Methods in Freeing the Mike LB in a Stack Front

By Adam Siwicki
Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach
Culver-Stockton College (MO)
Twitter: @AdamSiwicki



The challenge for a defensive coordinator is to find the fine line of keeping your system simple enough for your athletes to play confident and fast but complex enough to keep the opposing coordinator guessing. We use a wristband to communicate the plays we run. I prefer the wristband over signals because it is position-specific and I can put tips and reminders on certain player’s wristbands to make the information more quickly accessible to the player. It also allows for flexibility when changing run fits but yet keeping it simple for our players. We constantly change up the way we fit runs here at Culver-Stockton College and yet we have had very few misfitted run plays due to the simplicity of our defense. We play a 3-3-5 odd front, two-high defense. In our conference, we see multiple styles of offenses ranging from Air Raid to Wing T. I wanted a system that is flexible and adaptive to the various styles we see without drastically changing each week.

When game-planning for an opponent, I am always trying to figure out how to add an extra number to the play side. I have coached in many systems and generally, that number comes from the secondary. Our system does allow for us to fit runs that way, but I also like to try and add an extra number in the box, opposed to having it always come from the secondary. We are a gap sound defense and want our linebackers who are responsible for a gap to play fast and downhill. We will free up a linebacker in the box for him to scrape over and fix any misfit defensive lineman or linebackers. Which linebacker we make free varies based on formation, play direction tendencies, or back sets the offense presents us with. For this report, I will talk about how we free up our middle linebacker. To free up an inside linebacker we will slant our defensive line. Which way we slant is based upon game plan and can change by series or quarter.


In Diagram #1 you can see we slant the line to the field and free up our Mike linebacker in a Tampa 2 coverage.

DB RUN FITS: Our boundary corner is the force player while our strong safety has all of #1. They have the flexibility to swap responsibilities making the safety fit the C gap and the corner play all of #1. We feel having a corner trap to the field is not putting that player in a successful position, so we allow them to communicate the switch.

FREEING UP LB’s: I made our Mike linebacker the free player in this formation. As mentioned previously, he will scrape over and fix any misfit defensive lineman or linebackers while maintaining the responsibility of being the spill player. No matter where the extra RB inserts himself in Diagram #1, we will have our middle linebacker there to fill the created gap or be the extra fitter in the box. Our overhang (Nickel) is a force player responsible for the C gap along with the DE to his side. Depending on what plays you get you may choose to keep him out of the gap and place him outside the #2 WR. Again, having a system that allows you the flexibility is something I thoroughly like about this scheme.

Read More

Practice Planning One Word Tempo Packages

By Patrick Cotter
Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator
Fairbanks High School (OH)
Twitter: @CoachPCotter


During my career as an assistant coach, coordinator, and now a Head Football Coach, I have attempted to mold what we do to the athletes we have. When I came to Fairbanks High School in 2015, we were talented but needed to dedicate time to our fundamentals. So, to do that we installed a simple inside zone scheme with some wrinkles and increased our no-huddle tempo to a speed I had never attempted before. This took time, but paid off, I inherited a 1-9 football team and in 4 season our boys were conference champions and earned the school’s first trip to the playoffs in 11 years. The one-word concepts allowed our players to play fast and think slow while doing our most fundamental plays and formations. What I love about installing these concepts is that you can mold it to anything you run, Wing-T, Spread, Veer, it doesn’t matter. If you are no-huddle or huddle you can use these concepts to change tempo and gain an edge at different times in the game.


Choosing Plays/Formations to Use

When I installed these, I didn’t want to overload my players, I adapted this from Chip Kelly when he was at Oregon and refined them with the help of Mike Yurcich when he was at Oklahoma State. But, in college they have way more time with their players than we do in the preseason, trying to package everything we do, just is not possible. So, our staff decided to use two blocking schemes and two formations to incorporate our one-word packages. We chose our inside zone scheme and our counter scheme; these were the first two blocking schemes we installed those years, and our kids knew them the best and did not have to think when running them. With both of these concepts, we attach bail-out passing options for your quarterback. This allows us to be multiple with only one call. I would suggest using plays that you feel most comfortable with, if you are a Wing-T team and a trap is your best play, use it. Don’t overthink it and don’t try to get cute, do what you do best.


Next, we chose our two formations to marry to these schemes. We used our base doubles and trips formations because these are the formations, we used the most at the time. I have used under center formation for this in the past. Use the formation you use the most because defenses know you use them the most and you can do the most out of them and it forces them to become quite simple with their defensive calls.


Another version of our one-word packages is to marry a run scheme with a pass concept. We run these combination packages with only one run scheme and one formation while attaching a small group of passing schemes. For our one-word run/pass packages we used our empty formation to get more spacing and stretch the defense so we can play in space. For instance, we will use our inside zone scheme to the boundary with our quarterback and run a quick pass scheme to the field and boundary, such as bubble, hitch, or stick. These allow your quarterback to make the defense wrong all the time. We will teach our quarterback to count numbers, 5 or less in the box = run it, 6 or more in the box = throw it. We tried to make it quite simple and allow our quarterback to quickly identify what he needs to do.

Read More

1-Word Play Packages in the Tempo Offense

By Austin Embrey
Pass Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach
Bixby High School (OK)
Twitter: @CoachEmbrey_



At Bixby High School, we believe that running a tempo offense gives us the best chance to put as many points on the scoreboard as possible.  We believe that the more plays we can run, the more opportunities our best players have to touch the football while forcing the defense into a more basic look. Tempo also allows us to disguise our base plays and reduce the defenses ability to recognize tendencies.  We have developed a package that allows our players to get lined up quickly and execute our favorite plays out of our most efficient formations.

We built our one-word package by dividing our favorite plays into families.  We chose to use states for our families. We named our one-word plays after college teams within those states. Conveniently, almost every college team has some sort of hand signal that their fans use.  Each STATE will tell which formation the players should line up in.  The specific COLLEGE will tell which play is to be ran out of the formation.


“Florida” Tempo Family:


In the above diagram, we have chosen the state of “Florida” to build our first family of one-word tempo plays.  Any hand signal representing a college from the state of Texas would alert players that they should line up in the 10 personnel “trips” formation shown above, with the 3-receiver side always aligned to the field. The hand signal itself would tell the players which specific play to run out of that formation. For example, if the University of Miami’s “U” is signaled, players know that they should line up in the 10 personnel trips look and run our inside zone RPO. Another example is giving the Florida Atlantic University’s “Owl” signal. Since it is a Florida school, players know to line up in trips to the field and run our favorite variation of our “4-verticals” play.  In our system, the offensive line is blocking each run scheme/pass protection as if it were called into the boundary. We will never call a direction with the play. That allows the package to remain as simple as possible and enables us to use only one hand signal.

Read More

Weekly Practice Plan for Teaching QB the LOS Check System

By Brian Francis
QB Coach/Offensive Coordinator
Parsippany Hills High School (NJ)



Offenses are expected to score points. Whatever offensive scheme you use, an audible system can make it much easier to do just that. I believe in using an audible system to take advantage of certain defensive fronts or coverages and get easy yards to continue to move the chains. The basic concept I teach my quarterbacks is to recognize an uncovered area and to audible to direct one of our players into it.  This is not only done through the passing game but the run game as well.  We are trying to take advantage of a defense’s weakness.  It’s a concept that can conceivably be used on every snap.  I’ve used it for an entire quarter, for a series here and there, as well as sporadically throughout a game.  One of the most important uses and most basic is to get us out of a bad play.  Using an audible system is something we do daily from our first summer workout on through to the end of the season.  I believe, if practiced effectively, it can be used successfully in any offensive system whether you marry the concept or just occasionally date it.

Each year, in my very first quarterback meeting, I introduce our audible system and go through how to check, recognizing when to check, and what to check to.  Over the past 20 years of coaching, I’ve used this audible concept in a variety of base offensive sets.  Whether I’ve run 10, 11, 21 personnel, 3 backs, or an Empty set, we’ve been able to take advantage of opposing defenses using audibles.  If my QB can give me a good reason why he changed a play, I give him the freedom to audible whenever he thinks it will help us.  We practice this so often and it’s such a big part of my offensive philosophy that I must be confident in the fact that I’ve taught my QB well enough to make the right reads and audibles when they present themselves.  Even if it is 3rd and 1 and he checks to a pass, which has happened more than a few times, I must live with it.  If you’re not as confident in your QB making those crunch-time decisions then you can always tell him when he can audible or just tell him “No Checks”, for example when it’s short yardage.

We can audible with using colors, numbers, and words in our cadence. The LIVE color/# will change from week to week if needed. The QB can also use hand signals and sometimes wristbands to communicate the audible.

Over the past few years, we’ve been mainly a 10 and 11 personnel team.  We’ve had some good skill players and I’m always looking to take advantage of mismatches and get my skill players in space.  This has worked with all types of quarterbacks from a first-year freshman starting varsity, two- and three-year starters, as well as a senior transfer during this past season.

After the initial install, since the majority of our audibles are quick game routes, we do a quick game period of 5-10 minutes, depending on the day, and run the routes on air, vs coverage, then with adjustments like when a hitch is called and a DB stems to press.  Once we get to camp and into the regular season the quick game period becomes a daily period of 10 minutes on Offensive days and 5 minutes on Defensive days.

Read More

5 In-Season Ways to Improve Wellness of the Offensive Line

By Sam Parker
Offensive Line/Run Game Coordinator
Ferris State University (MI)
Twitter: @coachparker



My name is Sam Parker, and I am the offensive line coach and run game coordinator at Ferris State University. We are truly fortunate for the success we’ve had at Ferris State. We were voted the #5 team of the decade for Division 2 football. We’ve also had a lot of success on the offensive line with 6 All-American selections and 16 All-Conference selections in 4 years. We aren’t blessed with the most talented athletes in the country, but you’d be hard-pressed to find guys who work harder. Our culture is a “blue-collar mentality, roll up your sleeves” environment.

We must be tough by nature because we don’t have the support you dream of at the college level. We have some of the worst facilities at the D2 level. We must shovel the field when it snows if we want to practice. Our coaches must be nutritionists, therapists, equipment managers, tutors, custodians, and anything else that it takes to ensure our players are getting the best experience possible. But that’s why we’re successful. There’s a great deal of fun and love that we have on our staff. A lot of the things I’ll cover in this article as it relates to development, you might have someone be able to make a better effort than yourself. I recommend utilizing a nutritionist or a strength and conditioning coach if you have access to one. If you don’t, this article will be a good start.


The purpose of this report is to accelerate the development and progression of a healthy offensive line. There are several different ways to improve the health of an offensive line, but I will be covering in-depth 5 of them. The healthier the offensive line is the less fatigue they have. The less fatigue they have will lead to better on-the-field performance which will impact the game. No bench press, 40 times, or broad jump has ever decided a game, but the health of a player/unit certainly has.

Writing this report is through the eyes of a coach who doesn’t have the resources that many others have, and usually most of the things I’ll cover can be done with no equipment on a flat open surface. I want to be sure no matter where my players are that they will never be hindered by not having access to equipment. Everything that we will cover is quality training at any age level or skill level.

The 5 ways to improve the health of your offensive line: culture, body care, mobility flow, practice preparation, and rotation.


1) Culture

Just like everything that comes with football, if you don’t have a culture to support this, it won’t work. Just telling guys to prioritize health over anything else isn’t enough. It must be a priority that is ingrained into your culture for a change to occur. Making your guys aware of its importance is not the same as teaching them and showing them why it’s important.

Our culture at Ferris State is being in the FOLD (faith, order, love, discipline.) It is not a culture with a foundation of grinding guys to their breaking points and seeing who is left standing. Our culture values trust. When a player tells us that his shoulder is bothering him, we value what he says. He is not marred with being called “soft” or “weak.” We take that information and apply it to our daily habits. We believe in the honesty of our players leading to a stronger culture.

The culture of the offensive line room is forever changing like fashion. Never branching out past our key foundational principles that our team establishes, but always taking on the identity of the group. Every year is different and takes on the personality of the individuals in the room. It’s my job to lay down the foundation and give the guys the core things that we have and will do. As it relates to practice, meetings, schemes, workouts, etc., we have standards and expectations. Some of these have never changed, but if there’s a better way about going about it, I’m open to hearing about it. I’ve made changes to several things, and my guys have always helped me with that. By being open-minded and listening to the players, it allows for changes for the positive to occur.

When we implemented a more health-conscious mindset, it was meant with some resistance. I made the point to the offensive line that I was more interested in them having good flexibility than a good bench number. I cared more about their recovery than how fast their 40-yard dash was. The biggest thing that put a shock into their system was the fact that I wanted to play more than 5 guys consistently during a season. The starters didn’t like the idea of having fewer snaps. The backups were a little apprehensive to upset the pecking order. The younger guys were worried that they would screw up. There were a lot of concerns and rightfully so. Their entire lives, coaches, including myself, instilled the importance of certain movements and priorities. I wasn’t expecting a smooth transition, but I was expecting open-mindedness and that’s what I got.

One of the things I sold my guys on this new mentality was asking the room, “How many of you have played on a team that had the same starting offensive line for every game in the season?” Nobody raised a hand. I made the point that injuries are inevitable. You cannot play this sport successfully trying to avoid injuries during the game. I told them, “What if your broken ankle could be a sprain? Wouldn’t you want to train that way? Why not make it our goal to feel as fresh for week 20 as you did week 1?” Once I laid it out to the guys that my number one priority was to make them feel better and that in turn would lead to us being more successful, they responded positively to that.

It was all about the culture of the room and getting the guys to buy into this new philosophy. I told them we would try this out in the spring and summer when we weren’t having games. Working on our mobility, flexibility, nutrition, etc. If we didn’t see progress, we would go back to our conventional way of doing things. In those off-season workouts, we added a period of stretching and some basic nutrition review in our meetings. Some days we would do yoga instead of our standard positional workouts. I also dialed back our periods, focusing on smaller fewer taxing techniques to save their legs for team periods.

The results were astounding. We went through the spring with no injuries and greater technique. Going into the 2019 football season we continued our emphasis on health over anything. We rotated 9 guys consistently throughout the season on top of all our prehab work. Even developing and getting the younger guys ready to roll by using them in practice. 13 offensive lineman rotations in practice to keep up with our high tempo offense and practicing our substitution system in practice to make sure we were all on the same page for the games.

The results of that season were amazing. We had no critical injuries. Only two minor injuries (sprained ankle, and shoulder separation), which neither guy was out for more than two weeks. Our performance increased, and guys were bought in. For the most part, they loved the new emphasis and style of playing. There were times where they were frustrated, but I assured them that this will make them better players and have better results in the game. It led to us having a great year making it to the national semifinals game losing to West Florida, who won the national championship the next week.

That’s why culture is so important as it relates to implementing the tools it takes to be a healthier offensive line. It’s the most important because I can assure you if guys don’t think it’s important, then your results will be disappointing. If there is only talk about it and no execution, then the guys won’t execute as well as they should be. I don’t think there’s been a season of football for any team that injuries didn’t occur, so if it seems like a guarantee, then why not make it a focus: to limit those injuries, to limit the severity of those injuries, and develop and prepare the inevitable replacement? That’s what drives our emphasis on this philosophy.


Read More

“The Foster 5” – The Culmination: Evolving the AFC (Automatic Front/Coverage) System to Defend Modern Offense

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager/Co-Founder
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikeKKuchar



Here is where Bud Foster’s innovation comes full circle. Ideologies 1-5 took you through the foundations of his system. This section is centered around the culmination of putting the pieces together to not defend, but attack offenses, which has always been his mindset. In this section, I report on how he takes the wealth of information in his operating system and applies it to attacking modern offenses. He calls it playing “anticipative defense” and I will tell you that many of these responsibilities fall on training his players during game week and on game day to make these adjustments and put themselves in the right position to make plays.

Having his players make these real-time adjustments became a necessity with the various tempos he encounters on a seasonal basis. To play anticipative defense, it was the players that had to interpret and communicate the checks. “Any indicator we can get (alignment, motion, split, cadence) is positive for the defense,” Bud said. “They line up a certain way for a certain reason, whether it be backfield sets, splits of receivers, alignments of tight ends or H backs, level of linemen. These are all indicators. I wanted to have our players know their positions so well that we are coaching them on offense, not a defense. In other words, they know an offense is running this because of this.”

Like much of what Coach Foster does, this process is all front-loaded in early spring and summer camp. Then it becomes a continual repetitive process he will introduce early and rep late during game week. This section is about how he sees formations, offenses, personnel, and how it devises his weekly check system to attack each of these.


Formation Recognition:

One of my first objectives in meeting with Bud was to get his interpretation of how he sees formation structures, particularly as he begins his game-planning process. I wanted to explore how he sees surfaces, pre-snap alignments, and other offensive “pictures” when preparing to attack offenses. I wanted to examine how he envisions attaining structural and personnel weaknesses against offenses. He told me he will start his instructional process by introducing 21 personnel structures first and he’ll use more of a Socratic method when talking to his players about the possibilities of “breaking” each formation. “We’ll talk about what does this mean? What are the possible formations? What do we call them? Then we get into backfield sets. For example, this is an “I formation.” This is “King” (back strong) this is “Queen” (back weak). This is “Split Gun,” etc. You can’t assume players know anything when they get here. Some (players) are coached really well while others have no idea what a pin and pull run game is. So, they need to have formation awareness and recognition because we may want to check out of certain formations. It starts with personnel and formations.”

To say he is extremely particular about teaching formations may be the biggest understatement of my visit. He classified over four dozen in his defensive binder, simply too much to go into here. Of course, coaches are free to tag any formations how they’d like but the emphasis here is to name them, specifically. This way players can reiterate them in the same verbiage. After all, that is how language is taught. This is the progression he follows to teach his players to make the recognition and the corresponding adjustments during the heat of the moment.


Protocols in Pre-Snap Formation Recognition:

Before getting into formation recognition, which is the bigger picture of the puzzle, I wanted to provide insight into the nuances of how he sees the pieces of the formation. Several of these touchpoints were addressed during our sessions, many of which lie in pre-snap alignments. He’s big on the recognition offensive splits, but I believe the difference is how he teaches it and how he has his players communicate it. He builds this communication around what he calls “color” calls, which are explained below:

“Red” Calls- These are run predictors when an offensive line is leaning forward in their stances. These are usually communicated by defensive linemen in front of them.

“Blue” Calls- These are pass predictors when an offensive line is indicating some sort of pass demeanor. These are communicated by the defensive linemen in front of them.

“Yellow” Calls- These are pull predictors, when an offensive line is indicating pull movement by leaning back in their stance. These are communicated by the defensive line in front of them.

He told me these were utilized heavily on non-consequential (first and second downs) where there wasn’t a huge tendency based on the scouting report. “That goes into our scouting report,” he said. “We talk about watching film and asking them why an offense had a big play? What did they do that made it good? Were there any indicators? Were they setting back in their stances?”


Y Off Sniffer Alignment:

Aside from recognizing the alignment of the offensive linemen in front of them, defensive ends are asked to recognize the horizontal and lateral alignment of the sniffer. Communication is made on the following indicators:

  1. Is he on the line of scrimmage or off the line of scrimmage?
  2. How tight is he to the Tackle or Tight end next to him?
  3. How deep he is off the line of scrimmage?


“These sniffers bring different value,” he told me. “Some are fullbacks and tight ends used as blockers and some are athletes that they want to get the ball. You have to look at where they position them. Maybe there are coverages or fronts to use based on if they will use runs if he’s on the ball or off the ball. If he’s on the ball, we always anticipate some type of sweep game or power read game. If he’s off the ball, it can be more gap scheme oriented. Will he be an arc guy across the formation or a lead blocker to the point of attack? If so, we can chain our safeties off him or you can lock the safety down to the side of the tight end so he can track him.”

The following calls are used to identify the alignment of the sniffer as it pertains to the heels of the offensive line.

“Off” Call- Sniffer is set off the line of scrimmage. The predictors are insert zone concepts


“Down” Call- Sniffer is down on the line of scrimmage. The predictor is wide zone concepts or concepts where the tight end will stay play side.


RB Alignment:

This gets translated to the alignment of the back, which is the responsibility of the Mike and Backer to each identify pre-snap. Each of the following alignments is communicated by that verbiage before the ball is snapped.

“Level 1”- The running back is even. Predictors are to expect fast flow, perimeter concepts, or pass.


“Level 3”- The running back is deeper. The predictor is gap schemes or tight zone run schemes.


“Level 2”- The running back is between Level 1 and Level 3. No clear predictor.


“Pistol”- Clearly, this is a lot easier to ascertain. There are no indicators of power read, though maybe pure power. Expect zone reads, wide zones, and stretch schemes.


“Chow”- This means “Cheated Out Wide,” a predictor of the back being involved in the passing game. This would trigger those “Bingo” calls addressed in Ideology 4.


In his base communication system, the Mike linebacker is responsible for calling run strength, while the Backer will call out the level of the back. The defensive ends will make the sniffer call. The Free Safety makes a “Rip/Liz” call for the strength and any pressures that are built-in. This may seem like a considerable amount of information for players to retain and communicate pre-snap, but once the expectation is set it gets carried over from week to week. “It goes back to exposing your kids to enough stuff during the week so that they can adjust themselves,” he told me. “I wanted to prepare our defense for the whole season not fragments of it. Of course, there are going to be priorities as opposed to others. But there are going to things we will run later in the year that I will introduce our kids to early so that they can make an adjustment. Some groups can handle it more than others. That’s when you find out who you can rely on. All you are trying to do is give them enough information and rep it enough where it’s possible to retain and understand. Coaches naturally think that way, but players have to start thinking that way.”

When I started my sessions with Bud, I wanted to see how these pieces get put together into identifying formation structures. So, I pulled a formation reel together and sat with him to talk about how he sees certain formation structure. Admittedly, one of the mistakes I made is assuming that most coaches classify each of these formation types (3×1 open, 3×1 closed, 2×2 open, 2×2 closed, etc.) in that same way. It’s something I’ve done as a defensive coordinator myself by placing almost formation types into one of those buckets, without taking back location and pre-snap alignments into consideration. That was certainly not the case with Bud. He looked at everything- from backfield alignment, sniffer alignment and offensive line splits- all to give his players the best information to make the right pre-snap check before the ball is snapped. Because, after all, they were the ones making the checks. This is purely a jumping-off point for Bud. He’s so wired into the intricacies of a formation (splits, alignments, body demeanor, etc.) it was hard to get his mind to think holistically, and not specifically, about a formation type. It was a valuable lesson learned during day one of my visits. But, thankfully his teaching progression builds gradually as time waned.

While the entire narrated footage is included in the Film Room, I summarized some of our conversation below based on several specific formation types. They are in no particular order.

Read More

“The Foster 5” – Innovation 5: The Face Read Fundamental to Defend QBR and “Plus One” Run Game

“Offenses now continue to negate your speed players by manipulating them. So, we continually had to find ways in allowing our players to play fast and attack the offense.”
– Bud Foster, former Defensive Coordinator, Virginia Tech University



By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager/Co-Founder
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikeKKuchar



The Ideology: Cleans Reads so LB’s can Play Fast

Bud Foster had opportunities to coach positions other than linebacker, he simply chose not to. After all, these were his babies. And he knew they were the pulse of his defense. Ask him who his favorites were and names like Vince Hall, Xavier Adibi, Andrew Motuapuaka and current Hokie Dax Hollifield are some of the first names he mentions. While Penn State may be linebacker U, few programs have had the stardom at the second level then Tech. But there were two reasons for it: one, they had Bud Foster coaching them every day and two, the entire scheme was designed to allow them the freedom to make plays. The premise of the Hokie defense has continually been to stop the run game first. This became a necessity to use all eleven defenders in doing so, particularly in this day and with the running quarterback. So, in order to have these linebackers free to run down plays, he had to take as much responsibility off them as possible. In his scheme there were always build-in force and cutback defenders to protect linebackers who can go run and make plays. “I’ve always had linebackers be able to fast flow with cutback players to help them,” he told me. “I always wanted to turn combination blocks into single blocks right now. I wanted to dictate to the offense.” The premise was to continually have one more defender than an offense can block. “Teams like the Al Groh Virginia teams would change their entire offense by running wildcat when they played us because they thought they would have an extra hat in the run game,” he said. “We believed in not giving up explosive plays in the run game. Over the years we’ve been good because we’ve allowed teams to be one dimensional.”

His entire defensive system is built around diagnosing concepts quickly and triggering fast. But in order to do that he relied on teaching a linear, universal method to all second level defenders. By loading the box, up to seven defenders can have run responsibilities on each play. In order to get all this taught he had to conceptualize it by teaching base principles that can be applied to any second level defender.

This teaching is summarized below:


Numerical Conceptual Reads for Box Defenders:

In order to keep reads clean for his linebackers, Coach Foster taught three distinct reads that were universally taught to any second level defender. These coincide with their primary, then secondary gap responsibility:

  • “10” Technique Read- “A” Gap Split Read
  • “31” Technique Read- “B” Split Read
  • “91” Technique Read- “C” Split Read



Any second level defender is either aligned to a two surface or three surface formation. Clearly this depends on the where the 3-technique is set. Those that are aligned to a two-surface, are called a “31” technique defenders. If they are aligned to a three surface picture, they are called “10” technique defenders. There will be circumstances where they will get cheated to a 91 technique based on handle formation overloads, which I explain in a later ideology. And in Bud Foster’s defense, he would set the front using the following protocols:

  • 3-Technique usually set to Tight End in three-man surfaces



  • In 2×2 open formations, 3-technique was predominantly set to the back



  • In 3×1 open formations, the 3-technique was set weak in order to be gap accountable. There would be times when the 3-technique was set strong if Coach wanted the Rover to be the cutback player.



  • In any man coverage scenarios, the 3-technique would be set to the back but against speed option teams, he may be set away to eliminate the Tackle working to the 10 technique linebacker. “We found teams would check to speed option when they saw us in this look,” he said.
  • If QB was Under Center- the 3-technique was always set to field or passing strength.


Then once the ball is snapped it becomes “flow to” vs. “flow away” reads and open and closed windows. In his system, he differentiates lines of sight between upper planes (what you see) and lower plans (what you feel). For example, in defending Y off run game, box linebackers are expected to see the Y with an upper plane, but feel the line with a lower plane. If players can’t use both those planes, they might be moved to become edge defenders as was the case when James Anderson came into the Hokie program. Originally tabbed as a Mike, when he was moved to play in space as an edge defender he became much more productive.


“31” Technique Reads (B Split Defender):


Alignment: This becomes similar to a 50 linebacker read. His split varied from a B gap split alignment (2i), to shoe to shoe on the Tackle or even stacking the Tackle depending on the back alignment and game plan. If offenses were not outside run threat teams, this player may be cheated towards the B split. If they did have a potent outside run game they may get cheated to go stacking the Tackle. This can also be dependent on the level of the back. Deeper backs signified interior runs (thus a tighter split) while wider backs signified exterior runs (thus a wider split).

Flow To: With flow to, the linebacker is always given the opportunity to gap swap with the defensive end to his side of the window is closed. For any open windows, he’s free to close it, with a responsibility of being a B to C gap player. Many times, he is also given the freedom to close out gaps pre-snap by making a Black call (DE takes B gap) so he can play the C gap. It’s something that Bud used frequently as a “get out of jail free” card to alleviate any second level player of an interior run gap. And it’s a concept referenced continually in this study.

Flow Away: He is free runner in zone coverages and the cutback defender in man coverages. “We would read tailback to line key,” said Bud. “He must feel pullers, but that is their initial read. The play side blocking threat is the Tackle. If there was a threat of bubbles, we gave him the option to close that gap out.”


“10” Technique Reads (A Split Defender):  


Alignment: Split the Guard and Center

Read: Here, Bud felt that the Center is the truest read and this player will read the Center to triangle (both Guards). His rule is the A gap to the ball.


“91” Technique Read (D Split Defender):


Alignment: His alignment is to a 3-man surface. “91” meant he was a D to A gap player reading the tailback to offensive line. “He has to identify who may be the play side blocking threat,” said Bud. “It can be a tight end or the tackle. He will often have the alley as the force defender.”

Flow To: D gap player.

Flow Away– A gap player.


“51” Technique Read (D Split Defender):


Alignment: This could be something the Corner needs to be in if it against a Nub set. He will have C or D gap based on block of tight end. If the tight end fans, he enters the C gap. If the tight End blocks down, he would scrape outside. Of course, there would be instances when Bud would swap the Rover and Corner to get quicker run support against three-man surfaces.


Block Destruction Rules:

This universal teaching of alignment and flow correlates with universal base block destruction rules taught to each position. Each defender is taught how to attack and disrupt blocks as it pertains to four distinct scenarios:

  • “Even”- Defender is even with blocker
  • “Behind”- Defender is behind blocker
  • “Ahead”- Defender is ahead of blocker
  • “Inside”- Defender is inside of ball carrier


This teaching is detailed from his playbook below:


The Impediment: The Advent of the Dual Threat QB and QB Designated Runs

Back in the mid 1990’s when Bud Foster took control of the defensive reigns in Blacksburg, there was one program majoring in option concepts: Syracuse. And while they ran their lethal midline option flawlessly, it was one of the few times that he had to defend a legitimate dual threat quarterback. By the time he retired in 2019, every opponent on the schedule had a signal caller that could be a run threat, some more so than others. Which means he couldn’t just sit in a base six man box and expect to match hats. He had to get creative, particularly in the way he was teaching run fits. This came with using a similar progression he taught linebackers and carrying that over to teach safeties who were often asked to be the additional run fitters to combat this offense.

Read More

“M.L.B.” Progression in Offensive Red Zone Design

By Nicholas Marcella
Offensive Coordinator
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, (NY)
Twitter: @Coach_Marcella



There are few things truly routine about a football game. You have the coin toss. You have the National Anthem. You have a parent yelling the invaluable coaching point, “Hit somebody” on the opening kickoff. The rest is unpredictable, especially when it comes to modern defense. Turn on the TV on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and you will see more 4i’s than 3-techniques and base alignments with three safeties. Defensive coaches have entire clinics on “sim-pressures”, they have cornerback athletes playing their overhangs, and what they are presenting pre-snap is vastly different than their post-snap fit. An exception to the chaos and evolution of defensive football is that defenses still predominantly play man coverage in the Red Zone and Goal Line. Man coverage allows the defense to be plus 1 in all run situations and Cover 0 gives them answers for QB pull and run game. Defenses have even added zone aspects to their man structures to combat rub or pick concepts. At RPI we have a three-step game plan progression to exploit coverage in the Red area which we call MLB: Matchups, Levels, and Behind the Line.



The first step in the progression is Matchups. Rick Flair once said, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” Something all offensive coordinators will agree on is that you need to design plays to get your best players the football. If you have a matchup that you can consistently win, that should be your first option.


Coaching Points:

Because we call a run play and tag it with “Choice” the QB must be coached on the situations in which you want to go to the matchup. An easy way to control this as a coach is to simply not call choice and run the ball. If you call choice, and he takes the shot, you cannot be angry with him for taking that chance. Additionally, taking a deep dive into a film can help you discover the matchups you want. If your best receiver is a slot, there is no harm in aligning him up as the widest receiver. Formation tags or my favorite, “Hey, you two switch here” are great ways to get the look that you want. To call the Choice route, the QB communicates to the WR via hand signals. They create them on their own, and I do not know what the signals are. It is key that the QB gives the signals on run plays or plays not tagged with a choice. Another crucial element to the success of this play is to specify the protection you want triggered to prepare your offensive line and running backs for the check.

We practice our Choice routes every single day. Where the QBs and WRs get the most reps is during special teams’ periods where they are not on the depth chart. Some days this will mean that they get an entire 20-minute period to work, and other days they may only steal a few reps. At RPI you can see QBs and WRs that get to practice early or stay after for extra reps working on Choice. Even when it is just the QB and WR working, the coaches reinforce that the QB should be triggering the protection of the week that accompanies Choice.

To find matchups we like, we grade the opponent’s secondary in man coverage situations.  Each defender in man will receive a (+) grade if they have covered their man, a (-) if their man was open, and a (n) neutral if you cannot determine. We want our best players matched up with the defensive players that have accumulated the most (-) grades.

How we accomplish this at RPI is to present a run-heavy formation from a tendency standpoint. We will call a play, run, or pass, with a “Choice” tag. If the QB likes a matchup, he will call off the initial play, verbally trigger the protection, and exploit the matchup. The QB will give the route to the WR via hand signals that they create independently. Our play communication works in the traditional Formation, Play, Tag format.

Read More

Complete 3-High Defense Pressure Package

By Adam O’Neill
Defensive Coordinator
Manhattan High School (KS)
Twitter: @23adamoneill



As 2020 went, our preparation in summer and preseason was as difficult as ever.  After our first 3 games, it was clear that some of our normal coverages and pressures were going to be difficult to implement.  In a normal summer, we would have participated in weekly 7 on 7’s and attended several contact camps.  During the summer we work to install our base defense and our different pressures.  At Manhattan High, we play a 3-4 2 high safety structure.  We like the flexibility it gives us to change fronts and coverages.  Generally, we have lots of opportunities to install our coverages, heavy in quarters concepts, live against several schemes and formations.  We also like to play some 1-high concepts to close the middle of the field with our pressures.  Because of the uncertainty of 2020, we began looking at more man concepts as we were concerned that we could lose players to illness and quarantine.  We hoped some man concepts would be easier to plug and play if we needed to borrow from our offensive platoon.  However, as we did get into situations where we needed to move some kids around in the first few weeks, we simply became short in the secondary.  Though some of our man pressure concepts were effective, the jump ball became an issue.  We often like to solo the single WR and that became difficult as well.  We needed a way to protect some of our smaller corners and we needed some simple ways to get to our zone concepts against some mobile quarterbacks and speedy skill players.  What we needed was the ability to play with zone eyes and continue to help our backers and secondary play aggressively.  We felt like some simple 3-safety concepts could help us continue to put pressure on offensive pass pro and give our secondary clearer and simpler rules as we needed to change personnel from week to week.

We started by installing two main 5-0 pressures with zone concepts behind them.  These pressures could have easily evolved to man pressures, but this year we did not want to have too many.  At Manhattan, we believe in teaching concepts and as many one-word calls as we can so that we can easily transition to up-tempo teams.  Our 5-0 stack pressures are named after states because there are 50 (5-0) states.  Ohio was our first installation and an effective pressure we use against Inside Zone and sticks throwing 10 personnel teams from our 3-4 base.  It is a simple edge pressure paired with a pinch to a bear front.


Our boundary Anchor backer simply stacks to a wide 5 and our Will and Mike slide to 0 and wide 5.  For our inside backers, these are alignments that we will use sometimes against trips, so the stack was an inexpensive install.  Our Anchor is often walked to 3×3 from the end man on the line of scrimmage, so this alignment was not uncomfortable for him either.  Our 0 (Will) backer can mirror the back or play the low hole against the pass.  Our D-line remained in a 4-0-4 front.  The first O in Ohio speaks to the stack backers telling them to creep and blitz a hug or peel technique on the back.  The second O in Ohio speaks to the secondary telling the most Outside defender or the corner that they have flat and force. Our Safeties then essentially pre-aligned in Tampa and played a simple Tampa concept.  Our nickel is our main adjuster.  He moves to the high hole.  He reads the mesh for run/pass.

Individual Coaching Points

  • OhiO = Rush 5
  • Anchor and Mike hug rush C gap
  • Will mirror back to low hole
  • Mike and Will yell “pinch” for D-line to execute Bear fits
  • Corners hear the last syllable “O” and know they are force/flat cloud defenders
    • The O speaks to the corners because they are the furthest Outside defenders
  • Safeties are aligned inside the corners, so they play Tampa
  • Spartan (nickel) aligns middle of the field with eyes on the mesh to the high hole or game plan


Speed Option and other flexbone concepts have highly influenced many of the offensive teams we see, and we always must be ready for those types of option plays.  A common check for offenses against Bear-type fronts is to run speed option.  Many of our opponents will attack bear fronts with edge QB runs.  In this alignment, our squat corners are ready to attack quick game and set the edge versus outside run and option.  Our nickel can also run downhill and is often unaccounted for in the blocking scheme.

The pressure paired with pseudo-Tampa coverage gives several advantages on third downs situations.  Each offensive lineman is going to be occupied in pro.  We will likely get a good matchup with a good athlete coming off the edge and we present scanning issues because all of our opponents know that our defensive linemen are not going to stay static.  In our scheme, our defensive linemen will either slant to the next offensive lineman’s hip, gap to the near hip of the offensive lineman he is aligned over, or angle 2 gaps on a long stick.

In coverage, we all have zone eyes.  The pressure we are going to call mostly in passing situations and the edge pressure usually is going to get the ball out quick.  The front remains solid versus many runs as most offensive coaches are not going to get excited about blocking a bear front.  We like this pressure against teams that like to throw wide receiver screens in third and long situations.  Also, many teams will not be shy about trying to take shots at their best receivers on third-down scenarios.  If the best receiver is a split end, we get a one under one over double in coverage and the 3 high alignment creates some ways to double slots, as well.

Read More

The Bench Route Series and Tags

By Danny Dupaix
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
Southern Virginia University (VA)
Twitter: @coachdandupaix



Entering my 5th season at Southern Virginia (DIII), we have made good progress towards our goal of competing for the conference title annually, but we still have plenty of work to do! We’ve seen improving success year-over-year for the past 4 seasons on the offensive side of the ball.

When I became the OC, I was tasked with transitioning a traditional flex bone triple-option offense into a power-run spread offense. We are still based on triple-option principles in our run and RPO game and we run out of many different formations, personnel groups, and shifts. As we continue to build the program here at SVU, we want to continue to grow and evolve as an offense to be on the cutting edge of innovation while running the offense behind our strengths, especially at QB. In the past, we’ve been better runners than passers and so we’ve utilized a lot of zone read. This past year, our QB could throw a decent ball and so we called more plays in the pocket.

In this report, I want to highlight the bench, one of our route concepts that we arguably need to call more often. I have always loved the bench route. When it’s thrown on time, it is really hard to defend in Man and Cover 3. Against Cover 2 and 4, our route combos can cause havoc on the conflict defender.

We track stats from our team period vs scouts knowing full well that it is not a true indicator of success. For our bench route, we’ve had great success in practice- calling it only 5% of the time. In-game, we regrettably only called it 1% of the time and it produced 6% of our offense, averaging over 13 yards per completion and creating multiple explosive plays (16+ yards). It is an every-down call and works in open field and RedZone situations.

What I will convey in this report is how to have a simple route concept that is easy to install and has the ability for big plays. I will also show a few variations that can be tagged on to support it.



Everything begins upfront. Although this play often gets the ball out quickly, we want to be polished and sound. I will not, however, detail out the OL techniques in this report. The first protection is a six-man half slide.


  1. The first uncovered OL working BS to PS will begin the slide. Each man will protect the PS gap. In this diagram, the PS is right.
  2. The slide side will account for the DL and LBs to the PS.
  3. The PST will stay big on big.
  4. The RB will account backside for the Lbs. Reading inside-out he will take the most dangerous man (MIKE to WILL).


The second way you’ll see in this report on how we protect is through play-action. We’ll look at two protections: inside zone (similar to six-man half slide) and split zone (seven-man full slide).  These plays sell beautifully and we end up with a lot of 1-on-1 matchups.

Read More

The Hunt Route in the Shallow Cross Concept

By Chris Norton
Head Football Coach
Perryville High School (AR)
Twitter: @Coach_Norton



Shallow is one of our bread-and-butter pass game concepts and a day one install for us here at Perryville High School.  Offensively, we practice and plan like an Air Raid program and believe that Shallow (91) – an Air Raid staple – is one of the most efficient concepts available in the passing game. You provide a simple read for your quarterback, three underneath options to get the ball to, and have a chance to put it in the hands of a fast kid in space.

While I still glean a tremendous amount of information from Coach Leach, Coach Riley, Coach Hatcher, and other Air Raid guys at the collegiate level, we do have some stark differences offensively. Foremost, we choose not to install traditional mesh (92). I find it too expensive, whereas Shallow gives some of the same benefits with a much “cheaper” installation. Breaking from the traditional Air Raid rules for 91, we also utilize some different route rules that we believe have made this an even easier read for our QBs.


The Rules


In the diagram above, we have Y Shallow called from an open 2×2 look. We are a concept-based team offensively and work extremely hard to teach the rules of each concept and how they fit together – allowing us to get creative formation-wise once those rules have been taught and grasped. We will build on some of these additional formations soon.

As above, we’ve tagged the Y on the Shallow cross. Our coaching point with the crosser is to take the easiest available release, replace the heels of the defensive line and run like his hair is on fire and his butt is catching. One of the issues you run into installing Shallow is the crosser’s hesitance in the middle of the field as they are concerned about LBs aggressively collisioning them. That is why it is critical to sprint the Shallow – it’s much more difficult to hit a moving target. Further, as we install the concept, we work to make a point that if the LB collisions the Shallow aggressively, chances are high that we can fit the Hunt route in behind them, as you can see below.


We utilize the Hunt route differently than a traditional dig when we call Shallow. I stole this idea from a friend of mine in the profession and think as he did, that it helps the concept time up better in the middle of the field. Our rules on the Hunt are simple – take an outside release on the head-up or inside-most defender to keep the crosser from flashing their eyes and “banana” the route into the middle of the field working to find grass 7 to 10 yards over the ball vs. zone. The receiver does not necessarily have to stay outside the defender – we just look to force him to open away from the crosser. There is no stick and break as you’d typically see with a dig. In the event we get man coverage, we tell the Hunt to continue running to the opposite sideline. We ID man coverage simply – if the Hunt sees someone chasing the crosser, it’s man, so keep running.

Our outside WR to the Shallow side will run a MOR (mandatory outside release) route. He is trying to take the top off and clear out room in the middle of the field for the Hunt or Post. His responsibility is to get vertical as quickly as possible.

To the Hunt side, the outside receiver is running a Post at 10 yards. This route creates levels in the middle of the field – the crosser underneath, the Hunt at LB level, and the Post over to the top to hold safeties.

Our running back has a check release shoot route to the Shallow side, so in the diagram above, the Y is running the Shallow therefore the RB is running his shoot to the right side. First, we must follow our pass pro rules, if pressure presents itself the RB must stay in to protect. If his blitz responsibility drops, we get into our route. The rules we use for the shoot are simple – work one yard past the line of scrimmage toward the sideline getting width fast. We want to force the opposition to defend the flat.

Read More

Double Cloud Coverage Drill Work from 3-High Alignments

By Marty Gibbons
Head Coach & Defensive Coordinator
Lake Catholic High School (OH)
Twitter: @Marty_Gibbons



Do you find yourself spending a lot of time teaching man and zone match concepts to your players? Are you struggling to find a complement where your players can play fast without thinking and not worry about matching up with your opponent? Would you like to create more takeaways in passing situations and get your players excited about defending the pass? Vision and break coverage may be the tool that can answer these questions for you and your players.


Vision and Break Coverage System

At Lake Catholic High School our defense deploys vision and break coverage within our 4-under 3=deep coverages in a call system. Our base coverage is to play zone or man match, so we feel it is important to have true zone elements within our defense to create takeaways and give our players the ability to play instinctively off the quarterback.

We will play this style of coverage out of sky support with one safety deep and two corners deep.


We will also play with cloud support and backer support with two safeties deep and one corner deep.


In this report I am going to focus on playing with double cloud support. In this structure we play a Tampa 2 based coverage, which is still 4 under 3 deep.

Our Corners are cloud flat defenders.

Our Apex Defenders are hook defenders.

Our Safeties are Deep 1/3 defenders.

Our Dime plays a low hole technique.

Middle of Field (MOF) Alignment Rules:


Corners: 1×5 Inside #1 Receiver. (Depth can change based on situation)

Apex Defenders: On or slightly inside hashes. (Depth varies based on situation)

Safeties: 4 Yds Outside Hash 12-15 Yards Deep.

Dime: 8-10 Yards Deep on Goalpost.

ILB: 4th Rusher. Spotlight technique means they will hug rush the QB after clearing screen.


Hash Alignment Rules:

Read More

9-Technique Training Manual in Odd Structures

By Brian Klee
Defensive Coordinator
Coloma High School (MI)
Twitter: @coachklee


Dynamic play by outside linebackers within a base 3-4 personnel defensive scheme can provide a defensive coordinator the flexibility to adjust multiple formations and offensive schemes that can vary greatly from week to week or sometimes even within a single game. This aligns with a “Keep It Simple but Sound” coaching philosophy where a coach decides to give their scheme the best combination of simplicity with enough answers to problems.  Within a base 3-4 scheme, the key to this principle is the outside linebacker positions. Therefore, the best all-around football players with a good combination of overall athleticism and football IQs typically should play at outside linebacker. While those outside linebackers will often develop strengths when playing from the different alignments or executing specific fundamentals, all of them are coached up to have the skills necessary to be successful and provide the versatility to make a base 3-4 personnel defensive scheme sound.




We ask a lot from our outside linebackers in terms of playing from multiple alignments. First and foremost, our outside linebackers must be able to play as a 9-technique on a Tight End or as a 6 technique outside the offensive tackle over a “ghost” Tight End. Regularly playing up on the line of scrimmage is probably the biggest difference between a 3-4 outside linebacker and outside linebackers in other base personnel groupings as calls will often align 5 defenders on the line of scrimmage.


Based on game planning and situations such as down and distance, we also obviously will have our outside linebackers play as overhangs 5×4 off the end man on the line against 2-back sets, apex between the offensive tackle and number two receiver against 10 personnel 2×2 sets or apex between the number two and three receivers in 3×1 sets. While outside linebackers remain run first defenders from these alignments, they play a key role in some of our pattern match coverages.




Our outside linebackers utilize 2 stances. Both stances have a shoulder width base with a “z” in the knees and ankles creating power angles.  When aligned on the line of scrimmage the stance is a heel-to-toe stagger. In previous seasons we’ve coached an outside foot forward and inside foot back because it matched the stance of our defensive lineman. This past season we coached an inside foot forward and outside foot back with the rationale that it allows for our outside linebackers to maintain outside leverage more easily against a reach block. When aligned off the line of scrimmage, the stance is more balanced with no stagger just like our inside linebackers to allow for quick movement in any direction to react off our key read.


9-technique FUNDAMENTALS

In a 3-4 defense, the use of a 9-technique outside linebacker aligned in an outside shade on a Tight End with their inside foot on the outside foot of the Tight End is crucial to making the defensive versatile against the variety of formations that utilize 32, 22, 21, 12 and 11 personnel. The fundamentals needed to effectively play as a 9-technique include:

Start, Step & Strike
Stretching a Reach Block
Squeezing a Down Bock
Spilling a Kick Out Block (Cannon)
Forcing a Kick Out Block (Dog)
Hip Pocketing a Puller


9-TECHNIQUE: Start, Step, and Strike

We begin by drilling the start, step, and strike. The point of the step and strike is to control the block of the Tight End. To emphasize low pad level, we often do the drill coming out of chutes. The 1st step is with the outside/back foot while beginning to throw the strike. This is followed by the 2nd step with the inside/up foot before delivering the strike aiming to contact with the outside hand on the lower rib just outside the breastplate and the other hand at the bottom of the sternum just under the breastplate. Each step should be “out of the footprint” with the heel landing slightly in front of the previous alignment of the toe. By the 4th step, we want the outside linebacker to have made his read and reaction to destroy the block.

Read More

Drive Catch Technique in Sprint Out Protection

By Nathan Tanner
Head Coach
Parkersburg South High School (WV)
Twitter: @Mr_Tanner23



Our sprint out rub package has been an integral part of our offense at all 3 schools I have been the head coach over the past 8 years. This concept is very inexpensive and provides an easy way to help a quarterback that is less skilled as well as getting your best athletes the ball. This package has been great for us on 1st down, 3rd down, and red-zone situations. We also use this concept within the fastest tempo in our offense.

The goal of our sprint-out rub package is to put pressure on the edge as fast as possible while putting the defense’s flat defender in conflict of assignment. Also, we use this package to keep things as simple as possible for our QB so he can get into a rhythm, have confidence, and be successful. This package also helps us get our athletes the ball in space. At Parkersburg South we face cover 0, cover 1, cover 2, cover 3, quarters, cover 6, and 2 read. This package of concepts has proven to be effective vs every coverage we have faced over the last 8 seasons.

We will drill this package of concepts when we do our group pass drill during individual with our QBs and WRs. Within the drill, a coach will stand as the defender over the #2 WR. The coach will vary what he does from getting depth to trying to jump the out route. Our QBs and WRs get several reps throughout the season because we do this drill daily throughout the summer and fall.



Block outside zone without climbing to the second level.

If no one is in their gap they are reaching, hinge backside.



Block outside zone.

The goal is to help set the edge to give the quarterback a clean sight of the vision.



Identify pre-snap CAP (space the rhythm route is going).

Uses sprint out footwork to the play side.

Uses R4 progression. 1st read (rhythm)- rub corner, 2nd read (read)-burst out, 3rd read (rush/release)- hitch out (3wr) in trips/ QB run outside zone.



#1 WR (Z or X) cheats his alignment down to where he can “rub” the defender that is over the #2 WR.

#2 WR has at least a 4-yard split from the tackle. He jogs off the line and runs a “burst” out once the rub on his defender happens.

On the backside of the concept, we have done a variety of concepts from double slant quick game to dragging the #2 WR and running a backside post with #1 WR.

Read More

“The Foster 5” – Innovation 4: The Mobile QB and Dual Threat RB

“The challenge lies in finding a defender with equal ability to match the skill set of the QB. More often than not you’ll need two skill defenders to handle that responsibility.”
– Bud Foster, former Defensive Coordinator, Virginia Tech University



By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager/Co-Founder
X&O Labs



The Ideology: Getting a Plus One Rush

The premise is simple. Find the back in protection and overload him. It’s a philosophy that defensive coaches work tirelessly to achieve when designing their pressures. Truth is, Bud Foster was already building in these add-on rushes from a man cover perspective for years.  During my visit, I was extremely impressed with the sophistication of his add-on rush system and how it was communicated by the front seven. This system consists of man pressures from the Mike, Backer, Rover, and Whip/Nickel position. They can be run as single huddle calls or built-in adjustments based on formation. All blitzes are communicated with a “Ringo” call meaning it’s coming from the right or a “Lucky” call meaning it’s coming from the left. Most are complemented with 5-Rat coverage, which is pure man free coverage although they can be used with Mini and Lock coverage as well. I’ve noticed he tends to call these on the first call of the game to generate some pressure on openers.

The rules of this system are below:


Defensive End to Blitz:

  • Pinch Technique- step to Tackles crotch and cross over


Defensive Tackle to Blitz:

  • 3-Technique= Tag (take the A gap)
  • 2-Technique- Play normal
  • Secure the opposite A gap, key the Center


Defensive Tackle Away from Blitz:

  • 3-Technique- Play Normal
  • 2-Technique= Spark into the opposite B gap


Defensive End Away From Blitz:

  • Normal


The base man pressure calls in the system are as follows: Mike, Backer, Tango, and Rover.

These pressures are five-man pressures and can be run with the following base coverages:

  • 5 Rat (man-free)
  • Mini coverage
  • Key coverage
  • Quarters


It’s important to note that in man-free coverage these blitzers are in “shoot support,” meaning they will be asked to hammer the ball back inside to one another. All other defenders are in man coverage.


Mike Pressure:

Here is what the Mike pressure looks like vs. 2×2 formations:


Here is what the Mike pressure looks like vs. 3×1:


Backer Pressure:

Here is what the Backer pressure looks like vs. 2×2:


Here is what Backer pressure looks like vs. 3×1:


“Tango” (Whip/Nickel) Pressure:

Tango was predominantly a Nickel/Whip pressure off the tight end surface. It would be used against offenses that had a strong tendency as a tight end run team because it brought pressure right off the edge.

Here is what Tango pressure looks like vs. 2×2 formations to the field:


Here is what Tango pressure looks like vs. 3×1 formations to the field:


But now, here’s where his man pressure system progresses. Tango can often be used as a pressure check for any defender to pressure off a down tight end. Consider the scenarios below

  • If the tight end is to the field (as in the diagrams above) the Nickel/Whip could blitz a down tight end.
  • If it’s 2×2 with the tight end to the boundary, the Rover could be the blitzer.
  • If it’s a Nub formation with the tight end into the boundary, the boundary corner could be the blitzer.
  • If the tight end was off the ball in a sniffer alignment, the Mike or Backer could be the blitzer.


Essentially, whatever defender responsible for the tight end would be the pressure defender and the Mike or Backer would cover the tight end man to man. If the tight end stayed in to block, they would be scrape blitzers off his edge which is described below. Bud’s thought process was to just let cover players cover and be more gap controlled in the run game. The scrape pressures element to the blitz.

So much of his man pressure system is allowing the defenders the freedom to be in advantageous pressure alignments based on formation surface. Blitzer abided by unwritten rules like if the pressure is coming from a two-surface formation, the blitzer can be crash blitzer from depth and will automatically be the run support defender.

The clip below best illustrates this coaching point:



But if the blitzer is aligned to a three-surface formation, he is mandated to walk up and blitz from the edge to ensure that he cannot get sealed in the run game. “We don’t need to show it right away,” said Coach Foster. “But we can’t be in a position to get pinned.”

The clip below best illustrations this coaching point:



It’s important to note that he treats H/Y off formations like three-surface formations so the Mike would walk up and pressure the edge, leaving the Whip to play the Tight End. The safeties can now “chain” off the Y (because it’s a man coverage concept) or the safety to the side of the tight end can track him. Meaning, if the tight end blocks, the safety can add to the fit and be a bonus defender.

The clip below best illustrates this coaching point:



Since these are man pressure concepts, linebackers are told to gap fit and first-level defenders don’t wipe as they would in his zone pressure package (which is presented in the next ideology). Instead, the box linebacker not pressuring has an A gap to the ball responsibility.

The clip below best illustrates this coaching point.



One of the main coaching points for that A gap to ball player is to slow down and expect the ball to come back to him. In the Mike pressure clip below, the Backer is too fast over the top and the ball cuts back behind him.

The clip below best illustrates this coaching point.



One of the things that should help the box backer vs. gap schemes is having the “Tagger” or defensive tackle to the side of the pressure cross face of the Center on any backblocks. This automatically cancels the play side A gap and allows the linebacker to flow to the ball. Those same run game responsibilities cannot be overlooked in this add-on pressure system. Crash blitzers must know that they are force defenders with run action to them. The opposite linebacker (Mike or Backer) must also understand that they immediately become the force defender opposite the blitz, which he calls this “shoot support.” They must be A gap to ball players. Again, if at any time they felt out-leveraged pre-snap they always were given the freedom to make “Black” calls alerting first-level defenders to cancel gaps in front of them. It would help get the ball pushed out in the run game.


I’ve noticed there have been several instances where these defenders lose leverage on the perimeter giving up a big run because defensive backs are in man coverage.

The clip below against North Carolina is an example of this:



In the passing game, these pressures get translated into two on one matchup on the back when the tight end blocks. Against pure slide protect teams, I’ve found that he will continually make “Tango” calls, which tells the defender to the side of the tight end to blitz. And if the tight end blocks, the Mike or Backer to his side becomes another scrape rusher.  This is where you get two on one with the back.

The clip below best illustrates this coaching point:



One of his built-in adaptations vs. slide protection was for first level defenders to the side of the pressure to cross the face of linemen that were setting the slide to them. As shown in the image below, this can alter the protection schemes and promote the possibility of a free rusher.


BTB (Blitz the Back) Pressures:

All of these man pressure concepts were then built around what Bud called his “Blitz the Back” or “Blitz” package. Now the defender (either the Mike or Backer) that was aligned to the back would execute the blitz, which can essentially become a “Mike” or “Backer” pressure. The same-add on principles applied if any offensive player blocked. So, if the back starts in one location and switches to the next, the call gets redeclared from a “Ringo” to a “Lucky” call. The blitzer can either walk up and come from the line of scrimmage (against a three-surface formation) or he can scrape and come from depth (against a two-surface formation). The remaining linebacker will be the A-gap player to the ball. If the RB blocked he can add to the pressure.

The clip below illustrated this coaching point:



BOB (Blitz Opposite the Back) Pressures:

Once offenses got clued to the Hokies adding to the back, they would work to cross their back in protection to eliminate the extra add on blitzer. So, when offenses would start to “scan” the back in protection by having him work opposite, “B.O.B.” pressures (Blitz Opposite the Back) principles were built in. The linebacker (either Mike or Backer) would be the blitzer while the other would play A gap to ball or add-on as an additional rusher and he may choose to swipe the front to the side of the pressure.

The clip below illustrated this coaching point:



The Impediment: RB’s Becoming Viable Pass Options/Mobile QB’s

When Bud Foster first came into the Big East in 1995 running backs had two jobs: run downhill and don’t fumble. Things have changed in the last 25 years. Running backs at the FBS level now are multi-purpose players who can not only stretch the field horizontally but can stretch it vertically as well. They are often recruited to be dual threat players in the run and pass game. In the ACC alone in 2019, his last year as a coordinator, opposing running backs accounted for over 180 receptions. This forced him to implement several adjustments in his base defense and pressure system to account for threats out of the backfield.

Mobile quarterbacks were also few and far between when he started his career. The Big East and ACC were stocked with pocket style signal-callers. In fact, there was one in his conference in 1995- Donovan McNabb at Syracuse. Yes, he was one of the best that ever played. But now several quarterbacks have the ability to break the pocket and extend plays. It’s forced him to completely change the way he’s evaluated quarterbacks. Prior assessment tools such as arm strength, the timing of the release, the level of his shoulders on throws and pre-snap indicators have been supplanted with measuring the QB’s ability to escape while keeping his eyes downfield. “We look at how well he throws on the run,” Bud told me. “Can he throw from hash to hash? What is his true skill set? You want to make sure you contain him. You may want to get some twists to get up in his face so he gets spooked. QB’s that can extend the pocket are very difficult to defend. If you spy on him these days then you’re giving up someone in coverage or in the rush.” The challenge lies in finding a defender with equal ability to match the skill set of the QB. Chances are that won’t be a defensive lineman. More often than not you’ll need two skill defenders to handle that responsibility. It’s something that Bud was forced to do when defending Notre Dame QB Ian Book in 2019.

Read More