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vtuBy Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

Here we will dig into the pre-snap level read progression Foster teaches his second and third level defenders based on the placement of the back. Read it here...


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

Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on Virginia Tech’s Bear Defense, which can be accessed in full below.



Let’s get one inalienable truth straight: the entire Bear package is designed to stop the run. We know that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but remember the roots of the Bear system is centered around two main objective: get plus one in the run game and eliminate combination blocks at the point of attack. If teams are running the ball on Bear, there is a technical problem, not a structural one. In fact, when Virginia Tech used the Bear package they surrendered 2.9 yards per carry. That is nearly one yard less than what the Hokies gave up per run play using any other defensive structure.

Level Reads on Single Back:

Foster and his defensive staff place a premium on the horizontal and vertical level of the offset back in one-back offenses. In fact, the Mike will call out the level of the back on every snap because it affects how the defensive line, Mike linebacker and secondary defend the run game. Foster was hell-bent on this being a big key to decipher which run or pass concepts can be used. He told us that a lot of what he does with his front is based on the anticipation of the play concept he is getting with the offset in that position. He did tell us that the level could be disguised if the team has a dynamic center and the ball gets back quickly, but in most occasions this is not the case and the back cannot lie in order to get to the mesh point. Since the Bear package puts a nose on a zero technique on that center, it’s much harder to both snap the ball and block efficiently. In any case, we detail each of these levels below.

Level One Alignment (Diagram 14)


Definition: The offset is even or parallel with the quarterback.

Play Concepts Anticipated: Perimeter run game such as speed sweep, outside zone or power read. There is also a high tendency of pass because of the offset’s proximity to the A gap.

Affect on Defense: In level one, Foster will have the Mike key the triangle (center and two guards) to detect any pullers for power read. “He anticipates some kind of pull so he doesn't fly out of there,” said Foster. “It’s either full zone or the power read stuff.”

Level Three Alignment (Diagram 15)


Definition: The offset is behind the quarterback.

Play Concepts Anticipated: Downhill zone run game such as mid-zone, tight zone and split zone. Mainly A-gap accountable runs.

Affect on Defense: Foster will generally will spark the A gap away from the back with the nose and have the Mike run through the A gap to the side of the back in order to draw the combination block of the guard (Diagram 16). “Our Mike is 5 to 6 yards deep as a base,” says Foster. “If it’s level three, he may tighten up because you’re getting zone. He runs through the A gap if he has a level three pre-snap picture.”


Level Two Alignment (Blur) (Diagram 17)


Definition: Foster calls level two “blur” which means that it may be blurry, or unclear, whether or not the back is in level one or level three. Maybe the offset’s toes are at the heels of the quarterback. “It looks like level one but it may be level three but they are just deep enough,” says Foster. “He is just a little behind the quarterback. People will try to fudge it, but they often get too deep on the speed sweep and a bad snap will throw off the timing on that thing.”

Play Concepts Anticipated: Could be a mixture of tight zone and wide zone schemes.

Affect on Defense: Foster admits that a lot of film study goes into deciphering what play concepts teams are using out of blur looks. One of the things he will do is use a “Spill” call to the side of the back, which is described below.

Wide Alignment (Diagram 18)


Definition: This denotes the off-set from being wide on the offensive tackle where he can’t be deciphered whether or not it is inside zone or speed sweep. “It’s a gray area between whether or not it is inside zone or speed sweep,” Foster explains. “If they are running zone read, the widest he can be is really off the hip of the guard to get into the A gap area. If he’s over by the inside cheek of tackle they are running power read or sweep.”

Play Concepts Anticipated: Mixture of zone read and power read

Affect on Defense: Because it’s hard for the Mike to cover the ground, Foster will make a “Spill” or “Smash” call, which is described below. In these instances, the Mike will face read the quarterback. “If the quarterback opens to him (like zone read), he is right outside on the ball and we will have a bonus player (such as a free safety or Rover) like a cheat post player,” said Foster. “The defensive end will crash hard and play the dive (Diagram 19).




Investigative Report:

Why Virginia Tech's

Win Over Ohio State Will

Impact Football on Every Level

The Hokies' Blueprint for Defending Dual-Threat Quarterbacks on First and Second Down


By X&O Labs

Virginia Tech was the only team to beat Ohio State last season. See how Coach Bud Foster and his defensive staff took a chance against the Buckeyes and it paid off. 

The concept first surfaced as an idea in longtime Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster's mind. While preparing for Ohio State, Foster scrutinized game tape of the Buckeyes gashing Clemson University for 193 yards on the ground in 2014's Orange Bowl and did it by simply using single back Power and Zone Read schemes. It was then he realized that he had to accomplish two things in order to contend with the Buckeyes:

  • He had to defend a dual-threat quarterback in the run game.
  • And be sound enough in his coverage to handle the lethal play-action pass game that complemented it.

Coach Foster had to find a way to morph the Hokies traditional 4-2-5 structure to protect more gaps at the line of scrimmage, the Buckeyes' offensive line were consistently getting second level linebackers blocked. A six-man box wouldn't do, he needed to get a seventh defender in there to take the quarterback away in the read option game. But adding a seventh defender could only mean one thing: pure man coverage on the back end.

If anyone had the gaul to do it, it was Foster who spent 28 years in Blacksburg molding a high-risk, high-reward mentality of defensive backs. Foster spoke highly of the Ohio State program and its coaches. As he told us, "Ohio State beat everybody on first and second down. That's why they kicked the crap out of everybody. We were one of the teams that decided to take a chance and that's how we beat them."

So, he put in a Bear package, which blended some of Buddy Ryan's 46 defense principles with what Foster was using with his free safety who can be both an extra player in the run and pass. Best part about it is he didn't even need to change his 4-2-5 personnel to do it. Hokies wound up utilizing the Bear on 54 of 74 total snaps against the Buckeyes holding them to a season-low 108 yards on the ground and causing three interceptions. The final interception came on a pick six to deal the future national champions their first and only loss of the season.

This concept not only became the blueprint for beating Ohio State, but it worked so well it became a fixture for first and second down defense against one-back teams such as Duke, East Carolina and Virginia. The Hokies utilized it on 22 percent of all their defensive snaps last season. Its efficiency was through the charts; the Hokies allowed less than three yards per carry using Bear, often putting its opponents behind the sticks on first and second down.

Here's exactly why Virginia Tech's Bear package is so effective...

  • Provides a +1 run filter against one-back QB option runs such as the Zone Read and Power Read games.
  • 5-down front structure that negates any combination blocks at the point of attack used in Zone and Gap blocking schemes.
  • Easy transition from 4-2-5 defensive structure to 5-down without changing personnel groupings.
  • Coverage structure that is sound against play-action concepts by utilizing combination coverages in the backend depending on formation.
  • Hokies' A.F.C. (automatic front and coverage check) this spring to Y-Off or sniffer formations made synonymous by Ohio State.
  • Used by Virginia Tech on 22% of snaps this season (54 against Ohio State) to get offenses behind the sticks on first and second down.

How do we know all this?

X&O Labs' Senior Research Manager Mike Kuchar spent three days in Blacksburg this spring researching Virginia Tech's Bear package. And, no, he wasn't hiding in the bushes or going through the Hokies' trash to get the skinny. Kuchar was the guest of Coach Foster, who agreed to the "put-it-all-on-the-table" set of meetings.

We wanted to find out from Coach Foster how his Bear package could help other defenses, specifically those who run a 4-2-5, who defend the quarterback run game on a week-in, week-out basis.

Kuchar spent hours with Foster and his defensive staff analyzing over 196 clips of the Bear package, peppering him with questions - lots of questions.

Foster was revealing in this report, expounding upon how he defended sniffer formations, unbalanced X-off formations and the run concepts that are synonymous with them: Power Read, Speed Sweep, Split Zone Read, etc.

This is all first-hand information presented in a way that only X&O Labs can present - accurate and detail heavy. We call this brand-new special report: Virginia Tech's Bear Package.

This report is available right now in our exclusive membership website, Insiders.

As you can image, we were able to gather a large amount of information from Kuchar's three day stay in Blacksburg. So we decided to present all of his findings in three cases.

Case 1: Personnel and Alignments

In case one, we report on the specific personnel that Foster uses in his Bear package and how he transitions his "G" front into Bear pre-snap based off the offensive formation. We detail the advantages of using the Bear package, particularly against one-back option offenses. We report on how it can give you +1 in the run game to defend multi-faceted quarterbacks, while providing adequate run support on the perimeter. We present on the "cheat post" technique of the free safety, which allows you to get an extra defender in both the run and pass based off trigger keys.

Here's a brief look at what you'll find in case one:

  • How reducing a defensive end into a 3-techique can be more productive than making a personnel change.
  • Why the nose doesn't need to be a two-gap defender and how Coach Foster ties him into the fit.
  • How Coach Foster cross trains his weak side linebacker to be a boundary defensive end in this structure.
  • Why your Mike linebacker can be the centerpiece of the scheme, who is able to make plays from sideline-to-sideline.
  • How the Bear package aligns against 2x2 and 3x1 open and closed formations including the Y-off formation, unbalanced X-off formation and empty.
  • How the Rover and free safety can be interchangeable based on their distinct abilities.
  • The Eagle adjustment that Coach Foster used to defend two-back unbalanced formations that Ohio State frequented.

Case 2: Bear Against the Run Game

This is where it gets juicy (and by "juicy" we mean... it gives you the "what" and a whole lot of "why"). In this case, our research presents how much of an emphasis Bud Foster places on anticipating which run schemes he will get based off film study and preparation. We detail the pre-snap level read progression Foster teaches his second and third level defenders based on the placement of the back. We detail the run fits of each defender against every run concept presented in one-back formations including the post-snap movements designed to get an advantage on these concepts.

Here's more of what you'll find this case two:

  • An explanation of the three-level reads off the single back, which play concepts are anticipated and how it can change the post-snap reads of the first and second level defenders.
  • How these rules apply to Pistol and sniffer formations.
  • Explanation of the Spark technique used by the nose.
  • The "pad back" technique used by the read side 3-technique to protect the tailback wind back in Zone Read schemes.
  • How the play of the defensive end/backer changes against Speed Option and Read Option concepts.
  • Explanation of the "high gear" technique Coach Foster uses to teach the backer/defensive end to defend Speed Sweep run concepts.
  • The "Jolt" pre-snap movement that Coach Foster uses to transition from his 4-2-5 front to his Bear front.
  • The "Take" post-snap movement that Coach Foster uses against wide-split teams like East Carolina.
  • The "Smash" post-snap movement that Coach Foster uses against zone run teams that try to rewind the back side guard on the 3-technique.
  • The "Spill" post-snap movement that Coach Foster uses when offenses are making it difficult to decipher the level of the back.
  • The run fits of the Mike linebacker and how it changes based on: the level of the back and the run surface presented by the offensive formation, including how he fits off the run concepts used in the Y-off formation.
  • The "cheat post" technique used by the +1 fitter in the run game at the third level and the keys Coach Foster uses to trigger him to become an extra player for the quarterback.
  • Plus coaches game film on all these concepts.

Case 3: Bear Against the Pass Game

While it may be true that the Bear scheme is mainly used to stop the run game on first and second down, Coach Foster had found ways to tweak it to be effective against the pass as well. The Hokies used Bear last season against such pass-happy offenses like East Carolina, Virginia and Western Michigan. We present our research on the five main coverages Virginia Tech will utilize with the Bear package.

Here's a quick look at what you'll find in case three:

  • The three different press techniques (including the Revis Technique) that defensive backs coach Torrian Gray teaches his corners and safeties and in which circumstances he uses them.
  • An analysis of Cover 6, the Hokies base coverage in Bear, including player responsibilities and the adjustments made to 2x2, 3x1 and Y-off formations.
  • An analysis of Cover 6 Free, including player responsibilities and the adjustments made to 2x2, 3x1 and Y-off formations.
  • The "Three-Way Coverage" scheme Coach Foster uses to tie the edge players and the Mike with the release of the back.
  • An analysis of Combo Coverage, the Hokies base adjustment to 3x1 sets, including player responsibilities and how the Rover is used to track the sniffer in open sets.
  • An analysis of Key 9 Coverage, another variation of how the Hokies defend 3x1 sets including player responsibilities and why he uses it to defend perimeter run and pass concepts.
  • The primary coverage Virginia Tech uses in the red zone with its Bear package and how Coach Foster ties the Free Safety into the fit against zone option.
  • Plus coaches game film on all these concepts.


Plus, this brand-new special report, Virginia Tech's Bear Package, includes over 50 minutes of game film provided by Coach Foster. So now, you'll be able to read about the concepts, see the diagrams and then watch the concepts in real-game situations. Most of these clips show both the correct way to run the concept and the incorrect way - so you'll get additional coaching points when implementing in your defense.

The full special report, Virginia Tech's Bear Package, is available right now in the Insiders website. 

Join the Insiders. Go Here.




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