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wscu1954-38By Kelly Ledwith, Defensive Coordinator, Western State Colorado University

Discover how one staff has completely changed the way they teach gap responsibilities in a way that streamlined and simplified their defense.


By Kelly Ledwith 

Defensive Coordinator and LB Coach

Western State Colorado University

Twitter: @34coachled


Our defensive production in 2011 forced us back to the drawing board. We had just allowed over 190 yards per game rushing on our way to a 10 loss season. When our opponents ran the ball our fits were never consistent. From week to week, we tweaked our fits to match each offense and it really slowed our players down and often led to missed assignments. After much reflection, we realized that we needed to do was simplify our system after a disastrous year to allow our players to focus on the essentials of defensive football; running, tackling, winning their one-on-one matchups and playing with a killer instinct. 

With that said, we didn’t want to restrict our calls because many offenses require us to give different looks and make in-game changes to coverages, fronts and blitzes. Instead, we created a structure with simple rules and terminology to allow our players to play fast and attack the offense. By keeping it simple enough that everyone knows all the rules, we found we rarely get players asking us “who was I supposed to have that play?” We also noticed that our players felt much more comfortable doing their own jobs and our missed assignments went down.


To begin with, we are a base 3-4 structure, so we designed our system using the four linebackers as the key components to stopping the run with the idea that we can create an 8-man box by blitzing one and replacing him with a safety. The first guideline we teach our players is that if they are in the pressure (LB, DB or DL), they play the gap that they blitz through and splatter (spill) all second level blocks by playing the inside half of each second level block (Diagram 1). We term all pullers and RBs as second level blocks. This prevents our players from being trapped and allows us to change the fits, as an offense sees it, depending on who is in the pressure and who is not.


Defining Force and Vise:

Our defense will have two “Force” players and two “Vise” players. Our “Force” player’s guideline is to cage all blocks and send the ball back inside.  Their goal is to fit the outside half of the “H” back or receiver whenever possible. We want them to take on the outside shoulder violently and crash the block back inside if it is a block in the backfield. If the block is on the perimeter, we want the “Force” player to fit vertically through the outside half of the back to make the ball carrier stop his feet. If the “Force” player comes inside the block, they must make the play. 

The “Vise” player’s guidelines are to try to fit the insert block on the inside and outside half like a vise.  We teach the front side “Vise” player to do one of two things based on own size. 

  1. If we have a more athletic and smaller body, we teach the “Vise” to rip and run on the front half of the block. 
  2. If we have a bigger stronger type of inside backer, we teach him to blast through the front half of the block using a “butt and pull” move. 


Here are a few examples of how we defend common run schemes with the Vice Scheme:


Coach, don’t miss this…

Insiders members, please login now (click here to login) and get the full-length version of Coach Ledwith’s clinic report. You’ll see how Coach Ledwith uses Force and Vice players to defend two-back concepts. Plus, you’ll see his game film. Here’s everything the full-length version includes:

  • How Coach Ledwith uses the Force and Vise technique to defend various two-back run concepts.
  • How the Force and Vise rule applies to four under, three-deep coverage concepts.
  • How the Force and Vise technique is used against one-back run fits and how it doesn’t change in two-high coverage structures.
  • How Force and Vise can be integrated into five-man pressure packages.
  • Plus game film on all of these concepts.

Not an Insiders Member? Get instant access to the full-length version of Coach Girolmo’s clinic report when you join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders. Plus, you’ll get all of our research, videos and drills. Get your Insiders membership here.



We do not view this structure as a “revolution” in defensive football; we view it as a way to simplify our rules to allow our players to play fast. If they understand the simple rules then it allows them to run and tackle, while allowing us to easily point out in-game corrections that need to be made.

As a final note, we emphasize to our players that football is a game of mistakes, either we are making them on defense or the other team is making them on offense. The plays rarely work as they are drawn up and our guys understand that if they out hit our opponent, no white board drawing can save the offense. If they embody the “Red Rage Defense” by running and tackling, winning our one on ones and playing with a killer instinct we will be able to overcome anything the offense throws at us.

Author’s Bio:  Kelly Ledwith just completed his third season in charge of the Mountaineer defense and fourth as a member or the Mountaineer football coaching staff. As defensive coordinator, Ledwith has positioned the Western defense in the upper echelon of all Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) teams. In 2012, Ledwith’s first season leading the Mountaineer defense, improved the run defense from last in the RMAC to first, allowing just 103 yards per game.  The Mountaineer "Red Rage" defense also led the RMAC in total rush defense and ranked 16th the entire NCAA Division II, allowing only 1,139 yards. The 2012, Mountaineer defense also finished with the best overall defense in conference play. Prior to joining the Western State Colorado University football staff in 2011, Ledwith spent three seasons at Fresno City College. Ledwith has also been a member of the coaching staffs at Wagner College, California Lutheran University and Archbishop Mitty High School.




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