What is the vision for your defense? And how exactly will you get there? Discover how one defensive coordinator built his defense from the d-line backwards.
By George Karafantis
St. Anthony’s High School (NY)
X&O Labs Advisory Board
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When building your defense, and before implementing it, you must have a vision of what you want it to look like. I think most Defensive Coordinators would envision an attacking, relentless and physical defense. But how exactly you get there and where you begin to build this, matters to the success of your unit. I believe that winning defenses are built from the DL backwards. My philosophy, is and always will be, that in football the BEST LINEs WIN. In the following we will focus on the most important and disruptive parts of our defensive LINE, the DE’s.
Our defense will be most successful by placing a large emphasis on playing speed and aggressive defensive ends, with length. The size or weight of the player is not the most essential part required for the construction, physicality and effort are most essential. This is especially true when choosing your ends. I have always played these types of players and in the following article I will map out three specific techniques that will allow your defensive ends to be the disruptors that they should be.
Even Front Personnel
Before we get into the specifics of our defensive end technique it is important to point out that our even front consists of two DT’s and two DE’s. One side is identified as the strong side and they travel to the passing strength. These two are the Nose, who is either in a 2i or 0 shade, and a 5 tech $tud DE. The other side is referred to as the weak side End (5 tech) and 3 tech Tackle.
See Diagram 1
Many of our calls are based on the hash including playing the three technique (weakside) to the boundary as well as playing the better safety to that side as well. In the Diagram 1 the boundary is to the right. That safety, our Free Safety, must be a dynamic athlete capable of playing a variety of spots.
Assessing Personnel of DE
Since at the high school level we cannot shop for our groceries, as Bill Parcells so eloquently stated, we have to find the correct players to play the correct positions. The positions we put them at are critical to the individual’s success as well as the team’s success. We prioritize the following traits when looking for our defensive ends:
- DE’s that can move. Stud athletes - size is not required, physicality and explosiveness are. Basketball types (forwards/big guards) that can jump and are long limbed.
- Ability to change direction, capable of bending, dynamic flexibility and balance.
- Have tremendous takeoff, be a DISRUPTOR.
- Great hand fighter.
- Plays with great leverage.
- Be the alpha male (not a bad word, although most think so). Worker, tough, physical.
- Plays fast & relentless.
- A “captain” type of player
The proper explosion & physicality that is necessary for our DE’s to play with, begins with the stance. The proper stance that is to be utilized by our linemen will allow for an explosive takeoff and the ability to read as they give relentless effort. We teach a sprinters type stance. They MUST learn, practice AND BECOME COMFORTABLE USING BOTH A RIGHT HAND STANCE AND A LEFT HAND STANCE. We plan on a future entry that will focus on developing your DE’s through specific skills and drills in a progressive manner.
The stance technique is taught as follows:
- Feet are shoulder width apart
- The covered foot’s toe drops past the gap foot (Up foot).
- Pretend to sit in a chair, & fall forward with man hand down, gap foot up.
- On fingertips of the down hand, ALWAYS.
- Butt slightly higher than the head.
- Bull neck, eyes inside key ball for initial movement.
- Dangle the opposite hand, allowing the use of the hands as a weapon.
- Align nose on offensive player’s shoulder (Unless in a head up alignment or jet technique where he’ll be wider).
An example is in Diagram 2. In the picture I would have liked if his right foot was slightly closer to his right hand which would have allowed him to get his butt higher. That then allows for greater explosion.
As detailed above, our DE’s are going to be highly agile and quick, reacting off of ball movement. They will key the ball for movement and replace their down hand with their back foot on first indication of movement. At the same time their eyes go to the near lineman’s near hip for a read. They will be benders on zone read or any spread read game with their responsibility being the inside threat. This may be a RB on zone, may be a QB on power read. Our DE always reads the OT’s block after initial ball movement, unless in a change of technique (jet). If the OT base blocks or turns him out he will fight the pressure and is a C Gap responsible force player sometimes or a bender, chasing when play is away or squeeze shoulders square and close inside. Different calls will indicate those change in techniques. More on that shortly.
All DE’s, regardless if they are strong side ($) or weak side (E), will have base rules to bend when reading a down block by the OT, their visual key. Video will follow detailing this technique. We only teach a DL to read and react to five types of blocks. We want them to play as fast as possible and if they have to work and learn more than five we find the thinking slows them down. On all of the following blocks they are to be as physical and fast as possible.
- Down block away from DL
- Base Block (Either a down block or turn out)
- Double Team
- Reach block
- Pass Block
Each of those blocks require a technique to be used after reading the block of the OT. We spoke briefly about one of those reactions to a down block, which is to bend. I will outline and define three reactions to a down block that our Ends utilize. Bend, Squeeze or Jet technique.
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- The fundamentals of the “bend” technique and why Coach Karafantis will alter the bend technique based on the location of the back and the ability of the QB.
- The fundamentals of the “squeeze” technique and the types of offenses he’ll use it against.
- The fundamentals of the “jet” technique and why it’s used to muddy the read of the QB on RPO concepts.
- Plus game film on all these techniques.
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We teach all defenders to always play their own responsibility in a base call. Do their one eleventh is the phrase we use. We master that responsibility and then add tags that will force us to change technique & fit or responsibility. The more techniques you can add to a game plan the better since it causes confusion amongst the offense and slows everyone down. We have found that by using our DL coach to signal any DE changeup we can utilize more techniques within a game.
In addition to our Bend, Squeeze and Jet techniques in the past we have also added a pop technique. This is where the DE will squeeze the OT but stay square and pop back upfield and outside for QB pull on zone read or the back on power read/jet action. The DE does not read the OL and he immediately plays the pop call. Any time we can speed up the DE we try to however reading and reacting is sound and effective and should always be taught and repped first.
Playing athletic, tough and physical DE’s is a must in our defense. There are so many opportunities to disrupt not only single plays but entire blocking schemes. A bender that spills effectively can all but eliminate a gap scheme being run to his side. A great spilling end can close the running lane and allow a scraping LB to clean up and eliminate running plays from ever getting started. An effective takeoff can help establish a speed rush that will give OT’s nightmares. It will set up underneath games for the DE or help an undersized DE use a bull rush effectively. There are literally countless benefits to playing fast and athletic DE’s and I believe an effective defense must find ways to disrupt using those two positions. Adding DE movements will make them even more disruptive. With so many offenses using reads of DE’s in the run game and now the RPO game, we must make those reads more difficult by playing fast and never being in the same spot.