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CaptureBy Will Pluff, Defensive Coordinator, Utica College

Find out how you can stiffen your run defense by bringing safeties into the box out of different looks.


CaptureBy Will Pluff

Defensive Coordinator

Utica College

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At Utica College we are a base 4-3 defense and run Cover 3.  Our philosophy is to have a base defense that is strong from the inside out keeping terminology consistent to allow our players to play as fast as possible  We align to the field or the formation strength if the ball is in the middle of the field.  We do not use the traditional “Strong Safety” but instead align two linebackers primarily in the box and one out in space rotating our weak side safety down to get us to Cover 3.  This is the first way we teach our players to get to an 8 man front.  



Before I get to the run fits for the linebackers and secondary I think it is important to cover a few basics of how our defensive line plays in the 8 man front.   Our defensive linemen are coached to read the offensive linemen for block recognition and strike their shade low to high as quickly as they can.  They should be working to take two quick steps to create a new line of scrimmage.   We ask that our defensive line makes plays that come to their gaps by using an escape move.  We will also slant our defensive line, they will use a 45 degree slant step working penetration of their gap.  Longsticking is a common term which we call “slicing,” this is a two gap movement.  Our last defensive line adjustment has them hit their gaps getting to the heels of the offensive line.  

When installing Cover 3 with the linebackers and secondary we stress their run fit and knowing how Cover 3 works against the run.  We have words that tell the players what their run fit is and this run fit tells them their pass responsibility.  When we say 8 man front we want our players to picture two “Force” players, two “Fast” players, two “Secondary Contain” players, and one “Alley” player.  The outside players are working the ball back inside and the inside players are working the ball outside.  


In our base defense we adjust our linebackers alignments to 3x1.  This is common to do while running Cover 3 to help since the alley for the runner to hit inside of the force player can be displaced by the receiver’s splits.  



It is very important for the players not only to know their run fit but know what it means.  The run fits stay the same but the players performing them can change as we start to roll to Cover 3 different ways.  The run fits also stay the same when we are running our 3 Under 3 Deep.  Since we keep the run fits consistent in the majority of what we do this gives our players less to think.  We, as many other teams, want our defense to play as fast as possible and teaching run fits this way in the 8 man front has allowed us to do that.  The following list of words and definitions is what we show the players at the very beginning of camp.


-RUN TO- Make the tackle or turn the ball inside

Fast  Flow to: Attack the ball and make the tackle, attack any lead blocker with inside shoulder keeping outside arm and leg free (outside leverage)  “Forcing “ the ball back inside.

Slow Flow to: Stack on DE keeping shoulders square having the ability to play from the outside in, waiting for the ball to commit to the line of scrimmage.  Play the ball if it bounces outside or fold downhill into the formation if the ball hits inside.

-RUN AWAY- Pursue with shoulders square behind the FAST players. Get to the first open gap where the ball can cut back to. If the ball comes back to you make the tackle or turn it back in.


-Play inside out on the ball carrier.

-RUN TO-Get to the ball keeping shoulders square, make the tackle.  Attack lead blockers aggressively head up working to their inside to spill the ball outside.

-RUN AWAY- Get to the ball inside out and over the top of blocks keeping shoulders square.  Playing for cloudy/clear gaps.  Take a run through on clear gaps if you are in position to make the play.  Play over the top of cloudy gaps.  


- Inside out banana path to the ball.  Fit inside of the force player be prepared to work over the top if ball gets outside of Force.    



- RUN TO- If primary contain is lost, make the tackle or turn the ball back inside.  

-RUN AWAY- Touchdown saving angle.  Make the tackle.


3 Under 3 Deep Run Fits Using the 4-3

As I stated before we try to keep our 3 Under 3 Deep coverage as similar to Cover 3 as possible.  The consistencies let the players play confident and fast.  In terms of run fits there is just one adjustment.  Players must understand that there are 3 underneath defenders instead of 4.  The players on the outside are still force/fold and the player left in the middle is still a fast player as defined above.  The blitzer, which could be any defender, is now coached to be a leverage player.  If his blitz takes him inside of the offensive tackles he needs to make the tackle or spill the ball carrier to the outside.  If his blitz takes him off the edge or outside the offensive tackle he needs to make the tackle or force the ball back in.  

There are important coaching points when coaching the outside blitzer.  The player needs to have a clearly defined path to start his blitz, for us it is 2 yards behind the heels of the offensive linemen.  Understand he is starting his blitz in a “down the line” manner and will redirect on boot and play action.  In a drop back pass he should be adjusting his path sooner as his 2 yards of space behind the offensive lineman’s heels should disappear.  

The next important coaching point is for the inverting safety or force player already aligned in the box.  Versus many run schemes he will be an unblocked player.  Due to this he needs to see where the cutback will come or the newly formed gap so he can invert or fold right to it.  This will help to still give you tackles for loss or no gain even if the blitzer does not make them.  We have found that many of our run blitzes in the 4-3 wind up being one off the edge with defensive line movement.  


3 Under 3 Deep can be easily run from a 4-4 alignment as well.  The blitz diagramed below gave us great production last year.  Sometimes this player will be in the backfield so fast that blockers will not be able to account for him.  The adjustment to this blitz comes with a detached #2 receiver weak.  This allows us to have a better coverage match up.



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Playing an 8 man front out of multiple looks helps us to put pressure on the offense in the running game.  We spend a great deal of time talking and working with the players through situations that can occur week to week against our scheme.  One thing we have seen is that there are some schemes offenses do against an 8 man front in the run game.  The situations we spend time talking about are consistent offensive schemes that we see, this helps our players understand how people will try to exploit our defense.  As I wrote this article I understood that it would have more breadth than depth.  Everything mentioned in this article I would be more than happy to talk about in regards to positional coaching points, drills, or other specifics.  There are many situations we have encountered and coached against the past few years that I would be happy to share.  Feel free to contact any of our coaches at Utica College at any time.  Fear the Moose…  


May I start by saying it is an honor to write this article as I have read many other peoples articles published by X and O Labs.  My job at Utica College has also been made much easier over the past three years by having Marcus Gurdineer and Lazarus Morgan as graduate assistants.  These two both are deserving of full time jobs and hopefully will move on to that within the next year.  This article will concentrate on coaching run fits and defending the run by playing 8 man front defense using Cover 3 and 3 Under 3 Deep coverage, in the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.  




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