By Mike Kuchar, X&O Labs Senior Research Manager
This updated report includes new video from Boston College's DL Coach Ben Albert, where he details the drills he uses to teach his 9-technique to defend runs to and away from him.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
This report will focus on our research findings regarding the play of the 9-techinque defender. What we’re calling a 9-technique defender is the player that lines up on the outside tip of the tight end or three-man surface. While we realize this player can be a defensive lineman, we chose to detail the linebacker technique exclusively. This week our focus will be on how coaches train their 9-technique LB’s to play various blocking schemes. These are the main defensive structure’s we will focus on for the report:
- Even Front: Mainly an Under or Eagle defense with a walk-up outside linebacker playing the 9-techinque (Diagram 1)
- Odd Front: a 3-4, 3-3, or 5-0 structure with an outside linebacker playing the 9-technique (Diagram 2)
It’s important to note that the 9-technique survey generated the most responses that we’ve ever had at X&O Labs with 2,457 high school and college coaches completing the survey. When we get responses like that, not only does it prove the validity of the responses, but also provides for a broader spectrum of coaches to share their knowledge. We appreciate your feedback and hope that you’ll continue to be active participants of these surveys.
Before we get into the specifics of what we found, we thought we’d share some interesting statistics based on the survey.
- 50.6 percent of coaches will use a 9-tehnique defender any time there is a three-man surface present, regardless of the front structure. Just goes to show how important it is to put immediate pressure on the tight end. You don’t need X&O Labs to tell you that most run schemes are three-man surface oriented. The presence of the 9-technique puts a first level player in the D gap for immediate force of the football.
- 57.8 percent of coaches will use a traditional defensive lineman type IN THE EVEN FRONT to play the 9-technique, more so than an outside linebacker type. The teams that do use a linebacker to play the 9-technique will be more of an Eagle or Under front by nature thus making a five-man front. It’s not as common to see a four down front with a 9-technique defender. Teams that run a four-down structure will mainly utilize a 7-technique defender, but for now, we’ll focus on the 9-technique.
- 63.3 percent of coaches will use an outside linebacker type in THE ODD FRONT to play the 9-technique, more so than a defensive lineman type. We didn’t find this surprising, but what we did find interesting was the fact that these same coaches will spend more time training this defender to rush the pass than anything else. It’s something we’ll detail in next week’s report.
- 54.4 percent of 9-technique linebackers work with the DL in practice, while 45.6 percent work with the LB’s. This surprised us. While we knew it wasn’t uncommon for these types of perimeter linebackers to get work with the defensive line, we certainly didn’t think it would be in the majority. In fact, most coaches that utilize a 9-technique linebacker train him to use the same fundamentals that a defensive lineman would in the run game. The only thing that separates their job description to that of a defensive lineman is the linebacker’s responsibility to cover receivers. At least we thought, until we found that 67.1 percent of coaches will not even use that player in coverage schemes, he will rush the passer. But again, a topic to be covered next week.
Case 1: Variations of Stance and Alignment
We’ve found that deciding between a two-point and a three-point stance is relative to whether your 9-technique is a defensive lineman in nature or a linebacker. To read more about our research on stance for the 3-tech, 5-tech, 7-tech, and shade nose click here. Today, we’ll focus on that player being a linebacker.
We’ve found that the stance of the 9-technique linebacker will vary based on the support structure of your defense. If that 9-technique is the primary force player, he will use more of a tilted stance in order to maintain leverage on the perimeter. Conversely, if that player is not a force player, his shoulders may be more square to the line of scrimmage.
Regardless of what responsibility the 9-technique defender, we’ve found that 58.1 percent of coaches teach the inside foot up in the stance. This ensures a quicker read on the player’s visual key, who is mainly the tight end. As it pertains to horizontal alignment, 46.4 percent of coaches will have their 9-technique split the crotch of the tight end, while 40.5 percent will play with their inside foot further than outside foot of tight end in a wide alignment. While it seems like coaches are split on this matter, Mike Eddy, the head coach at Gallia Academy High School (OH) doesn’t do either. He has his outside linebacker line up in what he calls an "ability alignment."
"If the 9-tech is a better athlete we use a tight alignment of inside eye to outside eye," says Eddy. "If they are close to ability we align shoulder pad to shoulder pad. If the TE is the better athlete, we align even wider at the tip of pad to tip of pad. We align as wide as needed to defeat a possible reach block while still being able to squeeze a down block and keep the tight end off our inside defender. Stance is slightly staggered with inside foot toe to instep. This allows him to balance his step when he executes his read step on the offense’s initial movement."
Ben Albert, the outside linebacker’s coach at Temple plays his 9-technique more than 1.5 yards off the ball with his shoulders tilted. He doesn’t believe in getting his hands on the tight end, so there is no need to "hug" the line of scrimmage. When we saw Coach Albert talk at a clinic a month back, we became curious as to how many coaches will teach their 9-technique linebackers to tilt their shoulders. As it turns out, 51.7 percent never tilt their shoulders, while 32.8 percent will vary playing with a tilt based on the following reasoning
Tilt or No Tilt?
- Will tilt in case of a team that will crack block. It makes it easier for next perimeter player to see the crack.
- Will tilt in passing downs. It gets the shoulders naturally turned up field for a rush.
- Will tilt in crossing face of TE or any time of stunt/game. This is self explanatory as it gets the outside shoulder through and into the next adjacent gap when stunting.
- Will not tilt when covering the tight end, proves susceptible for vertical release of seam routes.
Insiders: Click on the videos below to see Coach Albert's Defensive Line drills in great detail.
- Video 1: 9-Technique Against Scoop Scheme
- Video 2: 9-Technique Against Tug Scheme
Case 2: Attacking First Level (Line of Scrimmage) Blockers in the Run Game
Nearly all of the coaches we spoke with claimed that the 9-techique must master defeating one-on-one blocks at the line of scrimmage, before advancing to attack any other run scheme. Since 57.2 percent of coaches have their 9-techniqe read the "V" of the tight end pre-snap, we will start with the tight end. While the "V" of the neck was the most common read from our survey, we’ve also found that 26.3 percent of coaches will have their 9-techniques read the triangle (tight end to QB to near back) of the offense as well (Diagram 3).
Mike Eddy, subscribes to the "big picture" triangle thought process. Eddy teaches a sight key (which is the player you are lined up over and a pressure key (the player who will attempt to block you) pre-snap. This may not always be the same player. Against an off-tackle team, the guard or fullback can be the pressure key because they are the ones who can kick the 9-techinque defender out. But, against a pure inside and outside zone team, the tight end would be the pressure key by either reaching the 9-technque or blocking him out."
Basically there are three types of blocks that the 9-technique will encounter in a solo situation with the tight end: a Drive block, Reach block or Scoop block (cutoff). While we realize there are "different ways to skin a cat" in defeating these blocks, we profiled some high level coaches and how they teach their players to destruct these blocks.
Drive Block Destruction (Diagram 4)
Perhaps this is the easiest block to recognize because the tight end is climbing vertically at the line of scrimmage. It’s a physical style of block that is prevalent in man schemes such as isolations, dives and draws. Bill Williams, a former college football coach and now the president of the FCPGA (Football Coaches Professional Growth Association) preaches the fact that the 9-technique should always take care of the guy in front of him (tight end) first before worrying about anything else.
Bill Williams teaching progression on a drive block:
- Must punch working half the man because you are a primary force player. Must keep outside shoulder clean.
- Attack with elbows in.
- Work half the man.
- Separate by ripping at the hip and leaning onto him
- Form a "T" by crossing your arms.
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Reggie Johnson, now the defensive coordinator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham talks about controlling the blocker with outside leverage and "steering him" into the C gap. "We want to squeeze the inside area with the blockers body. We must be ready to make the tackle on the bounce out." Mark Snyder, now the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M preaches a "one yard concept" when attacking solo blocks. "We try to attack and control the tight end with hands inside," says Snyder. We work one yard up field and restrict the running lane. We cannot widen the line of scrimmage and create a running seam."
Coach Tom Caines, Defensive Coordinator, Cerritos College (CA), presents his Bat Drill for 9-Techniques in this exclusive video:
Reach Block Destruction (Diagram 5)
While it may sound like a routine assignment (because the 9-technique already has outside positioning) the reach block could be one of the most difficult blocks to defend. Most players, particularly at the high school level, will tend to stretch the play too far vertically, thus opening a big hole in the C gap. "We have to continually remind our players that it’s not okay to just run outside and feel like they did their job," says Eddie. "Yes, we want the ball forced back into the help, but we can’t open huge running lanes inside, either."
In order to do this, Eddy teaches his 9-techniques a specific technique to defeat the reach.
- The first step after the read step is a lateral step with his outside foot to gain width.
- The second step is a crossover step to the outside foot of the tight end. The goal is to get hip-to-hip with the tight end and attack a point two yards outside and two yards deeper than the original alignment.
- If the 9-technique is losing the battle, we instruct him to sink his inside arm as deep in the arm of the tight end as possible and attempt to literally run to the butt of the tight end. It is a last resort because it will defeat the reach but also removes us from the play because it turns our shoulders from being parallel.
Once tight ends know that a 9-technique is trying to stretch the play, they will execute what is known as a "push reach," which means the tight end will just position block the defender by putting his butt in the C gap. It is what Albert calls the most difficult block to defend for a 9-technique. "We will mirror step and attack the TE with low pads and inside hand placement on the breast plate to maintain outside leverage," says Albert. "We will constrict the inside run lane by not allowing the TE to create a horizontal crease in the defense. Then we’ll shed the block and disengage with our hat in the outside crack."
Backside Scoop or Cutoff Block (Diagram 6)
The last one-on-one block situation a 9-techinque will face is the scoop scheme, where the tight end will try to "cut-off" the defender from getting into the C gap. We’ve found that many coaches will preach a "shoulder square principle" when seeing these types of blocks just to make sure the 9-techinque stays responsible for any cutback, boot or reverse to his side.
Both Snyder and Albert teach a shuffle technique to their 9-technique defenders when seeing a cut-off block. "We mirror step and attack the TE with low pads and inside hand placement on the breast plate to maintain outside leverage," says Albert. "We actually want to see the TE’s hat go down and to the inside. We will shuffle down the line of scrimmage with awareness for slam (tight end slam and release) boot or reverse. We don’t lock hips and don’t run up the field."
Eddy coaches what he calls an "Ole" concept (just like a bull fighter would) when working the scoop block by the tight end. "When the tight end blocks out (on the 9-technique), the 9-technique will squeeze his inside gap trying to reduce the running lane," says Eddy. "We want him to squeeze the gap while also creating separation from the offensive player. He is to extend his inside arm across the tight end and attack the far breast plate while using his outside arm to target the outside tip of the near shoulder pad. He is not to "fall in" and attack the ball until it has crossed the LOS because he still must maintain outside leverage until the ball has committed to the inside.
Case 3: Attacking Second Level Blockers in the Run Game
We’ve found that defensive coordinators are now changing their 9-technique’s pre-snap reads based on whether or not there are one or two backs in the backfield. Withstanding the QB run game (which could add for the two back scenario) coordinators are training their 9-technique to read the tight end when there is one back in the backfield and the triangle (Diagram 7) when there are two backs. The reason is simple, with one back in the backfield, the threat of any gap run scheme like power or counter is limited.
Reggie Johnson, the defensive coordinator at UAB, will train his 9-technique to read the triangle regardless of the amount of backs in the backfield, but says he makes sure they are cognizant pre-snap of all the threats they may see in two-back. "I believe that vision for linebackers is absolutely critical," says Johnson. "What are they looking at? What is their eye progression? You have to teach those things depending on what you’re seeing when you study your opponent. You have to base your eye progression off what it is that you are getting the most. You may design the key from guard to near back, from tackle to near back, or whatever you think is best."
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Without question, the two back power (Diagram Eight) and counter (Diagram 9) schemes are the aggressive downhill schemes a 9-technique will see and consequently the most difficult to defend. Because the 9-technique is a box player (meaning the force player in the run game) he must make sure he forces the ball back inside of him. To do that, he must create the fine balance of having the control to stay on the line of scrimmage, but the aggression to attack the second level blocker aggressively.
Mike Eddy calls the "hammer" scheme anytime he sees a pull/kick scenario. "When the tight end blocks down, the 9-technique will keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and squeeze the inside gap," says Eddy. "He will attack the "kicker" by putting his inside shoulder pad under the chin of the guard while remaining square. He must be the hammer, not the nail vs. kick-out blocks. If he accepts the hit, he will lose ground and increase the running lane for the back. He must always stay square so that the ball bounces to the outside."
Mark Snyder at Texas A&M refers to the "shallow man principle" when his 9-technique sees any pull/kick schemes. What this means is that once the 9-technique recognizes a puller, he wants to attack the most shallow player, the opposite of the deepest. What this does is constrict the running lane of the ball carrier, thus tightening the gap. "We want to take a path one yard behind the offensive tackle and attack the most shallow man (whether it is the guard in the counter scheme or the fullback or H back in the power scheme)," says Snyder. "But more than anything else, we teach that player to get vertical. In order to do this, he must move his feet on contact. It not only restricts the run lane but causes the back to bounce."
Researchers’ Note: You are reading the summary version of this Research Report. To access the full version of this report – including the corresponding Statistical Analysis Report featuring the raw coaching data from our research AND two new videos from Boston College DL Coach Ben Albert. Please CLICK HERE to access the full version of this report.
Perhaps Reggie Johnson said it best when he said, "make sure your quickest, most athletic linebacker plays the 9-technique or your success will be limited." It’s such a vital position to play on your defense because of the various blocks you’ll see. We just showed you some base ways to defend concepts in the run game, next week we’ll explore how to handle man coverage and rush responsibilities in the pass game. We’d like to give a BIG "thanks" to all the coaches who contributed to this report.
Want More? To read more about X&O Labs' 10-study on the defensive line which details how to defeat the 23 most popular blocks your defensive linemen face - click here. This research has been read by college and high school coaches in all 50 states and over 17 countries.
Questions or Comments? If you have a questions or comment for this report, please post it below and Mike Kuchar (or the coaches who contributed to this report) will respond shortly.
Copyright 2012 X&O Labs