Open Side Leverage Pulls in the Mid-Zone Concept

By Mike Kuchar with Mike Hallett
Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach
University of Toledo (OH)
Twitter: @coachhallett

 

 

At the University of Toledo, every offensive lineman is taught to pull. Sure, it’s an advantage that stems from recruiting and its reaped its benefits particularly in offensive line coach Mike Hallett’s run game. Since his days as the head coach at Heidelberg, Coach Hallett has been a huge advocate of the mid-zone run concept but when he entered the MAC he noticed that too many defenses where posing problems with 2i defenders not allowing combinations to get to the play side linebacker. “There were too many grey areas and you’re going to wind up exposing somebody,” he said.

So, in order to create divides in the defense, he started to build in an adjustment by treating it like a man scheme, pulling the Center to the front side of the play and zoning it on backside. He’ll use it out of 11 personnel groupings, where the Y is responsible for the front side +1 defender. The quarterback is responsible for the backside C gap defender. “We will teach mid zone as open side run, then incorporate Y to frontside, said Coach Hallett. “We like the ability to run 11 personnel run game out of fast tempo,” said Coach Hallett. “If you start subbing people the defense will start subbing people.

 

Identifications:

The F-Mid zone is adjustable and combined with look tempo, often times being checked to the more favorable inside (low) shade. All pullers are communicated to the front side using the following verbiage:

 

“On Call”- This tells the Guard to down block a 2i technique, while the Center works for the play side linebacker.

 

“Wrap Call”- This is an answer against pressure and alerts the Center he’s working around possible movement to the front side linebacker.

 

“Cage” Call– Center and Guard are able to work together in a zone combination. This is mainly used against 3/5 techniques play side.

 

RB Tracks and Aiming Point:

Coach Hallett prefers to use the mid zone from sidecar alignment, because the quarterback is responsible for the backside. And, the angle of the back is going to affect the angle of the linebacker. Quite simply, action across the ball creates flow linebackers, which accentuates the possibility of denting the defense north and south.

So, the back is taught to work two steps past the mesh and “figure it out.” Like most outside zone schemes, the back is going to read the first thing outside the Guard but keep tempo with the Center who should be on the play side linebacker. It’s expected that the play side Tackle will stretch the C gap defender- more on that below- so he’s looking to crease the play in the B gap. “We work hard on trying to identify the defense and predict which puller is getting out on the play,” he said.

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3-Roll Sim Pressures From 3-High Alignments

By Mike Kuchar with Cherokee Valeria
Defensive Passing Game Coordinator
Sacramento State University (CA)

 

 

When the single high simulated pressure trend swept through football a couple seasons ago, playing country cover three behind it was all the rage. Most coordinators used them in long yardage scenarios, so having the weak safety defend hook zone provided able support against intermediate routes like digs and seam routes that would settle at the sticks.

While defenses are still playing single high on the back end, now staffs are finding ways to build their sims around three-safety structure so that hot coverage defenders can come from depth.  The defensive staff at Sacramento State University will use 3-high simulations- or as they call “Bogus” pressures- with squat, or three roll coverage to get a player immediately in the hot window of the pressure. According to defensive pass game coordinator Cherokee Valeria, it’s easier to play that responsibility from outside in positioning (with a corner) than inside out positioning with a safety. “We like squat coverage because the ball has to come out quickly to the field and we want to be able to react back down and play those routes more quickly,” he told me. “The hardest thing to deal with in these pressures are inside breaking routes so it’s easier to play low to high than high to low.”

 

In its 3-high spacing the Hornets will routinely insert the middle of field safety (the Shark in their terminology) in these replace rushes. In this report we’re going to detail the two most common they use- the boundary corner pressure which is termed “Combat” and the field Nickle pressure which is termed “Normandy.” Together they make up 25% of all calls in the Hornets sub package, or what they call “SWAT” personnel. Although it was mainly used in long yardage scenarios, it was also implemented as a changeup in base early downs.

 

“SWAT” Personnel:

The Hornets “SWAT” personnel consist of the following:

  • 1 Interior Defensive Lineman (could be a true Nose or 3-Technique Tackle)
  • 2 Drop Ends- hybrid edge rushers or outside linebackers
  • Mike linebacker- Strong side linebacker
  • Sam linebacker- Weak side linebacker
  • Nickel linebacker- can be safety type or extra cornerback
  • Free Safety- Boundary Safety
  • Strong Safety- Field Safety
  • “Shark” Safety- Middle safety which can be an extra corner or safety
  • Field Cornerback
  • Boundary Cornerback

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Best Available Blitzer (B.A.B.) Rules in Man Pressures

By Mike Kuchar with Brian Bergstrom
Head Coach
Winona State University (MN)
Twitter: @Coach_Bergy

 

 

For several years, the South Dakota State University football program has been the prototype of a stingy defense at the FCS level. And former Jackrabbits co-defensive coordinator Brian Bergstrom served as the architect of that defense for five seasons, where he has been a part of five consecutive Jackrabbit playoff teams, earning three trips to the FCS national semifinals, including a runner-up finish.

And when he got his first head coaching job at Winona State University (MN) he wanted to take his four-down structure with him. But as he was installing his pressure package he came to a direct realization- he was overusing some of the three-deep, two-under pressures he relied on so often at SDSU. So, he shifted his philosophy to a simpler route- five and six man pressures, playing cover one behind them. It was for good reason, the movement up front was able to cancel gaps in the run game and if you’re getting into a pass situation, what better coverage to play than man?

What’s unique about Coach Bergstrom’s system is that all of his man pressure concepts are adjustable by formation. He calls it “bringing the best available blitzer,” and it’s predicated by three types of pressures- field, boundary and interior. In this clinic report, we detail how these pressure is tagged, communicated and adjusted- based on front- in order to get free hitters home to the quarterback.

 

Base Rules:

Essentially, Coach Bergstrom separates his pressures into the following: field pressures, boundary pressures and interior pressures. So, the activation will come from one of those three areas of the field. But instead of terming pressures with to denote who is blitzing (Will, Mike, etc.) he created a series of tags to alert defenders who is the rusher based on either offensive formation or personnel. It’s all categorized and taught first to non-blizers using the following progression.

 

Base Coverage Rules for Non-Blitzers:

  • If I’m a corner and I’m not blitzing, I cover number one
  • If I’m a Sam or Nickel or Will and I’m not blitzing I cover number two
  • If I’m a Mike and I’m not blitzing I cover number three
  • Any three speed receivers to one side, Mike LB pressures
  • Defensive end away from the pressure is usually responsible for the back if he flares. If not, he’s an additional rusher on the quarterback.
  • Safeties need to know if they are spinning down to cover number two or are they working to middle third. If they are spinning down in a field pressure, they cover number two. If they are spinning down a middle pressure, they cover number three. If they are rotating to cover number one in a corner pressure, they use a slide and glide technique (referenced below).

 

Tag System Rules:

The benefit of using field, boundary and interior tags is it makes options limitless for who can be involved in the pressure. “If you make the term generic for the pressure and tag it from where you want to bring it from that’s what makes it easy to teach,” said Coach Bergstrom. For example, if the pressure was called to the boundary and there was only one threat there, it becomes a cobra, or corner pressure and the defense plays by the coverage rules above. If there are two threats to the boundary, the Will and Mike can pressure, leaving the corner to play number one and the safety to play number two. “It’s not about the backer or corner always blitzing,” he said. “Sometimes there is an awkward surface for them to blitz from so we adjust by bringing someone else. We changed the code word of who is blitzing, and it helps against any mass shift of two or three guys moving so that we can reset it.”

 

Base Pressure Rules:

  • Interior defensive lineman to pressure “rips across” Center’s face
  • Exterior defensive lineman to pressure long sticks
  • Interior defensive lineman away from pressure works to contain C gap
  • Exterior defensive lineman away from pressure is responsible to peel on back

 

Now let’s look at how these rules are adapted into field, boundary and middle tagged pressures.

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The Boundary Choice Route RPO System

By Mike Kuchar with David Weeks
Tight Ends Coach
Fordham University (NY)
Twitter: @davidweeks34

 

 

“The 10 Personnel Difference”

As a base 10 personnel outfit, Fordham University uses spacing and leverage to attack defenses. A former analyst under Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel, Coach Weeks and the offensive staff under the direction of coordinator Kevin Decker relies on 10 personnel to force the hand of defenses. In this fashion, quarterbacks are able to identify and get out of plays against loaded boxes and they are also able to notice one high vs. two high structures.

Fordham uses two base formation structures in its 10 personnel catalog, 2×2 and 3×1. But in order to generate the spacing required in 2×2 open formations, the outside receiver is told to midpoints the numbers to sideline while the inside receiver’s landmark is the top of the numbers.

 

In 3×1 open formations, the single receiver midpoints the top of numbers and sideline. To the field, the inside receiver is splits hash and numbers, the middle receiver is in the divide and the outside receiver midpoints the numbers and the sideline.

 

QB’s Pre-Snap Thought Process: “Loaded vs. Unloaded” Run Box

Like most RPO outfits, Fordham triple calls all of its RPO concepts based on the following progression “Gift, Run, RPO.” But while most players term the “gift” to the X in the boundary, Fordham inverts its call system by positioning the gift to the field. And the gift is generated by some quick game concept such as fade out, double hitch, etc. The quarterback will look at who is tightest to the box. “They read grass, not defenders,” said Coach Weeks. If the field overhang is wide enough to the field, the boundary RPO menu is activated. In the picture below, the field option is a “No.”

 

Then, the QB’s eyes will transition to the run box to identify either what Coach Weeks calls a “loaded” or “unloaded” run box.

Any five-man box is considered unloaded, so the run element of the RPO could be activated.

 

Any six-man box is considered to be “loaded,” so now a defender needs to be read.

 

And when it comes to designing the post-snap RPO element, much of it is determined based on if defenses are fitting to the back or away from the back. Understanding this helps get the quarterbacks eyes in the right spot. So, when defenses are fitting away from the back- as many defenses do- that’s when the QB has to use opposite side footwork in the RPO component- more on that later.

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The Wrap Run Concept and its Complementary RPOs

By Mike Kuchar with Alex Huettel
Offensive Line Coach
Old Dominion University (VA)
Twitter: @coacher_hut

 

 

Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted by X&O Labs last spring while Coach Huettel was the Offensive Line Coach at Fordham University (NY).

 

The Wrap concept is essentially what it sounds. It’s a five-man run scheme, where one offensive lineman will “wrap” for the play side linebacker. Essentially the five offensive lineman are assigned to block five, while the quarterback is responsible to “read six.” But who that sixth defender is depends on the front structure. It’s been the primary 10 personnel run concept in Fordham’s system the last two years under head coach Joe Conlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Decker and which lineman pulls is based off the run box structure.

Coach Huettel and his staff will use the following declarations to alert who pulls:

 

“Uno”- This is a five-man box declaration, alerting the backside Guard to pull. The quarterback reads the backside defensive end.

 

“Odd”- It’s important to note that against backside 4i techniques- those prevalent in Mint fronts- the Guard may lock on the B gap defender while the Tackle pulls.

 

“Even”- This is six-man box declaration where the backside Guard pulls  and the quarterback will read the sixth defender.

 

“Okie”- This is a pure five-man box with two 5-techniques in the C gap. The backside Guard will wrap. Since it’s a five-box declaration, the quarterback doesn’t have a read.

 

“Bear”- This is a 5-0 declaration with all offensive lineman covered up. Clearly there can be no combinations. This results in a “fire” call, where the backside Tackle will pull to kick the play side C gap defender. It’s known as a trap pull.

 

RB Entry/Aiming Point:

Before getting into the specifics of individual block technique, it’s important to note that the running back is taught to keep tempo with whoever the backside puller is, but is allowed to run to grass. You’ll see many example of this in the film below where the back completely reverses field for a big gain because with light boxes there rarely is a cutback player in the run game.

Most times the back is aligned away from the play-side but not always. Fordham spend a good deal of time working “same side” runs where the back is to the play side. It helps in instant misdirection to the defense.

 

Individual Block Technique:

Because this scheme is a man scheme, it relies on several one on one blocks at the point of attack. But these blocks are separated into play side and back side leverage points.

Most of those one on one blocks come in the following forms:

 

Play-Side Block Catalog:

  • Base Drive Block Technique
  • Choke Block Technique

 

Back Side Block Catalog:

  • Hinge Block Technique
  • Insert Pull Block Technique
  • Trap Pull Block Technique

 

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2-Deep Covers and Sim Pressures from 3-High Spacing

By Mark Theophel
Defensive Coordinator
Hartwick College (NY)

 

 

Introduction:

During the pandemic of 2020, with no football season being played at Hartwick College, we decided to seize the opportunity to evaluate different ways of doing things. On defense, there were two particular topics we focused on that have recently risen in popularity: 3-high safety defense and 2-deep simulated pressures. The 3-high package was of particular interest because adding an extra safety who could adjust to formations would allow us to be more flexible with our base coverages, while also being able to run more coverage variations behind our pressure package. While studying this topic, we found that there are a number of different advantages created by running our pressure patterns with 3-high spacing.

  1. Using a 3-high shell makes it easier to disguise coverage, particularly vs. Trips formations.
  2. Using 3-High safeties makes it easier to adjust to formations and create better match ups.
  3. Replacing a LB with a safety to defend the seam in 2-deep coverage makes simulated pressures more effective.
  4. Having an extra safety allows for more zone coverage variations behind safety blitzes.

 

In 2021, we were in a 3-high safety defense 34% of the time, which increased to 49% of the time during the 2022 season. Of our 15 interceptions in 2022, 8 of them occurred in our 3-high safety package, and 7 of those 8 occurred running some form of deep half coverage. In particular, 2-deep coverage and simulated pressures became much more versatile with 3 safeties on the field. Running 2-Deep coverage on passing downs has been an effective way for us to firm up the flat and rely less on soft corner coverages like quarters and 3-deep. We also found that our Corners really enjoy getting a break and being more aggressive.

 

Deep Half Coverage:

Deep Half Coverage for us is a zone concept that can be played on both sides of the defense as a true 2-deep zone, or on one side of the defense as a combo coverage, such as quarter-quarter-half. Normally, our safety will defend the Deep ½ of the field, with our Corner being responsible for the flat. We clarify this with a run support call of “Cloud,” signifying that the Corner is the force defender on the play. The Corner’s primary zone of responsibility is the flat, but he is also charged with funneling the #1 WR inside to the safety. This will make it easier for the deep ½ safety to cover multiple vertical threats in his zone, while making the coverage less vulnerable in the “hole” along the sidelines.

 

Corner flat technique (“Cloud”):

  • Funnel #1 inside to safety, eyes inside on #2
    • Get chest to outside shoulder pad of #1
      • Punch with outside arm, force inside release
      • Sink and defend the hole with body positioning
    • Defend the 1st inside WR to the flat, deep-to-short
      • Read QB for throw
      • Drive downhill on any throws to flat

 

Safety Deep ½ technique (“Cloud”):

  • Pedal in zone and read QB
    • Top all vertical routes of #2
      • If #2 and #1 are both vertical, midpoint the zone
      • Midpoint of the zone is 4 yards outside the hash
    • If #2 is horizontal, see release of #1
      • If #1 is outside, get off hash and play over the top
      • If #1 is inside, stay in window and defend the post
      • Never let #1 beat you inside

 

It is important to note that unlike single-high coverages like Cover 3 or Cover 1, the middle of the field is open in 2-deep zones, so that needs to be accounted for in our teaching. When we first install deep half coverage, we will always have the same components: a deep half defender, a flat defender, and a curl defender who is also responsible for #2 on any deep inside vertical. Our term for this coverage responsibility is Vertical-Curl.

 

Vertical-Curl technique:

  • Read #2 to #1, inside-out
    • Wall and carry any inside vertical of #2 WR
      • Emphasis on post or “seam” route
    • If #2 is out, expand to the curl inside the #1 WR
      • If #1 clears out, look inside for work
    • If #2 is under/across, read the QB and scan the field for threats
      • QB inside = Look for re-cross with #3
      • QB outside = Look for slant/curl/dig of #1

 

Those first two coaching points are the most important things that Vertical-Curl defenders must understand. If #2 is vertical, we must run with him up the seam and protect the goalpost. If #2 releases to the outside, we know the corner or safety will be there in the flat, so we should expect an inside-breaking route by #1 and find the curl window. In any instance where #2 is out and #1 clears out (ie. Does not threaten inside), we should look inside for work. This applies to vertical routes that break outside as well, like a flag/corner route by #2.

 

In any 2-High coverage, including quarters, we will always have a defender responsible for the hook inside the #3 WR as well.  Unless there is a Trips adjustment built into the scheme, this defender will also be responsible for #3 vertical.  In 2-Deep coverage, we must account for #3 vertical for the same reason that we must account for #2 on inside verticals, because the middle of the field is open. Our hook defender is termed the Middle-Read defender.

 

Middle-Read technique:

  • Read #3 to #2 to #1, inside-out
    • Wall and carry any vertical route by #3
      • Drop to near hip of #3, react to his release
    • If #3 is out, expand and read #2 to #1
      • Defend the hook inside the new #3 WR after all exchanges
    • If #3 is under/across, find new #3
      • Look for re-cross, stay inside new #3

 

 

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Pairing Zone Bluff with FIB and Unbalanced Formations

By Mike Kuchar with Rob Christophel
Offensive Coordinator
Nicholls State University (LA)
Twitter: @ChristophelRob

 

 

Nicholls State knew they had a stud at quarterback, so they were going to use him. The tight zone has always been a foundation for in offensive coordinator Rob Christophel’s menu, but as defenses continued to pack the box, he allowed his quarterback the freedom to pull it. And as the prototypical scrape exchange started to take shape with first and second level defenders, he had to find other ways to make sure his athletic quarterback can carry the ball.

 

Zone Bluff Methodology:

For Coach Christophel it all starts on whether or not a defense is plussing or minusing its interior linebackers to the read or zone side. The backside tackle is responsible or sifting to the -1 the from the point. The Y is responsible for blocking any scrape exchange, but many times that seventh defender will come from the second level. His role is to wrap to the inside linebacker to the alley defender. If the there is any rock back at the second level, the Y blocks the linebacker.

And since so many even front operations are field strength oriented, the open B gap will be to the read side.

 

Having the 3-Tech to read side does make it tougher because the Tackle doesn’t get a clean run through to -1.  But in either case, the Y is looking to seal the -1 to the high safety.  “The backside Tackle knows whether or not he’s getting help from the tight end coming across the formation,” said Coach Christophel. “If there is no tight end help, the Tackle will U the backside linebacker and work to him. If he does have tight end help, he will not chase the backside linebacker. Either way we want to make the defensive end tackle the dive.”

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Mixing Multiple Bracket with 2-Deep Man Under Coverage

By Mike Kuchar with Mike Cooke
Defensive Coordinator
Sacred Heart University (CT)
Twitter: @Coach_Cooke52

 

 

Two-deep, man under coverage is continually associated with third down situations and the last resort to get the defense off the field. But at Sacred Heart University (CT) defensive coordinator Mike Cooke relied heavily on this coverage against all 2×2 open and 3×1 open formations. And while most coaches shy away from using it against 12 personnel, Cooke will lean on it in those situations as well, providing tight ends can be pass catching threats. He installed in a year earlier and it’s been the most efficient coverage concept in the Pioneers, and he mixes it in with other forms of bracket coverage on the perimeter.

“We are complicated on first and second down but when we get into third down, we are doing two or three different things, so people wonder why they can’t complete any passes on us,” said Coach Cooke. The concept has also been extremely efficient in the red zone. “Some coaches will play either zero blitz or bracket in the red zone, but we will play it (two-deep, man under) everywhere. It’s really hard to throw the ball against it.”

This clinic report breaks down how coach Cooke teaches the following techniques:

  • Safety Deep Half Technique
  • Wall (or trail technique) of interior coverage defenders
  • Deep safety technique
  • Linebacker on back technique

 

 

Deep Safety Technique:

Clearly, this is the simplest of the coverage structure. These safeties have the same landmarks as they would in pure cover two, which is two yards outside the hash, but these players are pure quarterback readers. But the significant difference in two-man as opposed to cover two is that these deep half defenders have help on vertical routes so they can be more aggressive underneath. “They must have great eyes because they are responsible just for the quarterback,” said Coach Cooke. “If routes are shallow, they don’t have to get deep. They can be more aggressive on digs and undercut routers because the interior defenders will work the deep routes in man coverage. They understand that they have trailers. They can play with enough depth and time to adjust to the ball, but they are getting help underneath.”

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Harvard’s Build-Ins to Protect 12 Personnel G/Y Counter

By Mike Kuchar and Keegan Kennedy
Offensive Line Coach
Harvard University (MA)
Twitter: @CoachKKennedy

 

 

Like many offenses, Harvard relied on using more detached (Y-Off) roles for its tight on gap schemes. But during his off-season study this winter, offensive line coach Keegan Kennedy realized how much defenses were relying on keying that Y-off to rock back and fit split zone and counter schemes. So, he spent the majority of spring ball teaching the Y to pull from a grounded or attached position and found that defenses were rarely keyed in to him when he was on the line of scrimmage. “We find it to be a great advantage,” coach Kennedy told me. “ We wound up loving to pull the tight end from an on the ball alignment. Our tight ends are super athletic but they have to be good enough to run things in the box.”

And as defenses continue to spill the counter scheme, the offensive staff works tirelessly to protect its counter concept by pulling the Center, Guard, Tackle and Tight End depending on the front. This report focuses on the build-ins that Harvard has used depending on the defensive front presented. Most of these adjustments are built into the play call or a communicated adjustment at the line of scrimmage.

 

Mesh Variations:

 

Same Side Mesh:

Before getting into the specifics of the tight end roles, Harvard will use many of these counter concepts with a same-side mesh with the running back. It’s helped get second level movement, allowing for angles on down blocks play side. Running back coach Saj Thakkar uses the term “walk it out” for the back and it’s the exact same mesh as inside zone for the first three steps.

The first step is a 45 degree open step with the foot near the quarterback. The second step is a cross over into the mesh followed by a plant on the third step. “Off the plant step, we redirect to our landmark which is the play side leg of the C gap,” said Coach Thakkar. “It’s really slow, but needs to be used to get in phase with second puller.”

 

Pistol Mesh:

Harvard will also use a Pistol mesh with counter schemes. The idea is to get the back’s shoulders squared and get downhill at the A gap entry point. The QB will open at 6 o’clock and reverse out while the running back will shuffle play side then get vertical. Coach Kennedy did emphasize that in order for this mesh to work, the back has to have good enough vision to pick up the second puller. “It’s a good answer against teams that will box and not spill the first puller, so the back can get right up into the line of scrimmage,” he said.

 

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Delaware’s Pressure Catalog from 3-High Spacing

By Mike Kuchar with Manny Rojas
Defensive Coordinator
University of Delaware
Twitter: @Coach_Rojas_UD

 

 

Two seasons ago, Delaware was purely a base defense. Rarely were they a pressure outfit, relying mainly on three-deep, five-under coverages from its 3-high shell. According to Coach Rojas, the system was originally molded after what defensive coordinator Jon Heacock has done at Iowa State, but shifted to more of the pressure aspects that FAU defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has established. In the CAA conference, Delaware sees more 11 personnel structures than anything else, so getting more speed on the field makes sense, prompting Coach Rojas to claim “he’ll never go back to playing four down defense again.”

 

His base personnel operate like an Odd Stack consisting of the following:

  • Nose- No lag player, pure zero tech vertical player
  • End- mainly to the field or offensive strength
  • Tackle- mainly to the boundary
  • Mike- Middle linebacker
  • Will- Weak side linebacker
  • Bandit– Strong side linebacker
  • Rover– Middle safety (glorified linebacker in this system)
  • Field Safety– Best cover safety
  • Kat– Weak side safety
  • Field Corner– can play left and right based on tempo
  • Boundary Corner- can play left and right based on tempo

 

 

Coach Rojas does use sub personnel with those of these pressures, which consists of four safeties and two corners. One of the linebackers will come out. “We used to bring a corner in but now we are using a safety because our safeties can cover,” he said. “It makes it easier to call things and make calls on the run against tempo. We can call it as we need to.”

 

Base Pressure Ideology: Three Down vs. Four Down

It’s important to note that pressures in three-down structures have to be called entirely different than in four-down because of the way it’s structures. In four-down fronts, safeties are the insert defenders in pressure concepts whereas in three-down those players are linebackers. So, a good amount of time has to spend teaching those linebackers where to insert based on the pressure. This is why Coach Rojas will chose to run more field pressures than boundary pressures. “We just bank on teams running to the boundary and us rallying to the football,” he said.

In this report, we are going to profile the base zone and man pressures Coach Rojas utilizes in his system.

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SDSU’s Segment Teaching of Lateral vs. Vertical Double Teams in Gap Schemes

By Mike Kuchar with Ryan Olson
Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach
South Dakota State University
Twitter: @CoachRyanOlson

 

 

Anyone that watches Missouri Valley Conference football knows that South Dakota State University is built on running the power play. It’s been that way ever since head coach John Stiegelmeier took the program over in 1997. And even with the departure of former offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jason Eck, the Jackrabbits have found a way to gash defenses downhill on gap schemes. Part of the reason why that’s been the case is the meticulous detail in which the coaching staff goes about teaching offensive linemen the details of blocking the play. When gap schemes are the bedrock of your offense, then it makes sense to spend the necessary time needed to develop these skill sets.

 

 

Pistol Backside Mesh:

While the bulk of this report will be centered on the drill work Coach Olson uses to teach the concept, there are some alignment nuances that the Jackrabbits use to gain maximum efficiency on the concept. One of those variants is teaching a backside mesh from Pistol alignments. According to Coach Olson, the purpose is to provide a control mechanism any defenders able to run the play down from the backside.

 

The QB is taught to get off the midline and he’s responsible for clearing the way for the back. The running back is responsible for the mesh, while the quarterback’s eyes go to the backside C area. Wherever the QB sticks the ball it’s him to makes the adjustment. The quarterback is responsible for the D gap defender, so he is given the option of pulling the ball if there is smoke off the edge or the backside Tackle doesn’t do a good job on the hinge.

According to Coach Olson, the change in mesh has been really good in handling any backside issues. “When you have weak side linebacker’s walk up backside he’s usually accounted for in the count so you need a hat for him,” said Coach Olson. “In the past we would just pull it if he came off the edge. But the defense can have numbers if there is a safety over there. Or, you can put a tight end on the backside but you need to change the formation and be in different personnel groups. This is easiest and affects the least amount of people.”

 

RB Aiming Point:

The ball carrier is taught to be 1×1 off the inside hip of the puller (backside guard). Coach Olson teaches a “hips in” or “hips out” progression reading the block of the puller.

 

“Hips Out”- Puller’s ass is in the hole ball should stay inside the puller.

 

“Hips In”- If the puller skates it or he has to log it the running back has to go tight off the ass of the puller.

 

So, while the power concept is taught as an A gap concept, the ball carrier will often bounce the ball based on the read of the block. “We’ve never seen the ball hit in the A gap, particularly against an Over front if we’re getting the right movement on the combination,” said Coach Olson. “There is too much static in there so it becomes more of a B gap out insert point. It may look like it’s in the A gap because we are getting vertical movement. We’ve never talked about feeling flow of the backer. So many defenses come over the top of down blocks. So, now we tell them to check the backside A gap. If that Nose pops over the Center, we may want to hit them against fast flow teams.”

 

Tight End Alignment:

Since SDSU is more of a heavy personnel gap scheme team, a priority needs to be placed on the alignment of the kick out player, the tight end. According to Coach Olson, the best alignment is to straddle the inside leg of the grounded tight end.

 

“We don’t talk about taking a ‘J’ path,” he told me. “We talk about being vertical forever to the point of contact. If the 9-technique falls off the edge we can always relate to him super late. We want to be as vertical as possible with near foot, near shoulder contact.”

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Montana State’s Power, Jet and Counter Read Catalog

By Mike Kuchar with Brian Armstrong
Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach
Montana State University
Twitter: @CoachArmy

 

 

Montana State has continually been at the top of most FCS rankings, including playing in the title game in ’21 against North Dakota State. This consistency has been built off the run game, where the Bobcats have continually developed it’s gap read and counter read concepts to produce maximum efficiency. This season they averaged over 300 yards a game on the ground, including 6.58 yards per carry, many of those on these gap read concepts where its quarterback averaged 88 yards a game.

Coach Armstrong has developed the power and counter read concepts to where any player in the program (running back, receiver, etc.) and run them. He has even lined up wideouts that may have some quick twitch in the backfield to run the concept without using motion. It’s a true commitment to running the scheme, regardless of the personnel. And when you watch Bobcats film it’s apparent that Coach Armstrong has a willingness to run the scheme regardless of the defense or the formation.

 

Formationing the Play:

Although the Bobcats will use the power/counter read from any formation, Coach Armstrong believes the best way to build is in 3×1, because the numbers are equal. It forces the Mike linebacker to run down the horizontal element of the play. Most of the time, it’s a win for the offense. And when it’s not, Coach Armstrong has an answer, which we’ll get into later. Using 3×1 open as a base, Montana State will also run the scheme from the following formations:

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Best Practices: Alternating 3-Safety Insertion Points in Drop 8 Coverage

By Mike Kuchar with Manny Rojas
Defensive Coordinator
University of Delaware
Twitter: @Coach_Rojas_UD

 

 

Over the last couple of seasons, the University of Delaware has prided itself on three-high safety defense. And in the majority of those snaps, defensive coordinator Manny Rojas will play Drop 8 coverage by varying several insertion points for those three safeties. In the CAA conference, Delaware sees more 11 personnel structures than anything else, so getting more speed on the field makes sense, prompting Coach Rojas to claim “he’ll never go back to playing four down defense again.”

His base personnel operate like an Odd Stack consisting of the following:

  • Nose- No lag player, pure zero tech vertical player
  • End- mainly to the field or offensive strength
  • Tackle- mainly to the boundary
  • Mike- Middle linebacker
  • Will- Weak side linebacker
  • Bandit– Strong side linebacker
  • Rover– Middle safety (glorified linebacker in this system)
  • Field Safety– Best cover safety
  • Kat– Weak side safety
  • Field Corner– can play left and right based on tempo
  • Boundary Corner- can play left and right based on tempo

 

 

Run Fit Responsibilities:

While this report is mainly focused on the responsibilities of zone cover defenders, Delaware does feel comfortable defending the run game in its three high structure. There are several base principles that Coach Rojas will employ to be efficient in the run game. They are as follows:

  • The Nose is a vertical player, not a lag defender.
  • Against any three-surface formation, Coach Rojas will drop the Bandit (field safety) or Kat (boundary safety) for immediate force presence. He believes firmly in setting the edges of the defense- something we will explore in a future clinic report from him.
  • The End and Tackle are mainly C gap defenders but that will change if the Kat or Bandit drops to their side. That would make them B gap defenders.
  • The two interior backers (Mike and Will) are triangle Guard read players and will fit off the Nose accordingly.

 

Varying Inserts:

It all starts with not having the Rover (middle safety in Delaware’s scheme) having to play the post every snap. That is way too predictable. Instead, Coach Rojas will alter his Drop 8 coverage package week to week depending on what he’s going to see. Most of them are called by him, but who runs the middle is based on formation and game plan. “Week to week we design it differently,” he said. “If we’re going to check something it will be more based on a player than a formation,” he said. “It makes it easier for our kids to focus on that one piece we’re focused on.” We’ll have more on that later.

When you send any of those three safeties into the post, into the lane or into the flat, it gives the quarterback indecision on what is going to be a viable throw. And this is all predicated on what Coach Rojas calls “hash, numbers, middle, hash, numbers” teaching. Those are the five underneath zones in his Drop 8 coverage. He won’t use hard corners unless it’s third down. Essentially, he’ll use the following landmarks in Drop 8 coverage:

  • Hash– These are the traditional curl defenderns. They will begin 10-12 yards on or near the hash to start, but move with quarter backs eyes
  • Middle– This is the middle dropper and will work based off of the route. In 3×1 he will come to three. He will not run past him
  • Numbers– These are the traditional flat defenders, who will be force defenders in the run game.

 

The beauty of how he teaches it is that these defenders can be anybody in the back end. It will not always be the safety. Many times, it’s determined by how far a defender’s alignment is to the number three receiver. And if defenders are going to check something it will be based on a player rather than a formation, which makes it easier for players to focus on that one piece that they are looking for. “For example, if all three defenders are on the hash or wider, than it makes sense for the Field safety or the safety that is closest to him to be the insert,” said Coach Rojas. “He can take away the stick and the hitch faster than the Rover (middle safety) can. The Rover would never get to the hash fast enough. But if number three and number two are close, then I let the safeties make the judgement call because they see it in real time.”

If these adjustments are not communicated by players, they are built into the play call. So, if the call is “52 Odd Stack” and the Rover knows he’s the post player, it can be changed weekly by simply tagging “52 Odd Stack Safety,” thus alerting the safety to run the post while the Rover plays his spot. Or he may give it a different name like ‘Ranger’ so one safety knows he is going to the post. “It’s helpful to have variations of cover three because you may have one that you liked when you’re backed up or when you’re in the middle of the field,” he said. “You may like one in the high red zone because you’re changing who is spot dropping where.”

The focus of this report is how Coach Rojas and his defensive staff create multiple Drop 8 coverage pictures to defend opponents formation and personnel. These consist of the following:

  • 3-Deep, 5-Under Coverage
  • Quarters Coverage
  • Halves Coverage
  • Man Coverage

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Vice Leverage Rules in Tampa Sims

By Mike Kuchar with Jack Cooper
Defensive Coordinator
University of Rhode Island
Twitter: @CoachJCooper

 

 

When the defensive staff at Rhode Island returned from its visit with Baylor last off-season a couple things were clear: Ron Roberts knows his football and the Tampa simulated pressures that Roberts used last season meshed perfectly with the Rams personnel and structure. It tied into their cover three and man free package with one added benefit: there is not real threat of those bender routes because of the presence of the middle safety.

So, defensive coordinator Jack Cooper took the info he amassed and started devising his version of these Tampa sims. He realized he didn’t have the personnel that Baylor had (they were more advanced at the outside linebacker position), so he simplified it by only using three core pressures: a boundary pressure with the Will linebacker and a middle pressure with the Mike linebacker. The rules were simple: The Sam (or field outside linebacker) will never be in the rush pattern. It either be the Will, the Bandit (boundary outside linebacker) or the Mike. And he implemented them out of his base four down package as well. Both cases were four man rushes with a pure three deep zone behind it.

 

Personnel:

Just for context, the Rams use the following skill personnel in its three-down (or sub) grouping:

  • Buck– boundary outside linebacker and hybrid defensive end. In four down fronts he is in the front.
  • Sam– He will align to field or passing strength. He’s known as the “big Nickel” in Coach Cooper’s operation.
  • Mike– strong side inside linebacker
  • Will– weak side inside linebacker
  • Nickel– third corner (this presents a problem with these pressures because this defender is not accustomed to playing a deep half technique). Coach Cooper admitted these concepts work better with safeties.
  • Strong Safety- This will be the middle safety
  • Free Safety- This will be the boundary safety
  • Field Corner
  • Boundary Corner

 

There are packages where the Sam will stay in the game and a defensive lineman will come off the field (2-4 spacing) and there are other times where he’ll use a 5-1 package by keeping both outside linebackers (Sam and Buck) in the game and take the Will out.

 

Disguise Element:

Regardless of the personnel, the prerequisite of running these sims is to keep an element of disguise. So, in order to do that he’ll cover down early to give the illusion of rip/Liz match or cover three. This is all predicated based on 2×2 open or 3×1 open.

In the image below against 2×2 open, both the Free safety and Nickel cover down over the number two receivers.

 

In the image below against 3×1 open, the Strong Safety (middle runner) covers down number three early to give the illusion of man free. He will start at eight yards off line of scrimmage.

 

All defenders will pedal out on cadence. It’s essentially Tampa coverage coming from a cover down disguise. According to Coach Cooper, all other defenses in the Rams system are “roof defenses” where they will hold the divider and then work off cadence. Against any running back motion or Empty, defenders will immediately get out of their shell and going to their responsibility. “We won’t let our disguise override our job,” he said.

 

Directional vs. Delivery Key:

Before getting into technique specifics with this coverage, it’s important to understand how he teaches the eyes of zone defenders. Essentially Tampa is the same principles as cover three, where defenders are taught to melt in the zone. Once they get their zone eyes set, Coach Cooper and his staff teach a “directional” vs. “delivery” key:

  • If the directional key is away from me, we shuffle.
  • If the directional key is to me, we sink with depth. That means there may be some high/low concept coming to me

 

Safety as Middle Runner:

The benefit of using these Tampa sim pressures from 3-High structure is that the middle runner plays from depth, which is contrary to having an interior backer (with a run gap responsibility) play from low to high. It takes the Mike out of run/pass conflict and according to Coach Cooper having the Nickel be the third safety makes it more symmetrical and cleaner teaching. It ties into the cover three creeper package because of the roof shell. “The disparity of the safety playing the middle run through vs. the linebacker doing it was like three to one,” coach Cooper told me. He did say he recommends that Nickel be a true safety (rather than a third corner) because he understands how to play a hash technique.

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Teaching Insert, Wrap and Break Scenarios for BSG on Search Pull

By Mike Kuchar with Andrew Prevost
Offensive Line Coach
South Dakota University
Twitter: @CoachPrevost

 

 

Introduction:

Like many programs in the Missouri Valley Conference, South Dakota relies on the power concept to be the lifeblood of its’ offensive menu. But as a heavy, multiple tight end personnel outfit, the Coyotes run its power concept with a D-gap track. Offensive Line Coach Andrew Prevost thinks that the size and strength of first level defense in the MVC won’t let you crease the A gap on gap schemes. Instead, the pull will usually get pushed from C gap out into the perimeter.

So, rather than be hell-bent on inserting the ball into the A gap, Coach Prevost and the offensive staff at South Dakota teaches a wider, D-gap track in its power concept. This provides a contingency against squeeze and spill defenses, and gets the back (or quarterback) on the perimeter with the addition of an extra blocker. And because the entry point for the back becomes two gaps wider, the puller has to slow down his timing to stay in front of the back.

“The search pull slows him down so he can visualize and see the linebacker,” said Coach Prevost. It’s important to note that South Dakota is a one-back power outfit, there is no kickout element in this scheme.

 

RB Insertion Point: “Chase Backside Number of Puller”

While the ball carrier is expected to bounce the ball in the D-gap power concept, Coach Prevost made it clear that if he doesn’t start in the A gap, he’ll never get to the A gap. So, the A-gap will be his initial landmark, but he’ll look to track an A-D gap path based on the reaction of the defense. “We have him chase the A gap and as the A gap window closes they go to B to C.,” said Coach Prevost. In order to do this, the running back will track the outside leg of the play side Tackle. Coach Prevost says it’s a rarity for the backside Guard to insert into the B gap, so instead the back will just follow the path of the Guard. “We used to have him fit the puller but we switched it and now chase the backside number of the puller,” he said. “But what would happen was that puller would wrap really tight and the back would be too wide and they would always want to bounce it.”

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