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By Kai Smalley, Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator, Snohomish High School (WA)

It’s clear that a weakness of the Bear Front is the off-tackle gap and zone schemes created by two-back offenses. Whether it’s speed option or pure ole power, an offense could have angles on the front five, thus separating the defense. In this exclusive clinic report, Snohomish High School (WA) head coach Kai Smalley details what he does with outside linebackers and rush ends from his 3-3 base to defend option, 20/11 personnel gap schemes and Wing T runs including how he adjusts to the motion packages created by one-back off-line tight ends.


By Kai Smalley
Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
Snohomish High School (WA)
Twitter: @fbcoachsmalley


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I have been fortunate enough to play for and work under some great defensive coaches which has helped me develop my defensive philosophy. The first coaching job I received out of college was as a defensive line coach under a coordinator that based out of the 46 Bear. I spent two seasons learning the adjustments and nuances of the defense. Two seasons later, I was hired as a defensive coordinator and I have been using it since. Though it has never been a base defense for my teams, the bear has remained a mainstay adjustment in my defensive playbook. It is always in our spring and summer installations so that we can use it and rep it any time and not have to spend valuable practice time during the season to teach a "new" front.


The architect of the 46 Bear defense, Buddy Ryan, developed it to create an 8-9 man front and outnumber the offense, especially on the strong side of the formation. Originally the Bear was used in 4-3 personnel, since becoming a defensive coordinator I have based out of both even (4-3) and odd (3-4 and 3-3) fronts. Each front allowed me to get to the Bear front. As offenses have evolved the Bear defense has had less of place in most schemes, but we still see plenty of 21 personnel and other run heavy sets that the Bear is designed to stop.

At Snohomish, we base out of a 3-3 stack. Throughout the season, we will see several different offensive schemes, the 3-3 has allowed us to be flexible enough to adjust to the offenses we see. We have found that the 3-3 has been the easiest to shift to the Bear. This is mainly because the personnel and positions allow us to make the correct adjustments without having to teach to many different / new techniques.

Base Alignments for the 3-3 and the Bear

The charts and diagrams below list how we align in both our base 3-3 front as well as our Bear front. The whole purpose of using the 46 Bear is to get 8 or even 9 players in the box to stop the run, so I have listed the base alignment and run fits below.


The alignments and assignments are similar for each position which keeps new teaching to a minimum. This allows us to be able to teach the basics of alignment and assignment without having to treat it like a different defense altogether. 

  • The Tackle and End both practice playing 3 technique players in our 4-man fronts, so their jobs are easy to teach.
  • The Nose is always a two-gap player so his job remains the same in both fronts.
  • The outside linebackers remain force players, just walked up outside of the offensive tackle to the weak side and the tight end to the strong side. We teach and work on force technique everyday with our outside linebackers in the 3-3, so this is a simple transition.
  • The Mike and Will remain inside linebackers. The Mike and Will play a back out to their side. The Mike takes #3 to the strong side and the Will takes #2 to the weak side.
  • The Sam, who is usually our bigger, more physical inside linebacker is used as our fourth man when we reduce to a 4-man front. He plays the same way in Bear and is a C-gap player. 
  • When we are in the Bear front, we play primarily running cover 0. The Corners are responsible for coverage first.
  • The Free is also primarily a pass player, but we will play him closer to the line of scrimmage than normal because we are jamming the tight end on the line with 2 players. This allows him to insert in the run game quicker.
  • Our Corners know they have no help and must play tight man coverage.

Continue to the full-length version of this report…

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  • Why Coach Smalley decides not to play his outside linebackers as spill players, but uses them as box players against the run game.
  • How he teaches his Sam linebacker to play the C gap vs. three-man surfaces.
  • His option responsibilities vs. both strong side and weak side speed and read option schemes.
  • How he adjusts the Bear to defend against 20/22/11 personnel grouping runs.
  • How he uses the Bear to adjust against pre-snap motions such as tight end flop.
  • Plus game film on how the Bear is used to defend option, Wing T, pre-snap motions and various personnel groupings.

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When I began coaching, we saw a lot more two-back and run oriented schemes. While the frequency of those types of offenses has decreased, we have found many situation where the Bear is still very effective. We like the advantages it gives us against the run oriented teams we see each year. The 46 Bear has been a great addition to the defensive playbook and if installed early and repped in practice, it is a great change-up to throw at teams.

Meet Coach Smalley: Coach Smalley played defensive tackle at the University of Oregon from 1998-2002. He began coaching in 2003 and became a defensive coordinator in 2005 at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, OR. In three seasons coaching at Marist, the Spartans won two State Championships. He is currently the head coach at Snohomish High School in Snohomish, WA, where he took over in 2013. 



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