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By Mike Kuchar, Lead Research Manager, X&O Labs

See how Coach Burke of Northwest High School (OH) is stopping triple option concepts from the flexbone formation with his 4-2-5 concepts.


By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar



The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “Even Front Structures to Defend Flexbone Option,” which can be accessed in full by clicking here


Source 1: Northwest High School (OH)
Defensive Coordinator Robert Burke

Base Defense:
Northwest High School is a press quarters coverage team that will challenge receivers in the quick game. “Our main front is an under front, but we also use an odd at times.,” said Coach Burke. “Our philosophy is to spill everything to the sideline and let our athletes run it down. We are a squeeze and wrong arm team, which becomes important to how we defend these offenses. Our base coverage is quarters with a cover 3 check. Our coverage calls are dictated by the looks the offense gives us. We split the field in half and adapt to each so that no matter what the offense throws at us so we are not outflanked.”

Play of First Level:
The defensive end is taught to get hands on all down blocks. “This frees our inside linebackers up to make plays,” said Coach Burke. “Our end man on the line of scrimmage must also tackle the dive against the option. This dictates how we run fit the safeties and linebackers. Our DEs (and at times OLBs) must use this technique for us to be effective. Against these offenses and in our under front we play our Mike linebacker at 6 ½ to 7 yards over the ball. By squeezing down blocks we allow him to be an inside out player and flow downhill untouched.”

Play of Second Level:
Coach Burke will align his Mike linebacker at 6.5-7 yards over the ball. “By squeezing down blocks we allow him to be an inside out player and flow downhill untouched,” he said. “It is also important to point out that our coverage calls dictate our force and fill calls as well. When we split the field in half there must be a force, fill and pass only player on each side of the ball. When we discuss these calls note that against options teams the force player is pitch player and the fill player is the quarterback player.” Coach Burke explains these concepts below.

“Nail is a read between the outside backer and the quarters safety,” said Burke. “The outside linebacker plays at 3.5-4 yards off the wing on his inside shoulder. The safety aligns at 8 yards on his outside shoulder. Nail is a simple read. If the wing arcs or base blocks then the outside linebacker is the force player. He press sheds the wing and doesn’t let the ball outside him. Again, he is the pitch player vs. the option. The safety becomes the fill player vs. an arc. (Diagram 35). If the wing wraps inside for plays such as midline or belly, the outside linebacker wraps with him and becomes the fill player. The safety then becomes a force player vs. an insert block (Diagram 36). The corner has all of the number one receiver and we press. The safety has all of number two if he crosses five yards. If number two goes under five yards then the safety can double number one. The outside linebacker has the flat and runs with all wheels.”


Adjustments to Formations:

The next offensive set to defend is tight end/wing. “Against tight end/wing we do two things whether it is an option or wing T team. First, we set our 3-technique to that side. This allows us to dictate where an option team can run inside veer or midline. Second, we align our outside linebacker in a heavy shade on the tight end. Our outside linebacker is taught to beat up the tight end and not let him off the line. He must now squeeze all down blocks and tackle the dive against the option (Diagram 37). Our safety calls “sky” to all tight end/wing sets. He now inverts to become a second level player, like an outside linebacker. He aligns four yards off the tight end and keys the wing. He is the force player and flat player and runs with all wheels. The safety must key the wing. Much like the outside linebacker in nail, if the wing inserts, the sky safety must insert with him. If the wing arcs, the safety must arc with him. The corner becomes an extra run player who aligns at 1x7 off the wing and has number one vertical.”


Aligning to Unbalanced Flex:

A favorite formation of option teams is an unbalanced look, which gives them both a three-man surface and a receiver on the same side (Diagram 38). Against these sets, Coach Burke’s front treats the alignment much the same. The OLB to the three-man surface aligns on the tackle over and treats him as a tight end and uses the same techniques. “It is important against option teams to note that we always set our 3-technique to the tight end so we make a big call to the three man side,” said Coach Burke. “The corner to the three man surface plays the receiver and has all of number one. The backside corner to the nub with a wing, takes the place of the safety and plays either nail or safe, based on the game plan or call. The safeties play a version of cover three. The safety to the three-man surface drops on the wing and becomes the force player to that side and also plays the flat. The middle third safety has number up the seam and inside outs the ball vs. the run. Against option teams the deep safety will mirror the QB and be flat if he is flat and drop if he sets up to pass. Against Wing T teams he reads the wing to the three-man surface for run/pass. We call this coverage ‘stinger’ since the safety becomes the force player.”


Responsibility Changeups:

Safe is a check Coach Burke will go to or use based on the offensive threat and how they are attacking him. Option team will start to arc block their tackle in order to try to get to the Mike who is flowing over the top. “We check safe to have our outside linebacker be more involved in the box run game. A ‘safe’ call tells the safety that he is the force player and the outside linebacker is the fill player. It also tells the safety that he has all of number two in any pass, vertical or short.” According to Coach Burke, the reads for the outside linebacker change based on the offense. “With an option team we tell him to read the triangle for daylight/no-daylight. He fills the daylight and plays what comes to him. You will see in the film that against traditional veer blocking, he fills for the quarterback in the C gap. Against teams that arc the tackle to get to the Mike, our defensive end widens for the quarterback and the outside linebacker fills the B gap for the dive (Diagram 39).”



For more research on how coaches are using even fronts to defend flexbone option, click here.




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