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

When defending the Y-off formation, the Mocs will set the 3-technique to the Y. Coach Wright tells his linebackers to eye the near back once the get that Y motion. Find the details here...


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


The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “4-2-5 Linebacker Play.” Continue reading for more information on this special report.

Y-Off Formation:

When defending the Y-off formation, the Mocs will set the 3-technique to the Y. Coach Wright tells his linebackers to eye the near back once the get that Y motion. “He will tell us everything we need to know,” Coach Wright says. Anytime we get any motion across if he widens (like stretch), we will be wider. If he’s downhill (like Power Read), our guys fit it tight. The Mocs get a steady dose of Power Read from this set so once that play side defensive end knows he’s getting a lot of arc release from that Y, he will key the knee to inside hip of the tackle. “Our defensive end is taught to hard joint it and knock the heck out of that trapper, whether it is the Y or he will get inside the pulling guard. He won’t make tackles on the perimeter anyway. The defensive end fits outside the guard, the Sam fits inside the guard and the Mike is over the top (Diagram 51). The Sam is clued in on the scheme because the back is wide and not tight. He knows that the guard is trying to come off and pin him. We tell him to try and win up and under instead of over the top because of the space. The double teams shoulders are tight so we tell him to stick his foot in the ground that way and come up underneath it. If he starts running over the top, then you have a cavity. That defensive end doesn’t always get it tightened down and it causes a crease. Our DE will run to him with his inside shoulder and try to knock him down to go meet it quick knowing the Mike is over it. Those two must see that its Power. We tell our players, ‘if it looks like Power and it smells like Power, it’s Power to us. That is all that matters to use, because that’s what they will go back to.”


Now if it’s a bluff Zone Read concept to the side of the Y in trips, Coach Wright will have the Dime play the quarterback, the front side backer can play the wind back with the defensive end. The boundary safety can fall into the B gap late (Diagram 52). “If the quarterback is better than the running back, the defensive end can be the quarterback to wind back player and now the backer is the wind back player (Diagram 53),” said Coach Wright. “We change it up depending on who that is.” If the Y comes across on the zone bluff concept, linebackers need to work one gap over. So, now the Dime has to work into the A gap, the Sam is over the top of the defensive end, the Mike is over the top of the Nose (Diagram 54). “Our kids know that with the tight end off the ball they have the threat of him coming across,” said Coach Wright. “They tell each other they need to play the ‘turn and the yo.’ The turn (of the quarterback) and the yo (Y) means play my gap plus one more. If it’s 3x1 and the quarterback turns to my help and they bring the tight end across we need to get another body there. It essentially becomes 2x2 but they came away from our help. The Dime has to get all the way in there or we have the defensive end bend back as quick as he can to tackle the dive. In essence, in split flow with the Y crossing the zone action we fit gaps. If the quarterback turns to our help, we are just playing gaps. If it’s the pistol formation, we simply match the path of the back. If the back steps to our help with the tight end across, we play a gap behind (Diagram 55). If the tight end doesn’t come across we just play our gaps (Diagram 56).”


Here’s more information on the special report…

How Linebacker Coaches Are Teaching Their Players to Fit the One-Back Run Game Out of the 4-2-5 Defense


The majority of four down defenses use a 4-2 box to defend the one-back run game. If you operate out of the 4-2-5 defense, then you know how vital it is to get those two box linebackers trained on their keys.

In most cases, you're playing with six in the box (an unloaded box), so you need to rely on the perimeter defenders to add on to the run game just to get a plus one defender against quarterback runs. But how you choose to fit your defenders relies on several components, including offensive formation, coverage structure and field/boundary protocol.

Here at X&O Labs, we wanted to conduct comprehensive research on how linebacker coaches were teaching their players to fit the one-back run game out of the 4-2-5 defense. And what we found were three common threads among our research:

  • Coaches either fit gaps or they fit schemes, we present both of these philosophies
  • Coaches are finding ways to get a plus one defender on the read gap in Zone Read schemes, whether it is Inside Zone Read (C gap read), Mid Zone Read (A gap read) or Power Read (B gap read).
  • Coaches are using eight man fit principles to defend the Y-off formation and the pre- and post-snap motion associated with it.

So we spent time with four programs that operate out of the 4-2-5, successfully we may add, that all fit one-back run concepts differently:

  • Bucknell University (PA)
  • Marshall University
  • Tennessee Chattanooga
  • California University (PA)

We put all of our research findings into one brand-new special report...


Linebacker Play in the 4-2-5 Defense

I'll show you how to get access to this special report shortly. But first, let's take a detailed look at what we found in our research.

The run concepts we focused on in this in-depth special report are the Inside Zone, the Middle Zone, the Power and the Power Read. What we found common among all of our contributors was the ability to outnumber the offense by either putting two defenders on the running back or two defenders on the quarterback, depending on which phase you want to eliminate. How each program did this varied, and is explained thoroughly in this report.

This brand-new special report, Linebacker Play in the 4-2-5 Defense, is presented in four cases. Here's a detailed look at each of those cases...

Case 1: Fits Based Off Run Concept Methodology (Bucknell University)

Bucknell University has finished in the top ten nationally in total defense at the FCS level the last four years in a row. This season they surrendered a mere 3.04 yards on the ground per play and they did it mostly by having their play side backer in Mid Zone schemes fall back to protect, what linebacker coach Brad Fordyce calls, the crease in Cutoff Zone concepts. The Bison fit the Cutoff Zone and Mid Zone Run concept differently, particularly in how it plays the wind back of the back. Some of the research we uncovered in case one includes:

  • The 5 types of post-snap footwork Coach Fordyce uses to teach his linebacker reads in the 4-2-5 defense (straight progression footwork, quick rock back progression footwork, long rock back progression footwork, tight circle progression footwork and jam/flatten footwork).
  • Video of the Diamond Drill that Coach Fordyce uses to drill his linebackers on the above mentioned footwork.
  • What the crease and the bubble means and how Coach Fordyce is able to protect against both in the Zone Read game.
  • Why Coach Fordyce teaches his linebackers to fit differently in the Cutoff Zone concept than in the Mid Zone concept and why he'll often put his best linebacker to the weak side of the Cutoff Zone to protect against potential RPO concepts.
  • How Bucknell is able to defend the RPO game out of 2x2 and 3x1 open and closed formations.
  • How Coach Fordyce classifies two separate tendencies in the Y-off formation and what he has his linebackers key that give them the best key breaker.
  • Instructional Video: Watch narrated and raw film cutups of this fit methodology.

Case 2: Fits Based Off Field and Boundary Methodology (Marshall University)

Marshall University is coming off one of its best seasons in program history, finishing 13-1 and winning the Conference USA title. Things are only looking better in Huntington as most of the defense returns after finishing 18th nationally in scoring defense at the FBS level, surrendering 21.5 points per game in an offensively dynamic conference. Linebacker coach Adam Fuller integrates both man free and Quarters coverage structures off his 4-2-5 defense and will design his run fits off of field and boundary principles, mainly having the Nickel (or Sam linebacker) be the plus one fitter in the Read Option game. Some of the research we uncovered in case two includes: 

  • An explanation of the three different kinds of techniques Coach Fuller will use with his linebackers in defending the run (motor technique, run through technique and press and release technique).
  • Video of the drill work Coach Fuller uses on a daily basis to enforce these techniques such as the Two-on-One drill, the Under Key Fit drill, the Full Line Read drill and the Pull drill.
  • The communication system that Marshall University uses to alert the back side defensive end on whether or not he has help on the quarterback in the Read Zone game.
  • Why Coach Fuller chooses to have his linebackers read under keys rather than the back in Pistol and Y-Off formations.
  • Why Marshall doesn't use gap exchanges as a form of defending Zone Read.
  • Why allowing the Nickel as a free hitter allows linebacker to fit behind the Zone scheme and get an extra defender in the read gap.
  • How Marshall fits F.T.B. (Formation to Boundary sets) out of 11 personnel.
  • What Marshall does against 3x1 formations to allow their field safety to not be allowed in the fit.
  • Instructional Video: Watch narrated and raw film cutups of this fit methodology.

Case 3: Fits Based Off Formation Methodology (Tennessee Chattanooga)

Since much of what Tennessee Chattanooga sees during the course of the season is presented in either 2x2 or 3x1 sets, linebacker coach Rusty Wright has a fit system for each. Apparently, it's been working. The Mocs finished fourth nationally at the FCS level last season, surrendering 277 yards per game and 11th in scoring defense giving up 19.4 points per game. In Coach Wright's system, the Dime is usually the extra fitter against one-back run concepts, but where that Dime lines up depends on the formation and every second level player on the field must know where their help is coming from. Some of the research we uncovered in case three includes:

  • How Coach Wright varies the alignment and reads of the Dime player depending on the back field set.
  • How the Mocs are able to get an extra player on the wind back in the Zone Read concept out of 2x2 formations.
  • How the Mocs are able to have the Mike linebacker be a free hitter on the wind back of the Zone scheme out of 3x1 open formations.
  • How the Trey formation presents a bit of a dilemma and how Coach Wright protects against what can be a destructive double-team on the 3-technique up to the Mike linebacker in the Zone scheme.
  • How the Mocs are able to get another defender on the quarterback against the Zone Read bluff concept when the Y arcs on the perimeter player.
  • Why Coach Wright sets the 3-techique to the Y in Y-off formations and how it helps against he power read concept. 
  • How Coach Wright changes the fit on the Zone Read bluff concept, depending on the ability of the quarterback.
  • Why he trains his linebackers eyes on the movement of the Y, and not the line of scrimmage in Y off formations.
  • Instructional Video: Watch narrated and raw film cutups of this fit methodology.

Case 4: The Fit Concept Methodology (California University at Pennsylvania)

Rather than enforcing gap integrity, defensive coordinator Mike Lopez stresses fit concepts to his linebackers in the 4-2-5 defense. Each linebacker is taught certain fit concepts and each of these concepts has a technique tied to it, depending on whether or not they are tied to the shade or the 3-technique up front. The Vulcans finished 5th nationally at the Division-II level in rushing defense last season, surrendering a meager 2.67 yards per rush. Some of the research we uncovered in case four includes:

  • The 3 pre-snap alignments of his box linebackers in the 4-2-5 based off of formation.
  • An explanation of the six fit concepts that Coach Lopez uses to instruct his second level players: scrape, stack to overlap, cancel, track, stack and power turn, and how these concepts are applied to various run schemes.
  • Coach Lopez's "rip/liz" post-snap adjustment to 2x2 open sets, which gets a seventh defender in the box to defend the Read Zone game.
  • The push coverage concept that Coach Lopez uses against 3x1 formations in order to get an extra hitter to the field.
  • How California University defends the "four to a side" Trey strong formation in the Zone Read game and how Coach Lopez is able to tie an extra player to the quarterback off the arc of the tight end.
  • 3 variations of how Coach Lopez sets the front in the 4-2-5 and the impact it has on fitting the one-back run game.
  • Why he uses the Deuce front in short yardage situations and Pistol formations to get a free runner downhill.
  • How the Double front allows for no pre-snap indicator of where the 3-technique will be lined up, providing confusion for offenses running the Zone scheme.
  • How the Even front allows the defense end to play the quarterback on Zone Read schemes and provides more of a downhill fit for the box linebackers.
  • Instructional Video: Watch narrated and raw film cutups of this fit methodology.

VIDEO Bonus: Plus, this brand-new special report, Linebacker Play in the 4-2-5 Defense, includes over 20 videos featuring practice, game and tutorial videos. You'll be able to read about the concepts and then watch these same concepts in real game situations. This special report includes over 94 minutes of game and practice film.

The full special report, Linebacker Play in the 4-2-5 Defense, is available right now in X&O Labs' exclusive membership website, Insiders.

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