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By Nick Davis, Defensive Coordinator & Defensive Backs, Rose-Hulman Institute (IN)

At our core, we are a field/boundary defense, but our Bob and his skill set allow us to set our front wherever our best matchup is. We want to put this hybrid player wherever we think we can get a mismatch in the run game or on pass downs.

By Nick Davis
Defensive Coordinator & Defensive Backs
Rose-Hulman Institute (IN)
Twitter: @Spread_Defense



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In our system, we have a hybrid linebacker that must be able to play on the line of scrimmage, play as a traditional linebacker, and play man coverage, like a safety.  I think our ‘Bob’ linebacker is much like what offenses are doing with 11 personnel and utilizing the hybrid tight end.  We want to find a tough, physical player that has many different skills and find ways to use his advantages all over the field.  We play with 3-3-5 personnel as our base.  Our ‘Bob’ linebackers have been high school safeties, linebackers or even undersized defensive lineman.  We are a one-gap defense that plays mostly one-high man coverage.  At our core, we are a field/boundary defense, but our Bob and his skill set allow us to set our front wherever our best matchup is.  We want to put this hybrid player wherever we think we can get a mismatch in the run game or on pass downs.  The way we set our front has nothing to do with how our defensive backs will lineup.   

For us the last 4 years, our ‘Bob’ has been one of the best players on our team. I also think if you need to hide a linebacker you do not want in coverage or at the point of attack, this could work for you.  We are looking for a fast linebacker that can create havoc with his pass rush from the line of scrimmage and linebacker depth.  This could also be a big, physical kid that does do a great job in coverage.  I think the best thing about this position is you can have different types of players on your team fill this role with different skill sets and still have great success.  We have had different types of kids, but in my mind, you are looking for your best box player that you feel can do a bunch of things.  This guy will be our 4th rusher most of the time.  The other two linebackers are a little more defined. We will bring our other outside stack linebacker “Mike” at times to keep people honest. He should be a nice mix between the ‘Bob’ and ‘Will’.  Our ‘Will’ is the most physical guy of the crew and he will stack the nose guard in our odd fronts. 


Categorizing Fronts:

Like I stated in my earlier article about our fronts, we use a category system for our fronts, in which the first letter of the word and the type of word will tell you how and where to align. The three-down fronts are all different types of birds.  Our four-down fronts are all different types of fishes. Five-down fronts are all different types of mammals. Our six-down fronts are different types of fruits.  We created a system where you can get the ‘Bob’ where you want him on every play.  If there is a bad right tackle, you can put your ‘Bob’ on him all game.  If there is a great tight end, you can put your ‘Bob’ away from him.  So, in our front names, we incorporated how we want to set the front.  One of our odd fronts is called Buzzard.  Buzzard is a bird, so we align in our odd front and sets our field defensive end and ‘Mike’ to the boundary and our tackle and ‘Bob’ to the field.  In all our fronts we find ways to put the ‘Bob’ to or away from the field/boundary, right/left, or running back/tight end based on our game plan.


Streamlining your Teaching:

Once you’ve found the right guy to be your ‘Bob’ linebacker and you know where to line him up, how do you coach this guy?  If you have a large enough staff, this guy needs a coach just like an offense would have a tight end coach. If you are limited with coaches like we are, your linebacker coach works him primarily, but he spends time every day with your defensive line coach. We run a 3-step drill with all our linebackers in pre-practice every day that runs through all the blocks they will see from the line of scrimmage and at-depth that week. The player takes the first 3 steps we teach based on what block they will see. We do this with all the linebackers because when we play our 5 and 6 down fronts, the ‘Mike’ or ‘Will’ has to play on the line of scrimmage.  We want to make sure they see every block they can see.  We have them, partner, up, so they get a full five minutes to work this drill.  We will do run drills with our linebackers and defensive lineman so we can get all the reps of the on the line of scrimmage work they need for the week.  As the coordinator, I must do a great job of making sure we are getting our 3, 4, 5, and 6-down fronts called in practice.  I want to make sure we are getting a similar number of reps between our 3 and 4-down fronts in all the drills we do, in case changes are made during the game.    



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  • The open B gap rush concept in the stack front, which gives the Bob a two-way go on the Guard.
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  • The C gap rush concept, used in 4i fronts.
  • How the Bob LB gets tied into six-man rush principles
  • Plus, game film of all these concepts.


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We have tried to create mismatches with our ‘Bob’ linebacker for the last few years. If you have a guy in your system that can be a special player, but maybe he cannot play on the line of scrimmage every play or is not great with linebacker reads this might be a good option for you. We want an offense to limit the number of plays they bring into a game with all the looks we can get into. If they do not limit the number of plays, we feel they did not have enough time to block all the plays versus all our looks. I think this approach to be multiple with the same person has created a lot of headaches for offenses over the years and we see a much smaller menu of plays come game day.



Meet Coach Nick Davis: Nick Davis finished his seventh season on the Rose-Hulman staff and his fourth as defensive coordinator. Davis has led one of the nation's top defenses over his first four seasons. His “Spread Defense” has led the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in total defense, scoring defense, sacks, interceptions, rushing defense, and 3rd down efficiency over his first four years. He has mentored several All-Conference, All-Region, Academic All-Americans, and All-Americans in his seven years at Rose-Hulman.





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