Coach Ginn outlines how he coaches his linebackers to indentify, fit, and attach common run schemes from any offense with his flexible 4-3 scheme.
By Joe Ginn - @CoachGinn
Defensive Front Coordinator
Choctaw High School (Choctaw, OK)
Editor’s Note: Coach Ginn served as the LBs and Defensive Front Coordinator for the Yellow jackets this past year after spending 2 years as the Offensive Coordinator and Receivers Coach at Choctaw High School. Prior to serving his role as Offensive Coordinator, Coach Ginn spent 3 seasons Coaching Receivers at Choctaw. Before coming to Choctaw, Ginn spent four seasons (2004-2008) as Defensive Coordinator at Tecumseh High School (Tecumseh, OK.) Joe worked as a Defensive Graduate Assistant for Choctaw High School (Choctaw, OK) in 2003 working with Linebackers. Joe played 1 year of College Football at Bethany College in Lindsborg, KS; and 3 years of Football at East Central University in Ada, OK.
In my opinion the key to great defense is proper fits and gap responsibility by a whole defense. With that said, I also believe great fits by Linebackers and even safeties can cover up for the Down Linemen who may at times get out of gap integrity. I’m constantly talking to my players about how they have to be the “proper piece of the puzzle.” It seems the players understand puzzles and by making the analogy to it all fitting together like a puzzle helps them understand the team cohesion and fit cohesion we have to have to be a premier defense.
We feature a multiple front 4-3 scheme which at times will look like a 4-2-5 and sometimes a 5-2. For the sake of this article I’m going to focus on our Base look which we like to play the majority of the time for the answers and cohesion it gives us. Our Base front will have a 7 technique or Inside Eye alignment on the TE from our Defensive End, when we get a TE, without a TE this DE slides down into a 5 Technique. Our Strong Side Defensive Tackles is in a 3 Technique who we tell to put his inside foot on the crotch of the Guard. We play a 2i technique with our Weakside Tackle. We tell him to put his outside leg on the crotch of the Guard. Lastly, we play a 5 Technique DE weak. He is coached to have his inside foot on the outside toe of the Tackle or put his inside foot on the Crotch of the Guard depending on the type of player he is.
As far as our LB alignment, I want these guys lined in our gaps. I have our Sam LB put his Inside foot on the Outside foot of the TE, or he will apex without a TE based off #2, I tell him without a TE he is splitting the End Man and Number 2 and adjust him from there based on coverage. (that’s a completely different talk) Our Mike LB is told to put his inside leg on the Football. He is an A gap responsible player and I want him to line up in his gap as best as possible. Our Will LB’s alignment is where we vary from a lot of 4-3 Defenses. We feel like the Will has the ability to “Erase” the weak side, he also at times is asked to be the force player and we feel like putting him down inside the box puts him in a bad position for us to ask him to do this. Therefore, his alignment is essentially stacked on our Weakside DE, I tell the Will vs. a pro set to put his inside foot on the Outside foot of the Tackle. Willie will also have to apex vs. a split #2 receiver his side. We also slide him back into the box vs. a trips set away, as well, again, I feel like those are different clinic talks.
Our LB depth is always at 4& ½ yards. I believe this gets them where they need to be to be able to read and react to be in proper position after the ball is snapped. Alignment is the #1 thing we preach from day one with our defense, we feel like Alignment is CRITICAL to a defense. I have diagrammed out our base alignment vs. a Pro, Doubles, and Trips set in Diagrams 1-3 to give you an idea of where we want to start from alignment wise.
Personnel Job Descriptions
When I am learning about a scheme, I always want to know what the coach is looking for in his linebackers to make the scheme work. For us, our Mike Linebacker has to be a kid who can get off blocks. If he can’t get off blocks, we have to cover the Center with a Shade Nose and that makes us far more susceptible. Mike must be a kid who can Read without errors. I get on to my Mike harder than I do the other 2 because with him a split second can be a touchdown if our safeties don’t bail us out. Like I said he has to be able to get off blocks, he can’t stay blocked and definitely can’t go around them. This is a position you can sacrifice a little speed for size & strength so long as he can read. Our Willie can be a smaller faster guy. I feel like we can take a slower Safety in there at Willie if he can read and will be aggressive when we need him to be. This guy last year was my weakest LB, in terms of strength, but he made good reads, and got where I needed him to. The Sam again, needs to be a Strong Safety type kid. This guy needs to be stronger as he’s going to have to take on blocks of the TE. Again, if you have a LB that can run a bit, but can’t read, put him at Sam. Sam must be Physical and not afraid to hit. Really I don’t want any of these guys afraid to hit.
I feel like our LB keys are unique and give our kids an advantage on their reaction reads and how they get a jump start on where they’re going, you’ll see on some of the clips how our Mike LB’s keys put him to the spot the ball is going before the Linemen even could reach his pull on a few of the Counter plays. So, I want to address a little on how we get to where we’re going before I talk about where we’re actually going. I begin every individual practice with a key read drill as I believe in the importance of proper reads in LB Play. I still teach a 6 inch read step as an initial reaction to our read. I tell the kids, “be slow to see it and quick to react once you’ve seen it.” I also would like to take the time here to tell all of you if you are not filming your inside period each day from behind the defense and reviewing it with your players you are doing them an injustice in my opinion. I feel like this is one of the things we do to put our kids at an advantage, because you can tell them 1000 times, but most of the time it just takes them seeing it one time before they understand what you’re saying.
Mike Linebacker Keys and Reads
I teach our Mike Linebacker to begin with his eyes on the Center, from there he reads the Guard the Center works to. I feel like this gives him a true read and gives him an edge vs. pulls. I also feel like this gives him a better triangle to read. With the modern offenses, reading anything in the Backfield is too confusing for kids to read. It seems like everything in the offense goes a different direction and puts you at a disadvantage to read. The Center is really only going to do 1 of 3 things, “I remember our HC at my previous job saying it was the easiest position to play, you’re either blocking back or Zoning, how hard can it be?” We say he’s doing 3 in the run game, Zone, Block Back for a Pull, or Double Team.
We differentiate a Zone and Double Team because it changes our fit. When the Center works to one of our DTs our Mike’s initial step is in that direction, while stepping he immediately will find the Guard that way with his eyes. If the guard gives us a pull read we will retrace with the Guard, I tell Mike from here to get in the Guard’s hip pocket. I use this as a way of addressing the width of the pull. I simply teach a trap or short pull and a wide pull. Mike must know how to fit based off of the pull and if we’re fitting off the Guard it helps with our fit. If the Guard the Center works towards is Double Teaming with the Center Mike will work to get over the top of the Guard with his second step, we’re essentially working downhill at a 45 degree path; we talk about ripping tight to the trash. I tell my Mike to clean the butt cheek of any D-Linemen in the downhill path of our fit. As Mike is heading downhill vs. a Double he’s checking flow, and we will now get in the hip pocket of the Ball Carrier to keep our Mike inside out the Ball Carrier as his help is outside working in.
The most difficult fit to teach the Mike is with a Center who is zoning. It should be the easiest, but it is the most technical to teach. We teach a Mike when the Center Zones, he is working in that direction, so from there we’re reading the #’s of the Center and their angle. Teams now days run both the Inside and Outside Zone, so if Mike rips the Center into A gap on Inside Zone, he’s nowhere near the play and thinks you’ve told him wrong on his read. So work, and again use film to really study and learn to read the angle of the Center based on his #’s and where our fit will become. We again want to work at a 45 ripping any trash cleaning the butt cheek as I cross it; one technical term we’re always using with Mike is “Cloudy vs. Clear.” He must understand the difference between a cloudy window and a clear window. These guys must be playmakers and play a lot with instincts; a kid without ball skills can’t play Mike LB in this scheme.
What You're Missing:
Join XandOLabs.com exclusive Insiders program and gain full access to the entire clinic article including:
- Will linebacker keys, reads and techniques vs. away, down, zone and pull blocks.
- Sam linebacker keys, reads and techniques against three-man surface blocks such as the down, high wall and cutoff.
- How Coach Ginn teaches his LB’s to fit against the inside zone, outside zone, power read, dart, iso and counter run game concepts.
- Game film tutorial on the fundamentals and fits of linebackers in a 4-3 scheme against all the run concepts mentioned above.
I’ve spent the bulk of the article detailing individual positions and how they play specific blocks. In my opinion a half an inch in the wrong direction can be the difference in a -2 yard play and an 82 yard play. Regardless, I’d like to thank Sam Nichols and X & O Labs for this opportunity; this is an Outstanding Resource for us Football Coaches. If you’re not on there as a football coach, you should be. My twitter handle is @CoachGinn. Again, thanks for the opportunity and I hope this article helps you in answering any questions you might have about either LB Play or fits in the 4-3 scheme.