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By Michael Bellacosa, Defensive Coordinator, St. John the Baptist High School (NY)

Fast motion makes the defense change responsibilities fast. Coach Bellacosa has a system to keep his defense aggressive when teams quickly motion out of the backfield. Find it here...


By Michael Bellacosa
Defensive Coordinator
St. John the Baptist High School (NY)

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The approach we take defensively at St. John's will always remain the same no matter what offensive scheme we face: we will overwhelm the point of attack. We focus on putting pressure on our opponent using multiple fronts stemming from a 4-3 defense in order to make the offense very reactive.

Our primary call in attacking a spread offense that use jet motion from the backfield is what we call “Stack”. This is a simple over front moving one of our linebackers to the line of scrimmage and stacking our remaining linebackers slightly outside of our defensive tackles giving them protection.  It has been very effective for us over the past few years and I believe it can be a nice weapon for coaches to add against these types of teams.

Defensive Approach:

Before I get into the “stack” call itself, I feel it is important that you understand why we take this approach. Our goal is to never break our 7 man box and to bring in up to 9 whenever we can. With that, we are comfortable and confident in sending anywhere from 4 to 7 players after the QB with as much movement up front as possible. Our middle linebacker and safeties are the key to making this style of defense succeed. 

I have always believed the best way to play defense at the high school level is to take the reactive nature of defense out of the equation and take an offensive play calling approach to the other side of the ball. The objective is simple, to overwhelm the point of attack and overload the line of scrimmage with movement and different angles created by various fronts. With this approach in mind, I draw up a simple game plan with as many different fronts as possible to stop the offense’s top plays. 

Our opponents have tried to spread us out and get players into space using traditional spread rules and a hurry up style. Our style never changes and I feel that by keeping the receivers in front of our defensive backs and tackling well, teams are not able to short pass us down the field. By committing so many players to the box and playing so close to the line of scrimmage, we are dictating to the offense to throw the ball, and throw it quickly since the rush is coming.

The most important thing that I think of when putting together a defensive game plan is to maintain my aggressive approach and line up in a way so that my players can always play my call. We never check out of a call no matter what the offense does. 

Combo Coverage - Read 2-1:

This is our primary defensive coverage. Combo refers to a 2 receiver side where corner and safety can switch combination routes, the inside defender takes inside receiver, and the outside defender takes outside receiver. This is used to stop middle crossing routes safety to safety (ex: shallow). When the inside receiver breaks in, the defender will turn and run but get eyes on opposite number 2 receiver. If the opposite receiver crosses, he will break down and switch with a cross call. If a crosser doesn’t come, the defender will stay locked on his man.

This also works against the waggle or play-action pass as well. In that case, the corner or safety will pass off the drag route to the free squatting corner. The corner or safety will then cover the back out that just faked with QB.

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  • What Coach Bellacosa does with the Mike LB to replace the high safety to defend 2x1 fast motion.
  • The Stack Twins front Coach Bellacosa uses to disrupt the path of the jet motion to a 3x1 set.
  • The coverage adjustment Coach Bellacosa uses to defend wide bunch sets, which puts pressure in the QB face to the X while playing a tight cover 3 to trips.
  • Plus, narrated game film on all these concepts.

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My objectives try to stay very simple and very clear so my players will buy into the philosophy, play hard, fast and physical. With the usual abundance of undersized players, the belief of overwhelming the point of attack and taking control of that tackle box is and always will be priority number one.  Although this idea may seem to make us vulnerable on the perimeter and in the passing game, a great pass defense is a great pass rush and when you run sideways you are not gaining any yards.

Meet Coach Michael Bellacosa:  Coach Bellacosa currently serves as the Defensive Coordinator in West Islip for the SJB Cougars. Since his arrival, SJB has made 2 AA Finals, captured an A championship and made it to the semis the past 2 season.  He began coaching in 1997 at the middle school level for the North Babylon Bulldogs, which won 5 Long Island Championships during his tenure. 



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