Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Five Spoke Secondary Part III

In this segment on the Five Spoke Secondary Posts, I'll delve into the blitz strategy that one can institute using TCU's blitz scheme as a template.  Now, a lot of this IS NOT what TCU does, but IS some thing that myself and other coaches have done in the past when utilizing the 4-2-5 defense.

The Basics

To review the coverage aspects of TCU's blitz coverage scheme, simply known as Cover 0, we need to review the rules and the adaptations that TCU has in adapting their coverages to fit their blitz scheme.  The rules in TCU's Cover 0 are very simple and are as follows:

The scheme is completely based upon match ups.  Generally speaking, in college football, unless the tight end you are covering is Gronkowski, then there's no need to waste a corner here in that match up.  So, vs. closed sets (twins closed, or trips closed) then the corner to the nub side will simply "flip" over to the other side and cover the other "number one" receiver in the count.  An illustration of the count system is shown below.

Typical Count System

Count System vs. Twins Closed

Count System vs. Trips Closed

As you can see from the illustrations above, this count system is adapted to the Cover 0 scheme to keep corners covering receivers, and linebacker (LB)/safety types covering tight ends (TE's) and running backs (RB's).  One thing missing from the list of rules is the diagnosing of the position of the number two receiver.  In general, the Strong Safety (SS) and Weak Safety (WS) will have the number two receiver to their respective side, outside the tackles.  If no number two receiver outside the tackles, then they are deemed as "free".  The Free Safety (FS) will handle the number three receiver outside of the tackle box, and if there isn't a number three receiver outside the tackle box, then the FS is listed as "free".  The Read Side LB, will have the number three receiver inside the tackle box and the Away Side LB will have the number two receiver inside the tackle box to his side.

Now, as we know, somebody is blitzing, so there won't be seven defenders involved in coverage.  As is the case with  most six man pressures, there will be five guys in coverage.  The FS is generally the adjuster when it comes to blitzing in this scheme, however this isn't always the case.  There are also some calls when a defender, by alignment, does not have good leverage on who he is supposed to cover (as is the case when the SS is asked to cover an attached TE).  In this case, the SS and FS can "banjo" the TE, so long as the FS is not covering somewhere else for another blitzer (think Bullets vs. two back sets for instance).  The LB's also have some calls and rules that help them distinguish who is covering who, but for this post, I am just concerned with the fact that you know the basics.

Banjo concept

Blitz Coverage

Now that the basic rules have been established a quick review of some basic man blitzes from the 4-2-5 is listed below:

  • Bullets- Both LB's blitzing.  This means all five defensive backs (DB's) will be involved in the coverage (although the coverage is not just limited to the DB's, the defensive line (DL) can also be involved by adding certain calls).
  • Smokes/Lions- One or both of the outside safeties (OSS's) are blitzing.  In this case, the LB's, and the FS would be involved in coverage along with the Corners.  If tagged, a DL could also be involved.
  • Dogs- An OSS and a LB are blitzing to one side of the formation.  Now, both Corners, the FS, a LB and the OSS not blitzing are part of the coverage.
  • Bullets Thunder- This means an OSS, and both LB's are blitzing.  Now a DL must be added into the coverage mix along with the OSS not blitzing, the Corners and the FS.
  • Mob- Here, both OSS's are blitzing (if they can by rule) and the LB's are blitzing.  The DL, the FS and the Corners are all now part of the coverage.
Again, this is just the basics.  I know TCU does this, and Boise State does that, etc., but this is just meant to be a review.  I strongly suggest going to Cripes! Get Back to Fundamentals or to Blitzology to get a better understanding of each individual blitz if you aren't familiar with them already.

For this post, I'm focusing mainly on the secondary and how it handles blitzing one of its own.  Bullets are not a major factor, because the five "cover guys" are doing just what they do best...cover.  What I'm more concerned with are when one, or both of the OSS's are involved in a blitz.  

To understand the blitz coverage, one needs to review the second post in this series about alignment.  Your blitz attack, should mirror your base defense against the offense you are facing.  To drastically alter your alignment just to blitz is to tip off exactly what you are trying to do to the offense.  When blitzing members of the secondary (mainly Dogs and Smokes) there are a variety of ways to tag the blitz as to know who and where the blitz is going to be coming from.  These tags are critical when matching the blitz up to base alignments.  Let's take a look at each series of blitzes involving a member of the secondary to  understand who this system works.


As mentioned above, Smokes are a safety blitz, by either one or both of the OSS's.  Smokes can be tagged Wide, Short, Thunder or Lightning.  A wide call indicates that the safety to the wide side of the field will be blitzing.  A short call would be just the opposite.  Thunder indicates the safety to run strength will be blitzing, while Lightning is the opposite tag, meaning the safety away from run strength would blitz.  A Double Smoke call would indicate that both safeties are blitzing.

Coverage, when blitzing a DB has to be set up in a way that no man is left open.  One unique thing I noticed when learning this defense is that TCU rarely checks out of blitz.  If a cover guy is needed to cover instead of blitz, he covers and someone else will blitz for him.  For instance, if a Double Smoke is called vs. a 2x2 set, then one of the safeties, by rule, cannot blitz because you have a match up issue with an inside LB (ILB) covering a speedy wide receiver (WR).  This situation is where one of the safeties will make a "switch" call.  What switch does is put the DB in coverage and lets the ILB take the responsibility of blitzing.

Where the flexibility of the defense comes into play is clearly evident with the switch call.  I'll add to this even further.  I faced a very dangerous RB  in the past that was as deadly running the ball as he was catching it out of the backfield.  During that week, we changed the Smoke scheme up to where we ended up with the FS coming down into the box to cover the RB and both ILB's ran the Smoke, instead of the safeties.  This is illustrated below.

What this allowed us to do was keep a six man pressure on, and keep our best coverage options in place.  The reason we didn't simply call it Moe and Woe (in TCU terms this is Mike off Edge and Will off Edge, although I think TCU calls their ILB's Mike and Sam) was that sometimes they would line up said good RB as a slot receiver and bring in their backup.  In that case, we didn't want to switch both sides, only the side this player was on.  Again, you can see the flexibility of the defense.  Our guys were simply trained, that when this player (who wore jersey number 21) aligned in the slot, that safety covered and gave a switch call.  Everyone else simply ran Double Smoke.

If this would've been to the other side of the defense, we had our FS cover number 21, and ran the exact same look.  The reason for this is simple, despite the fact our SS is labeled as a safety is only in name.  This player, generally has been more LB than safety.  In the theme of keeping the best match ups possible, our FS was a better cover player than our SS, so we let the SS run the Smoke, and the FS would cover number 21.  My main point here is to not get caught up in what TCU does, but understand the basic concept and the dynamics of the scheme.


As I discussed earlier, Dogs are both a Bullet and a Smoke to one side of the formation.  Dogs are similar to Smokes in that they can be called Wide and Short, as well as Strong and Weak.  One common problem with Dogs, is that of coverage.  The FS has to cover for the blitzing OSS, whereas the opposite OSS may be asked to come across the formation and handle a third receiving threat.  This was never more evident that when TCU faced Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl a few years back.  The play that sealed the game was a Dog blitz run into a Trips formation.  The problem with Dogs is if the WS doesn't get over in time to cover the number three receiver out of these formations.  I've alluded to this in other posts on TCU's blitz scheme.

In the above example, the "Frog" Dog is a Dog blitz run to the side of the offset RB (in this example it would be called Frog Dogs C in TCU terminology).  As we can see the blitz coverage rules hold up, with the FS covering for the blitzing SS and the WS handling the number two receiver outside the tackle box.  The away side LB would have the RB.  Now, the away side LB doesn't have very good leverage here, so the blitz would more than likely be tagged with something such as a "peel" call so that there would be flare control on the RB.  No matter, the basics are pretty much covered.  Against a trips set, things would shake out as follows:

Again, all of this is just the basics.  The FS covers for the blitzer, but must signal to the WS to cover the number three receiver to the read side.  The away side LB will take the RB.  Again, TCU utilizes some other calls that assist the LB that isn't blitzing in his coverage on the RB.

Where the flexibility comes into play is with something I encountered back in 2013.  I had two prototypical deep safeties.  Long, rangy, and both ball hawks.  Both were pretty good in coverage, and did a decent job of coming downhill and playing in the box when needed to.  My problem was my SS.  My SS was a young man, of tremendous heart and character, but extremely small stature, and minimal athletic ability to be labeled a "DB".  His coverage skills were poor, but he had a knack for getting to the football.  His 5'5" 165 pound frame didn't lend him well to playing inside the box, because as soon as an offensive lineman (OL), got his hands on him he was finished.  Where this young man really excelled was when we brought him off the edge, these same OL, couldn't block him.  His quickness and lateral change of direction speed in tight areas made him a nightmare to block.  To add to this, my WS was almost the complete opposite.  When he blitzed him, he was easily picked up, and quite simply put, didn't care anything at all about being blitzed.  Don't get me wrong, he was smart, and was a master at keeping the away side coverage aligned and in the proper call, but he just didn't have that knack for getting after a ball carrier, or QB when being blitzed.  What would end up happening to us, is we'd get into a blitz, and by alignment or motion, it would end up being the WS getting blitzed and not the SS.  This caused us some grief early on, until discussing the subject with a good friend, shed some light on the flexibility of the scheme.

This was pretty much my SS

What my friend and I came up with is what I later coined "Scottie" blitzes.  Since my SS's name was Scottie, I named it after him!  What a Scottie tag did was tell my SS no matter what the blitz was (Smoke or Dog) he was running the blitz.  For instance, if we wanted to bring a blitz from the boundary, the SS (Scottie) simply switched with our WS and ran the blitz.  The WS would become the safety away from the blitz and cover.  The FS would travel with Scottie and would cover the number two receiver to the side the blitz was being run to.  We had Scottie Dogs and Scottie Smokes, but all of them were consistent.  It was quite simple to teach, and even easier to execute as it actually gave the players less to  think about.  My FS, who could be absent-minded at times, simply had to follow Scottie, and cover the number two receiver outside of the tackles.  My WS, who was very intelligent simply covered the number two receiver outside the tackle box away from the blitz.  A good illustration in the differences between the two blitzes is shown below with a Frog Dog.  Normally, to a trips set with the RB set weak, the weak side LB and WS would blitz this formation and the SS and FS would cover number two and number three, respective, to the trips side.  Well, if we were running a Scottie Frog Dog, then our SS simply went to the side of the RB and blitzed, whereas the WS replaced him, covering the number two receiver into the trips side.

What this little tactic did to our blitz scheme was actually twofold.  First, it put our best blitzer doing what he did best, blitz.  It also kept him from being in coverage, where he was, quite simply put, a liability.  Secondly, this made blitzing our WS EVEN BETTER.  Yes, you read that right.  Teams would scheme us, and figure out who our blitz guy was and so we were seeing them adjust protection in the direction of "Scottie".  Well, we'd Dog or Smoke away from Scottie every now and then and those blitzes hit pay dirt over 95 percent of the time that season.  Even though we weren't sending our best blitzer, it's easy to blitz when a team doesn't think your blitzing!


Again, as with the other posts in this series, one can see you don't have to run the 4-2-5 verbatim to what they do in Fort Worth.  The general idea behind Gary Patterson's scheme is so much more than just being able to call "Field G Army Wide Dogs B Silver".  It's the ability to pigeon-hole your players into what fits them the best within the defense.  Had I just simply stuck to what TCU did in 2013, we wouldn't have been anywhere near as good of a defense.  If there is one thing that you should take away from these posts, it is the age-old football axiom of "Think Players, not Plays".  This used to be an offensive point of wisdom, passed from one offensive coordinator to the next, however it can also be adapted to the defensive side of the football.  Don't ask your players to be something they are not.  My Scottie, was not a DB, as he struggled with man-to-man coverage, despite us doing one-on-ones' on a daily basis.  What he could do, was be the most disruptive little "fly-in-the-ointment" when we blitzed him.  Flip that around and the same could be said for our WS.  He wasn't going to do well if we blitzed him, yet, he was very solid in coverage.  Again, adapting the scheme to fit your players is the common theme or thread that needs to be taken away from these posts.  Hopefully I was able get you to understand that in just three posts!