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By Mark Theophel, Defensive Coordinator, Hartwick College (NY)

The RPO game has made it even more difficult for overhang defenders to accurately diagnose, then fit, their responsibilities vs. run and pass respectively. So, defensive coordinators must do all they can to alleviate them from any potential misdiagnosis and get their eyes right. In this exclusive clinic report, Coach Theophel explains his read progression and the drills he uses to enforce them.

By Mark Theophel
Defensive Coordinator
Hartwick College (NY)



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Overhang defenders have a critical role in perimeter run force as well as in underneath coverage vs. the pass. In our defense, the term “overhang” is referring to a drop outside linebacker or low safety in a rotated coverage. It is essential that we train these players to effectively read run/pass at the snap and react to multiple different types of plays. Having a thorough understanding of proper alignments, key reads and technique is crucial to our defensive success. Overhang players that are able to do this well should make a significant impact on defensive production. Ideally, we want our overhang defenders to be among the most versatile athletes on the defense.


Overhang Alignments

As with most things in football, when it comes to successful defense on the perimeter, it all starts with alignment. Our alignment rules are simple and uniform so that our players can easily understand where to line up and why. Most formations that we see will be spread formations with at least one slot receiver. Overhang defenders are taught to split the difference between the end man on the line of scrimmage and an open #2 WR. We call this a “walk” alignment.

Walk Alignment Rules:

  • Split the difference between the EMOL and the #2 WR
    • OR #2 and #3 vs. any Trips Formation
  • Approximately 5 yds depth
  • Eyes on the OG for run/pass read
    • Trips = Eyes on #3 WR


Diagram 1

Diagram 2


The walk alignment is designed to position us wide enough so that we can be a factor on the perimeter and in coverage, but also to leverage us inside of #2 so that we can avoid being cut-off when folding for inside run. This is “Day 1” teaching for outside linebackers, and when we start to involve the safeties in our rotated coverages, we will use the same language so the teaching is uniform.

If we are in a coverage that requires our overhang to defend #2 outside the hash, we will make simple adjustments to our standard walk alignment. This is most applicable in our 3-Deep coverages that require our overhang to defend #2 in the seam or in the flat. For these alignments we will use terms like “backer” or “star” in reference to the support calls that we make in those coverages. “Backer” is obviously backer support and “star” is safety support.

Backer/Star Alignment Rules:

  • Align wide enough to maintain outside leverage on #2 post-snap
    • Slight outside, head-up or slight inside
      • Based on match-up/offensive scheme
    • Depth based on match-up and situation
      • At least 5 yds deep
      • Safety can disguise/show two-high
    • See through #2 to the OG for run/pass read
      • Or through #2 to #3 vs. Trips


Diagram 3

Diagram 4


Backer/Star alignments are wider than a typical walk alignment, though the exact width depends on how our overhang matches up with the #2 WR and which types of routes we expect to defend based on film study.

An outside linebacker to a single-width WR aligns in a “hip” alignment. This would occur on the backside of a two-back or trips formation. Our base alignment in this situation is outside of a “ghost” TE with our toes aligned as deep as the nearest defensive linemen’s heels. Depending on the game-plan, we may walk that alignment out as wide as the slant window of the #1 WR.

Diagram 5


Hip Alignment Rules:

  • OLB align outside a “ghost” TE at heel depth
    • Possible adjustment to walk inside of #1
      • Split the difference between EMOL and #1 WR
    • Key progression is the same as walk alignment
      • Eyes on OG for run/pass read



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  • The flow key progression Coach Theophel uses to train his overhang defenders from near guard to backfield.
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  • How he trains the overhang and safety to react off all potential scenarios on the perimeter.
  • The disguise principles Coach Theophel uses to protect his overhangs from tipping their coverage responsibilities.
  • Plus, game film on all these concepts.


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It’s very important to have simple rules for overhang defenders and to drill the techniques associated with the position constantly in practice. By following a teaching progression that is easy to understand and uniform in its language, we allow our overhang to play fast and read/react naturally. We also believe in eliminating conflict for our defenders. This is especially important for an overhang because he has an important role in both defending the run and being a factor in coverage. Our teaching progression is designed to ensure that what they are looking at for their initial read also ties into their coverage responsibility. That way they can be run-first defenders who also make a lot of plays in underneath coverage.



Meet Coach Theophel: Mark Theophel joined the Hartwick coaching staff in 2014 as the DBs Coach and was promoted to Defensive Coordinator in 2015. Prior to coaching at Hartwick, he spent 4 years on the staff at Becker College, serving as Co-Defensive Coordinator in his last 2 years with the program. Coach Theophel played four years as an Outside Linebacker at Hartwick College, and graduated in the spring of 2010.





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