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X and O Defensive PicBy Vincent San Filippo, Defensive Coordinator, Granite Hills High School (CA)

Find out how Coach San Filippo and his staff have adapted their 4-2-5 scheme to play the run with 6 defenders.


By Vincent San Filippo
Defensive Coordinator
Granite Hills High School (CA)

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X and O Defensive PicStopping the run. It has been and continues to be the most important job of any defense. That said, the task is getting harder to coach to this philosophy when teams are willing to pass the ball 80% of the time. And with that the days of having seven or eight players in the box are all but over.

Our 4-2-5 defense uses the fifth defensive back as a rover leaving our box only with six players. We had some great success in a league where the Oregon style of offense is prevalent with even more of an emphasis on the passing game. We had a bunch of smaller quicker linemen and some decent athletes on the edge and this concept allowed them to do what they do best.

Importance of Movement

Movement pertains to our fronts and blitzes. We have come up with many fronts and stunts over the past two years and use them all to stop the run. We believe the more fronts we show in one game the more confusion we will create for the offensive line up front. We call defense like it is offense, in that we call a play for the offense to stop, not the other way around. Blitzing is the second key to stopping the run with six. We like to send five and six man pressures at run plays from all different angles. We often lane exchange and loop backers with to create confusion on the offensive line and to create penetration.

Importance of Patience

I have had the opportunity to be an assistant coach under two great defensive coordinators in my time coaching, Gene Andrews and Dave Waastad. I learned so much from both of these coaches, but the one thing I took away from both of them is how to be patient as a play caller.

I know stopping the run with six in the box appears to leave some giant holes in our defense and flies in the face of everything we have all been taught as defensive coaches, but we have found success within this scheme all comes down to is patience. As I am patient as a play caller, we will find a combination of a front and blitz that will stop the other teams run. It takes a lot of preparation throughout the week and some outside the box thinking, but it works. If our kids are playing fast and loose we will make up for any one big run with a bunch of swarms, TFLs, and takeaways.

Player Roles

We feel each kid should not only know their specific job in a call or play but his specific role for our defense. Here is how we break down and describe these players and their roles:


Penetrate Players: These are our defensive tackles. Aside from an occasional anomaly, our defensive tackles average 5’7 and 180 pounds. They are undersized, strong, and quick, but not fast enough to play linebacker. The Penetrator position gives them a chance to be successful. Their only job is to get up field and cause havoc in the backfield. We want them to make plays not suck up blocks. Teams are forced to double our smaller tackles because our tackles make plays. The double teams allow our Backers the ability to play freely without lineman in their face also making it possible to play with six in the box.

An obvious weakness of this approach is the susceptibility to the trap block. Fortunately, teams that we have faced do not run trap as much as they used to so the fear of getting trapped is not there as much. That said, we work trap every single day to make sure they are prepared for that situation.

Cleanup Players: Our defensive ends are our cleanup players. This is unquestionably the hardest position in our front six. Perhaps the hardest part is that patience is critical for our ends. We tell each end not to get greedy and be patient because the ball carrier will end up coming to you. The tackles penetrate so well that our ends just have to sit and plays will fall right in their lap.

Attack Players: Linebackers and the Eagle (rover) fit into this category. Their jobs are simple attack the line of scrimmage at the snap. Linebackers are taught that the only two times they can be wrong is if they are hesitating or if they are working horizontal to the line of scrimmage. The attacking and penetrating of the linebackers and defensive tackles create problems for the offensive Lineman which causes the running back to stop his feet allowing defensive flow to make tackles.

The Eagle is the seventh player in the box if we need him, but because of formation he rarely is actually in the box. He is our best back seven player. His size does not matter to us as much as is he physical and intelligent. He must be smart enough for us to move him around all over the field and know based on prep where he should be each play. If we see 2x2 sets, he plays at 8 to 10 and can rob a zone or blitz. If we see 3x1 sets, he lines up over the number three and runs man or drops to a zone. The beauty of the Eagle position is its diversity either in coverage or lining up over a tight end if we want him in the box.

Read and Attack: Our safeties and corners fit in this category. They obviously are not box players but are key in allowing us to run six in the box. Their pursuit creates the opportunities for the defense to be aggressive up front, knowing if a tackle is missed a defensive back will be there to clean it up.

Players who know their roles play fast. Players who play fast aren’t thinking. As a result, coaches who have fast, confident players can do more within their defensive structure through player movement. If you have the players to play a gap control defense where movement can be minimal that is a luxury. Granite Hills does not possess a multitude of these types of players so we choose to use movement. Pretty simply we use a bunch of different fronts and a bunch of different blitz concepts with our front six to stop the run.

Scheme Basics

From the start of Spring Ball until the end of the summer, we focus primarily on alignment against as many formations as possible. The idea is to be able to line up without thinking during the season so the players only have to think about the few weekly pre-snap reads that we carry into a game. 


What You’re Missing…

Join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders, and get instant access to the full-length version of Coach San Filippo’s clinic report. Here’s a small list of what you’ll find in the full-length report:

  • How Coach San Filippo uses perimeter defenders to defend the zone read out from 2x2 formations.
  • Why 11 personnel formations can change the reads of the front six defenders.
  • Why the Trips Closed formation presents the most change in responsibility for the front six by affecting the back end players.
  • The Flip front Coach San Filippo uses which disturbs the zone read blocking schemes most common among 10 personnel teams.
  • Coach San Filippo’s most effective gap exchange movement against the zone read game.
  • VIDEO: Plus game film on all these concepts.

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Patience and movement are the keys to our defense. Movement allows confusion to set in on the offense. I feel movement through fronts and blitzing has a collateral effect as well. It makes football fun and imaginative for the players. Some of my best blitz/front combinations came from players and when the players are having fun they play that much better. Patience in play calling is easier said than done, but I believe the more patient I am in play calling the more likely I will find an answer for an offense. One thirty yard run does not mean I am going to go to an eight man box, it just means the offense beat us on that play and can they be patient and run the same play again.

I’d like to thank X&O Labs for this opportunity. It has been a learning experience and a different way to critique our program. I would also like to thank Coach Kellan Cobbs, Jake Launder, and Dave Waastad for all their help and insight on our defense. Without these coaches none of our defensive success in the past two seasons would be possible.

Meet Coach San Filippo: Vincent San Filippo has coached at Granite Hills High School for 9 years. This past year he was promoted to serve as the varsity defensive coordinator after four years as the varsity defensive line coach. His first four years were spent as the Freshman Defensive Coordinator and the Junior Varsity Defensive Coordinator.



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