Discover how a State Championship program from New Jersey has been able to shut down option offenses by following a few simple, but important rules.
By Chris Kappelmeier
Sparta High School (NJ)
Editor’s Note: Coach Kappelmeier rejoined Sparta HS’s coaching staff in 2011 serving as the Defensive Coordinator. He has a long history coaching high school football with past positions as an assistant coach at Pope John (1986‐1992 and 2008‐2010), Sparta (1993‐1994, 2005‐2007 and 2011‐present), and High Point (1995‐2004). He was the head football coach at High Point for 8 seasons (1995‐2002), winning a conference championship in 2001 (the only one in school history). He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Catholic University of American and a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University. He has been teaching Physics and Calculus at High Point Regional High School for 19 years. He and his wife, Raquel, have three children: John (12), Lauren (11), and Maddie (7).
Over the past few years, we have faced many different forms of the option. Each option system has its nuances, but we have found that defending them can be very similar. It all starts with know what NOT to do. Here are a few of the lessons we have learned that will help you avoid common problems that people face when defending the option:
#1 - Do not play assignment football with your defensive front. Nothing can slow them down more than telling them they can only tackle one particular player. The key to effectively defending any offense is allowing your defensive players to play with confidence and to play fast. The same holds true for defending the option. Let your players execute the same techniques they have used all season and they will be the most effective. Another reason to avoid assignment football for your front defenders is it typically takes more than just one defender to tackle the dive/veer back. Since this is always the first choice for any option offensive coordinator, you cannot assign only a defensive tackle or end to stopping him.
#2 - Do not expect any player to defend both the pitch and the pass. The play action pass is the most explosive play out of the option offense and any good option team will be very adept at throwing it in any situation. Do not rely on the player assigned to the pitch to also cover the slot receiver or tight end down the field. Use your free safety to defend the inside receiver.
#3 - Do not align your defensive linemen in the large gaps that are very likely when facing an option-oriented team. When the offense aligns with large splits the temptation is to have your defensive linemen line up in a gap and penetrate. Experience has found that while this may be successful sometimes, in the long run it can backfire and allow for a big play by the offense. Maintain your shade alignment not allowing the covered linemen to ‘jump through’ to the next level allowing the linebackers to run to the football and make plays. By maintaining their shade alignments, the defensive linemen are guaranteed to be single blocked since double teams and combo blocks are very difficult with big splits. Maintaining shade alignment versus wide splits also makes stunting across the face of the offensive man more effective since there is no offensive lineman close enough to block the backside gap.
#4 - Do not invent a new defense to defend the option expecting your players to master all of the necessary techniques in one week of practice. Once they figure out what you are trying to do they will have an answer for it. You best off playing fast out of your base defense.
In the end, experience has taught me that the best way to defend the option is to align in your base defense. For us, that means using out flexible 4-2-5 scheme to address the different double and triple option techniques that we face year after year. Here is a quick look at our scheme / alignment followed by four "Do's."
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- The Free Safety’s alignment and responsibility against option.
- The Weak Safety’s alignment and responsibility against option.
- The Strong Safety’s alignment and responsibility against option.
- 3 line movements that have proven efficiency against option concept.
- Video cutups on all of these techniques and schemes.
There are many defensive schemes that have shut down the option different from the scheme discussed here. However, it is most likely that most of these successful defensive schemes were very similar to the base defense for each team. The most important aspect of successfully defending the option is to have your defenders playing without any hesitation. Their reads and reactions should be second nature because it is what they do all season long, not just during the week preceding that opponent. It also doesn’t hurt to have big defensive tackles!