Thursday, October 29, 2020

The 2020 Football Season

 2020 has been quite the year.  From Coronavirus dominating everything, to being an election year (and a crazy one at that), 2020 has been far from the "norm".  Here in Florida we have spring football and I knew things were crazy when that got cancelled.  As we approached summer workouts and those were cancelled too, or put on hold, or had to be done outside spaced six feet apart I knew things were going to get real interesting come time for season.  Well, the season start date was a week away when the state decided it would move the start back one month.  Now I knew we were in trouble.  Schools were still being virtual despite the governor's office demanding brick and mortar learning.  I wondered if we'd have a season at all.  

Well, the powers that be felt the pressure from our community and decided to move forward with the season.  As I'm writing this, that August day we found out we were playing seems like four years ago.  Next there was logistics, only five in the locker room at a time, had to wear masks, didn't have to wear masks, had to take two buses to away games, take everyone's temperatures before practice, don't take temperatures etc.  You name it, it was thrown our way.  From losing players to contact tracing to our entire JV being quarantined to the season finally being taken away because of Coronavirus it was a season full of highs and lows.  Our two losses were complete beat downs by far superior teams.  Our wins, all but two were by a touchdown or less, and only one was by a double digit margin.  We had two one point wins, one four point and one nine point win.  The other win was by 22.  

Defensively in our two losses we gave up 88 points.  In our five wins, we gave up 43 points for an 8.6 average.  We scored twice as well, a pick six and a fumble returned for a touchdown.  Overall I was very pleased with my defense.  We were quite a bit more vanilla this season than last staying in our 40 stuff in every game but one.  We did not run our 50 look at all and ran our 30 stuff only one time.  For not having spring, having a short start period (we normally get three weeks of practice prior to the season, this year we had two) we executed pretty well.  

What I was even more impressed with was my coaching staff.  I'm the oldest, by far on staff.  I have two guys with one year under their belt, one rookie, and one guy going into his sixth season of coaching.  I'm in year 20.  Last year these guys were even younger and we had our growing pains.  This year, to see what they became in one short year, has been quite amazing.  We work on our side of the ball.  Seven days a week.  We grade film every day but Thursday and Sunday.  We break down every film we get on an opponent.  We make up scouting reports, scout cards etc. and these guys were not used to that in year one.  They've made a very impressive leap in year two and it showed.  I know it sounds like I'm tooting our own horn here, and quite frankly, I am, but we did a phenomenal job on our side of the ball with very limited talent.  Our ability to get the most out of our guys was incredible.  A true testament to the guys I work with. 

I'm really appreciative that our seniors got a season.  We are in year two of a complete staff overhaul, so these guys had to deal with that.  They had to deal with getting used to a coaching staff that knew there was a toxic culture in place that had to be dealt with and was willing to sacrifice some guys to make sure our new culture took root.  It translated into only two wins a year ago, but in year two we more than doubled that win total.  Not only was it going from a .20 win percentage to a .71, but it was in how we won.  Nail biting close game, come from behind, down by double digit games, hang on for dear life games.  Games that I've seen teams in this same uniform lose by double digits in years past.  I honestly believe we've laid a pretty good foundation down in our culture change that's going on here.  I can tell you this...that's a damn good feeling. 

Moving forward, I have no idea what 2021 will bring.  We are getting JV kids that have had a season cut short and have only won two games in the past two season.  In 365 days I wonder how I'll feel then, but right now, even with the cupboard bare, I'm still pretty excited for next season and this offseason.  Hope everyone's having a good season and stay safe out there.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Developing a High School Defense- Understanding and Implementing Check Defense

The coach I first started learning under used to play check defense and years ago as a young buck I wondered "why would you want to do that?".  Well, I followed right in his footsteps and did the same thing until I finally broke away from this in 2010.  Worst mistake ever.  You may think you can call a good game, but in all honesty you can't be perfect.  All defensive coaches know a mistake made by the offense is second down and 11, whereas a mistake made by the defense, is six points.  The theory of check defense is one that allows players to become comfortable with what they are seeing and know that when the bullets are flying and things might not be going their way, they have something to fall back on.

What is Check Defense?

Check defense is nothing new.  It is having a set coverage and front and/or stunt or blitz to go against what an opponent lines up in.  We base out of check defense which means we may do things a bit differently than most, but starting with our junior varsity we begin teaching this.  We teach what our base checks are to certain alignments.  Now this doesn't mean that we can't call what we want on game day.  My guys know we'll run whatever's in the playbook during a game, so they have to be ready.  What check defense does is give us a base to work out of, defending what our opponent does.  Usually the base check for a game plan is set up via scouting and film breakdown data on what an opponent does well out of each of their formations.  Most of our checks are based on personnel groupings.

Check Defense-Set the Coverage First

As with any good game plan you must set the coverage first.  You have to figure out how to cover the guys you need to cover before you can stop the run.  We base our coverage checks of what I call "structure" or what some would call distribution.  The types of structure we set up for our base coverage checks is as follows:

  • Single Width Nub- defined as an eligible tight end (TE) to one side (no split receiver)
    • Check is Cover 0
  • Single Width Split- defined as an eligible receiver (wideout) to one side
    • Check is Cover 0
  • Single Width Pro- defined as one split receiver (wideout) and a TE to the same side
    • Check is Cover 0
  • Double Width- defined as two speed threats (twins) to one side
    • Check is Cover 2
  • Three-to-a-side- defined as the name implies, any form of three eligible receivers to one side of the formation
    • Check is a coverage we call "Corner"
  • Four-to-a-side- defined as the name implies, any form of four eligible receivers to one side of the formation
    • Check is Corner
There you have it.  Simple as that to be honest.  So, in spring ball, summer and fall camp we work on our checks.  That means in spring football I only have to teach three coverages (see coverage section of this post series), 0, 2, and Corner.  Now, that isn't all the coverages we run with, but it's the bare minimum we can teach and be competitive with.  

Front Checks

Checking the front is a bit different as it is based completely on personnel groupings.  At the end of each season I do a personnel grouping analysis and that is the personnel group we start working on the following spring.  For nine some odd years that group has been ten personnel, however 11 personnel with the advent of the Y off offenses (thank you Big 12) is steadily catching up.  So listed below is our base front checks to the following personnel groupings.  You may need to go back to the fronts section of these posts to remember our numbering system.

  • 10 Personnel- 45
    • Change up: 42
  • 11 Personnel- 49
    • Change up: 49 Bite Strong/47/46

  • 12 Personnel- We have a double tight check we call "Check Shoot" for two TE offenses (see fronts section)
    • Change up: 47/46/49 Double Bite/Slide/Wide
  • 21 Personnel- 45 Over
    • Change up: 45/42/47/46/Slide/Wide
  • 22 Personnel- Check Shoot
    • Change up: 47/46/Slide/Wide
  • 20 Personnel- 45
    • Change Up: 42/45 Over
For three back offenses we'll usually come up with another sort of goalline-ish check, but our 21, and 22 personnel checks should work for those personnel groupings as well.

As you can see we teach not only our checks but some of our change up fronts as well.  Change up fronts are just as important as the actual check itself because it allows you to be multiple.  In today's defensive world you do not want to be static in your alignment.  Our goal week-to-week is to try and diversify our look as much as possible so we are difficult to prepare for.  This comes with a price though, and has to be managed so that you don't overdo it for your kids.  Remember, it's not how much you know, it's how much they know on game day.  

Putting it all Together

So as we move through this I'll walk through a few of the formations we see from each personnel grouping and show you what the base check would look like.

10 Personnel Four Wide
Many people call this Doubles, we call it Four Wide, but nevertheless it's a 2x2 set with one back in the backfield.  Our check to this is shown below.  Starting with the coverage, since we have two speed threats (twins) to either side the coverage will be cover 2.  All our 10 personnel front checks are 45, so the check is 45 Cover 2.  Our change ups to this formation are 45 Roll 1, 42 Cover 2, 42 Roll 1.  Again you may need to refer back to some older posts on this to see what these calls mean, but that is our base check with a few of our change up fronts and coverages thrown in.

Base Check to 2x2 10 Personnel

11 Personnel Ace
Ace for us is a 2x2 set with one side being Single Width Pro and the other being Double Width (twins).  The coverage for us is a coverage called "20".  That's Cover 2 to the twins side and cover 0 to the pro side.  Since it's 11 personnel the front call is "49", putting us in the look you see below.  We could also check to 47 Cover 20, or 47 Roll 1 as well.  46 is also a front option here as well.

Base Check to 2x2 11 Personnel

11 Personnel Triple
Triple for us is a 3x1 set with two speed threats aligned outside of an attached TE (Three-to-a-side).  To the opposite side of the coverage, this would be a single split receiver, otherwise known in our terminology as Single Width Split.  The coverage check is Corner and the front check for us 49 Bite Strong.  We run the Bite Strong to keep the Sam from having to defend the open C gap to the multiple receiver side.  A change up we like here is 46 or 47 with Roll 3 coverage.  This keeps the Sam LB closer to his work.

Base Check to 3x1 11 Personnel

00 Personnel No Back
Most folks call this Empty, we call it No Back (it's more descriptive in my opinion).  Since there is no TE our check will be 45.  We tag our Corner coverage as "Corner Will" to notify the Will LB to walk out of the box and cover the #2 receiver on the weak side man to man.  Change ups for us are 45 Cover 6, or 45 TGO/EGO Weak 6.

Base Check to 3x2 00 Personnel

12 Personnel Ace Shoot
Ace Shoot for us is Single Width Pro to both sides, so our check here is Cover 0.  Front check is shown below and we call it "Check Shoot".  Check Shoot is simply 45 Over, but instead of being in a weak side five technique, the weakside defensive end (DE) aligns in a nine technique and runs the Bite stunt.  Another change up for us is our 50 front against this look.  We call that Slide/Wide depending on which way we move the defensive line (DL).

Base Check to 2x2 12 Personnel

21 Personnel Split Pro
Split Pro is an offense as old as the hills.  We still see this actually.  One side of the formation has Single Width Pro the other is Single Width Split.  Both get a coverage check of 0.  For the front, with it being two backs I like to put an extra defender on the line of scrimmage (LOS) and play the Under Front so we have our front check as 45 Over Cover 0.  Slide/Wide is another good change up against two back offenses that we use often.

Base Check to 21 Personnel Pro

22 Personnel Split Shoot
For us, the check would be no different than 12 Personnel.  The front aligns in Check Shoot and the back end is going to be playing off their check rules and play Cover 0.  We could also play Slide/Wide to this as well.

Base Check to 22 Personnel

20 Personnel Split Twins Open
Twins Open is a tough gig to defend.  If you lighten your box and only play with six, you're asking for trouble (you have nobody to play cutback).  For us, following our rules puts us in Cover 2 to the twins side and Cover 0 to the single receiver side (Cover 20).  Front rules have us in 45.  We like to play our three technique to the twins side and keep the Sam LB out of the box.  The free safety (FS) is our extra "fitter" here.  This is not ideal and our change up of aligning in 45 Roll 3 allows us to get into a 4-4 (we actually call this our T.O. Check for when our guys get to varsity).  Our T.O. check keeps LB's doing LB things and DB's doing DB things.  Of course we could also run our 42 front and angle our DT's to keep the offense off guard here as well.  If we want the three technique away from the two receiver side we would simply run 45 Over.

Base Check to 20 Personnel
4-4 Look to Twins Open

Implementing the Check System

Like I mentioned earlier our check system starts when our guys get on campus.  We train them about personnel groupings and alignments from day one.  The first two weeks of spring ball is spent on nothing but alignments with both the front and the secondary.  We do our best to platoon so that our guys don't have to learn too much, but we do train our guys somewhat on both sides of the ball.  The idea behind our check system is that it allows us to line up fast and it isn't so overly intensive that even our offensive guys can learn it.

During the season we start on Mondays installing the checks.  We have 30 to 45 minutes of film and check review that we go over.  We put in the checks and the players take notes.  We watch a few clips of film and the guys then go to practice and must execute the checks.  Monday is a little rocky in team session, however as the season rolls along they learn to clean it up.  Tuesday we do the same as we watch the film of the practice the day before.  All checks are reviewed.  One thing that I think helps them is we meet in our locker room.  In that room there are two big white boards we write the formations and checks on.  I do this Monday prior to the start of our meeting.  We then make our guys write all of the checks down in our scouting report (I'll get to that in another post, the one of game planning).  So Tuesday's practice usually looks much better than Mondays.  Wednesday we repeat and again review all the checks.  Wednesday' practice needs to be crisp and smooth.  Thursday we repeat our film session, again reiterating our checks.  We go to walk through and work them again.  In Friday's pregame meetings we go over them one final time as well as all our pressures and special situation checks and then we go get after it.

This system is repeated week after week during the regular season.  This constant review is a major reason why we are very good at aligning in our checks throughout the season.  I firmly believe in our players being able to write down stuff in their notes.  I give our guys notebooks on day one of the season and they put their scouting reports in them.  They are to take notes every day.  Coaches also share notes with their individual player groups (DL, LB, DB) so that there is a constant reinforcement of what we are trying to do.  It's a lot of work for your staff, but in the end it's all worth it.  Being misaligned or in a wrong coverage will get you beat quickly.  Our alignment success rate is so good I can only think of about four or five times we misaligned all of last season. 

A lot of learning can go on in here as well as on the field

Game Planning Checks

During the season we will stray away from our base checks.  If you noticed I didn't put anything up there about Flexbone or Wing-T style of offenses.  Those are not very standard offenses anymore (though I do have a standard game plan I like against all of them), so we have to game plan our checks for teams like this.  As part of this series on Developing a High School Defense, I'm going to get into game planning a little more in depth than I am here, so please hang with me.  For now, you should be acquiring enough data on your opponents that you can formulate a hypothesis on how they would attack your defense.  You should also have enough data so that you know what their top five formations are and their top five plays are out of each formation.  This allows you to develop a check that defends their offense the best.  Some tips:

  • Have a check that "best" defends what they do
  • Don't chase ghosts, i.e. don't plan for a play they've run 3 times over an eight week period
    • That doesn't mean you don't need to be mindful of this play, what it means is don't let this play change your mind about the top five plays they run and how you want to defend them
  • Always have a change up or multiple change ups
    • These are usually some of our standard stuff that I went over earlier.  These are fronts and coverages our kids can fall back on if our check fails us for some reason.
  • Rarely if ever have a stunt or blitz as a check
    • I prefer checks to be static and I'll call any stunts/movements/blitzes I need to in order to attack what my opponent is trying to do to me.
  • Try to make your check universal for the personnel grouping you're defending
    • In other words your 10 personnel front check, should be the same for 2x2 as it is for 3x1.  The coverage, can and should change, but not the front.
    • This isn't to say that your 10 personnel check will be the same as your 11 personnel check, it shouldn't be actually, these are two totally different styles of offense.  This means keep your checks rooted in the personnel grouping you're facing
  • Base any pressures you have off of your checks so that you're not giving it away when you blitz
    • Shown below was a pressure we developed out of our base check against an opponent last season (45 Cover 6 Crazy was our check).  One of my favorite pressures against the spread is our Outside Charge (OSC) blitz.  Well, had we run that we'd have tipped our hand quite quickly to an offense that was quite readily adapted to checking at the LOS in the face of pressure.  So my version of OSC is shown below where we sent the walked out Mike LB and the boundary corner to make up our 6 man pressure.  This pressure was much easier to disguise than if we had simply run OSC.  What was even more remarkable about our guys last season was that had we gotten 2x2 or 11 personnel we would've run OSC, whereas if we got 10 personnel 3x1 we ran the blitz shown below.  
  • If things don't look good by Tuesday it might be time to trim it down.  I rarely let repeated mistakes bleed into a Wednesday practice.  Get it fixed before Wednesday's practice so that the kids have time to adjust.  Never be afraid to scrap a check.  Your base checks and base defense should always be good enough to defend most of the offenses you see, so have faith in it.

Outside Charge how we Normally Run it
Same blitz, just different people


Having a system in any organization is extremely important.  Football is no exception to this rule.  The system we have in place is that of check defense.  It was what I've built my defense on and I believe in it wholeheartedly.  This system, in my opinion, always has fail-safes built into so the kids can resort back to something they are comfortable with.  Having kids be able to fall back on stuff they know as basics is huge for getting the high school-aged mind to calm down in a crisis situation (i.e. things are going as planned on game night).  Also having a system of checks allows you to fix it when it's broken.  Never be afraid to fix something on game night.  Those "fixes" are known as adjustments and are what the really good coordinators are able to do in the heat of battle.

In the next installment I'll discuss goalline and short yardage defense.  I've got to keep writing to keep my mind off not having spring football practice right now!!!  It's driving me nuts!