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By Nick West, Linebacker Coach, Parkview Baptist (LA)


The 3-3-5 can manipulate into a variety of fronts either by slanting, blitzing or aligning to confuse QBs and blocking schemes while still maintaining the simplicity of 4-2-5 reads. It’s a more calculated structure than four-down and by choosing where the 4th rusher comes from can affect offensive tendencies/down and distance and also provides for five defensive backs to defend RPO concepts. In this exclusive clinic report, Nick West at Parkview Baptist High School (LA), details the odd fronts and match coverage patterns he uses to defend RPO concepts.

By Nick West
Linebacker Coach
Parkview Baptist (LA)
Twitter: @nickawest1

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The innovation of RPOs has become a nightmare for defenses over the past few years. This is due to the gap discipline needed for zone runs and high percentage routes that are basically glorified runs on the perimeter. It is really a true spread option that makes defenses cover so much of the field. Which leads to the fundamental question that DC’s are being forced to ask:

What coverage to play behind the front and how to fit and read the run?

Both split safeties and single safety looks have strengths and weaknesses in what the shell structure defends. The core 5 or 6 in the box of the defense has to have discipline and gap integrity to stop these zone run schemes. Think about the 6 Gaps in 10 personnel and 7 gaps in 20 personnel plus the extra hat that the running QB has to be taken into account. In my opinion, 2 back offenses can require 3 deep zone for the 8th hat closer to the line of scrimmage (LOS). The key is figuring out whom the read keys are and if the numbers in the core or perimeter defense will affect play calling.

The 3-3-5 can manipulate into a variety of fronts by either slanting, blitzing or alignment to confuse offenses and traditional blocking schemes while still maintaining the simplicity of 4-2-5 reads. The defense can be more calculated than a 4 man front by choosing where the 4th rusher comes from to affect a heavy tendency or down and distance. In addition, it is advantageous to have 5 defensive backs to defend RPO concepts.

In high school football, the majority of the game is played on the hashes which can give space advantages to the defense. In addition, we figure that high school QB’s are average to below average at throwing the forward pass. This limited space into the boundary makes throwing a boundary speed out much easier than throwing to the #1 receiver into the field which could end up being a 40 yard throw. Try and catch a tendency to see if this theory holds true. RB alignment can be a great run/pass tell and allow a defense to set great fronts or get into great coverages. Also another alignment tendency can come from an H-back alignments and wide out splits in relation to formation and MOF.  Talking to offensive guys from flex-bone to air raid, a common theme is highlighting the playmakers on their offense. So defend the comfort zones and what the offense wants to prioritize.

Component 1: Defensive Line Play for Hybrid Players

Defensive line play is going to be a huge key in stopping runs by either playing technique (LOS Control) or moving/slanting. Slanting a 0 technique nose away from the RB for heavy inside zone run teams can dictate what gap the ball is pressed. The nose can work up field after slanting into the play side A gap and having a back side A gap player which would be our Mike backer in base stack. So when the back presses and cuts back, a hat is in the back side ‘A’ gap ready to make a tackle.


Match and Combination Coverages

The idea of matching patterns that hurt cover 3 while still teaching zone principles can be another equalizer for defenses. Match coverage can be great for RPO teams because the passes are usually quick screens or high percentage routes from 2x2 detached slots which don’t always require split safeties.

Taking a look at the above diagram shows a 5 man box while getting edge pressure from a 6th defender and having 2 SCF defenders and 2 HC players. This is a game changer for a defense because of the 6 man core and the 2 CF can play the bubbles/curls and still have the luxury of all 11 players with zone reads/principles while still being able to play man free. Whether rotating and using fire zones to run match or just simply lining up in a 3 deep shell this coverage can be very effective in stopping the MOF run, containing the perimeter and also defend routes in the seam of the defense.

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  • The squat and sit technique he will teach his defensive end in his bear front, which helps to play both dive and read elements in zone read concepts.
  • How he teaches his Rovers and Ends to box the ball back inside to stop QB run schemes.
  • How he teaches his “Sciff” defenders in zone pressure patterns to defend the shorter, quick routes associated with RPO’s.
  • Why the odd stack provides for immediate help on backside X free access throws.
  • Plus game film, complete with coaching points, that illustrate these concepts.

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Sitting and playing a vanilla base front is going to get pencil whipped by these spread option offenses not to mention the physical battles and talent of the other offense. The front and coverage mutability of the 3-3-5 can get the defense dictating back to offenses. These RPO’s are very conflicting and require an assignment mentality which require a heavy amount of teaching and training of each defenders thought process from pre-snap to the whistle. Train and teach the reads/techniques at their most basic form. Be a teacher that communicates well and with purpose. It is also important to remember that different types of personnel changes type of scheme or techniques that need to be taught defensively. Stay calm if the offense is bending you on defense. The conflict is so tough for a player to maintain responsibilities because of habit stopping what looks exactly like a downhill run play.

Meet Coach West: Nick West is going into his seventh year coaching football. He started off as a front 7 and linebackers coach in his hometown at Natchitoches Central High School (LA). He now serves as the linebackers coach at Parkview Baptist School in Baton Rouge.



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