into their drops.

As you can see, the Mike now plays number three vertical and the Will relates to the RB releasing weak.  These two players, the inside LB's are what help the coverage adapt to these types of concepts front 3x1 sets.

I think one key mistake readers of Brophy's posts on Cover 3 made, and even wrote and posted about was that this was a way to play Quarters from a one-high coverage.  Make no mistake, this is NOT the case.  At the end of the day, this is still Cover 3 and has it's glaring weaknesses.  Now I have run into coaches that go above and beyond the "Saban way" and actually have their FS take the number two receiver vertical and let the ILB's handle number three vertical.  That's a stretch, especially in high school football to ask a player to do that.  Saban will admit, he's in this coverage to defend the trips side passing game, and the run, NOT to defend four verticals.  If you are a base, one-high defense, this is a good adaptation to the typical spot-drop approach, because you do have some similation of an answer to four verticals, but this is NOT in any way shape or form, similar to Quarters.  Quarters adaptations have nobody "splitting" receivers or having to read two receivers.  Quarters adaptations to 3x1 sets end up in man-to-man coverage against four verticals, which is a glaring difference in the coverages.  This is not to deter someone from using Mable, it's just that you really need to know what you're getting into before you commit to teaching it.  Hopefully this post has done just that.


I get a ton of questions on the shuffle technique played by my conerbacks and to be quite honest, I feel silly when I answer on how I teach it and came to teach what I've adapted to using, every since the 2007 season.  I've just never had corners that were good at backpedaling and I have even heard wide receiver (WR) coaches comment on how to beat a defensive back (DB) that was backpedaling because of (insert reason here) so much so that I gave up on the technique altogether in 2007.  What I did, was learn how basketball defenders are taught!  Yep, that simple.  I went to basketball practice and learned basically what they were teaching their defenders and adapted it to what I wanted out of my cornerbacks.

Originally I started out aligned square, as though we were a squat corner, then open on the snap, and shuffle.  Later, I moved to the angled in stance, where the corner was already turned in at a 45 degree angle.  My reasoning is simple, most DB's, when beat, it's in transition.  The transition they get beat in the most is going from the pedal to opening their hips to run with deeper routes.  Well, if this is the case, why not take this out of the equation?  So I did!  Now, I'll say one thing, the technique is difficult if you're playing a coverage that requires dividers.  For the most part, I've been a two-high safety guy, so I've had the luxury of playing outside leverage with my corners, to which I felt my technique worked just fine.  I can't speak of how to use it when a corner has to align inside the number one receiver.

Anyhow, on to the technique.  From a balanced open stance, tilted in at a 45 degree angle, on the snap, the corner begins to shuffle.  I have them, in their minds count to three.  By this time, the ball should be in the air if it is three step or quick game.  Generally, I teach to have vision on the number one receiver, but you can easily have them read the QB for the three step drop if you like.  I like adapting to routes, so I want them seeing routes and understanding how what the number one receiver does ties into what the number two receiver will be doing, but to each their own.  The actual shuffle technique is just like that of a basketball defender.  I like the feet to remain at least shoulder width apart, with the head being directly in line with the body.  The head position is important, because if the head is too far forward, or towards the line of scrimmage (LOS), then the DB will have trouble transitioning into the second phase of the technique which is the bail.  If the head is too far back, then the corner will struggle transitioning and breaking on the shorter throws.  The key here is balance, so that weight can be transitioned easily.

On short throws, that ask the corner to transition forward, I have them use a T-step technique.  It is literally common sense, because since the corner is already turned, he can easily get all of his cleat surface into the turf, making transitioning forward quite easy.  If the DB is asked to transition inside then he simply rolls forward inside toward the QB.  Again, I'm not using this for man, or where the corner is supposed to use some sort of divider rule.  I've only used it for Quarters coverage, and it works well, because in the three step quick game, the corner is simply playing his deep quarter and not getting beat deep.  I cannot speak on how it adapts to other coverages, but it works quite well with Quarters.

If the ball isn't thrown after the three count, then the DB will now transition into the bail technique.  This is nothing more than a crossover run technique.  I have always taught this with a post leg, and drive leg.  The post leg is the leg that is farthest from the LOS as the DB is turned.  In other words, if I'm the right corner, and opened inside, facing the QB, it would be my left leg.  This leg doesn't gain much ground, and is there for balance only.  The drive leg, is the leg closest to the LOS (my right leg in our example).  This leg gains the most ground as the DB works into his deep zone.  I've gotten extremely technical with it for this post, but if we were sitting at the bar, blowing the top off a few cool ones, I'd simply tell you he's running sideways.

If the DB has done his job, and has maintained his over-the-top relationship to the receiver, then he can work sideways to relate to the route as necessary.  The idea here is, that if the DB ends up inside, he's in great position to ride the receiver into the sideline, better known as the twelfth man.  If the receiver works inside of the DB, again, he can easily roll into the route and regain inside leverage due to his depth and being over-the-top.

To transition into covering the deeper routes, the technique varies by the type of cut the receiver is giving the DB.  On inside cutting routes (dig, post etc.), the corner will roll over into a traditional run.  Very difficult to explain via text, but explained quite simply it's going from running sideways to regular running.  On routes that are out breaking, the corner needs to get the hips opened and does so much like a pulling guard does when trapping.  The corner will take his near arm to the receiver and rip it open (in drills I have them overemphasize this like they were pull starting a lawnmower)to get the hips open.  Once open, they T-step and drive on the route.  I never saw many deep out cuts where I coached, so we didn't spend too much time working on these routes, but it is a skill that will need to be coached.

To be honest, I apologize for not having much on the technique, but it was really a "necessity" item.  The video below shows a pretty good example of the technique and who should be using it.  Those that know me closely, and know where I've coached will easily tell you that I've coached in some "athlete poor" areas, so I was grasping at any straw I could to get the most out of my guys.  What I found out in my experimentation is that the DB could play closer to the LOS because he's already transitioned.  Being a Cover Four/Cover Two guy, this allowed me to disguise my intentions.  The technique also helps in teaching press bail coverage techniques as well, because the only difference is that in one you shuffle, the other you don't.  See, there's more to the technique than shuffling, because you only shuffle for the quick game stuff.  After that, you've got to transition in to some sort of run, which is the crossover run, or bail technique as I mentioned above.  I've tried to break down the technique as simple as I can, but if you honestly want to see the technique in action, go to your basketball practice and watch them teach defense, and you'll get everything you need to know about the shuffle.


I had some questions about a coverage I called "Sticks".  Like most of my stuff, it's stolen.  I have a good friend that utilizes this concept, and it's also a TCU coverage concept.  What's beautiful about the coverage adaptation is the fact that despite appearing "soft" it's really the best example of the defense forcing the offense into bad situations.

"Sticks" is a coverage adaptation for long yardage situations on third and fourth downs.  Again, it's not really anything revolutionary, but here goes.  When I tag a coverage with the term "Sticks", my DB's are going to all put their heels on the line to gain and play the coverage called.  Generally it's Quarters, but it could be any zone coverage you want them to play.  The idea here is that the defense is building a "wall" at the line to gain.  On the snap, we don't back up, we read our respective key and react in the same way that we would if aligned normally.  Any route that is thrown underneath the DB's will be broke on and tackled.  The concept is similar to that of the Two Level Defense deep safety in that by depth, the DB can see and react to anything that happens underneath of them easier than they can if they were closer to the LOS.

Where this coverage is really great is when you face an offense that is taught to run option routes based on both coverage and down and distance.  As a defensive coordinator (DC) you are forcing the offense right into the teeth of the defense in these down and distance situations.  With the defense playing so far off, the receivers are more than likely going to run something short.  Well, that's exactly what you, the DC, wants them to do.  Your defenders then rally and make the tackle.

I use the coverage tag with Cover Two, Quarters and have used a Cover Three version of it as well.  An old friend, better known as "OJW" on the Huey board, gave me a coverage they simply called "line".  Line is of the same premise except he used it on all downs and on the snap rotated players to various areas after all his deep zone defenders had aligned in a straight line.  Line and Sticks vary though in that there is no downhill rotation on the snap with Sticks.  Defenders are taught not to drop and to defend the down markers.  Sticks is also a good goal line coverage when paired with Quarters because it puts the defense where they need to be to defend the run aggressively, but still in a position to drop off and defend the pass if the need arises.

TCU using their "Sticks" concept on 3rd & 10 vs. West Virginia

In the version I use, the MLB will align at his normal depth and is still a run first defender.  He will execute whatever his normal assignment is in the coverage called.  The OLB's can deepen their alignment from the normal five yards to seven to eight yards, or even to the line to gain if need be.  The general rule here is seven to eight yards.  The OLB's are thinking pass first when they hear the tag "Sticks", but they aren't just dropping immediately to their assignment.  They still key their run/pass key (usually the OL) and will come up against the run.  The depth you play them at allows them not to have to drop off into a zone if pass shows, as they already have their depth.  In the case of using the Sticks tag, now all the OLB's need to be concerned with is the width necessary to get to their respective zone based on the coverage called.

The secondary will all align with their heels on the line to gain, still reading whatever their normal key would be if they were in their regular alignment.  The main difference is, they will not pedal nor will they drop on the snap of the ball.  The reason is, they are where they are needed already.  It is very much a Two Level Defense (2LD) concept in that it is easier for a defender to come up, than it is for them to go back.

As you can see, many zone coverages can be adapted to fit this concept.  I wouldn't recommend playing man out of this look, unless using some sort of banjo concept (which makes it so much more like zone, why not play zone anyhow) was utilized.  Man, I fear, would be too confusing, allow for too much space to be utilized by the offense and create some insane rub and pick advantages for the offense.  Anyhow, the Achilles heel to the entire coverage is your defense's ability to tackle in space and rally to the football.

Well, that's it for this edition of the mailbag.  Keep the questions flowing.  I know I'm a bit slow at getting to them, but be patient with me, remember this is just my side job!