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By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

Wisconsin DC, Dave Aranda, reveals how he teaches the "Fall Back Concept" to equal numbers in the run game.


By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs


Insiders:  Click here to view the entire clinic report including game film from Coach Aranda's time at Utah State.

Aranda comes to USU after four years at Hawai`i, the last two

spent as the Warriors' defensive coordinator after coaching UH's defensive line the first two years. Last year's Hawai`i defense led the Western Athletic Conference and was tied for 15th in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in sacks with 35 (2.7 pg), led by linebacker Art Laurel who ranked third in the WAC and tied for 24th in the nation with nine sacks.

As the defensive coordinator at the University of Hawaii last season, Dave Aranda would get his weekly dose of read zone schemes from teams such as the University of Nevada and Utah State University, which is ironically where he’ll call the defensive shots this season.  So, he’d get frustrated at times watching offenses pre-determine who they were reading in the option game based on pre-snap alignment.  Aranda, who runs a 4-3 base quarters package used to play single-gap control defense and wind up getting gashed for big yardage on zone wind backs because of a numbers advantage on the offense because of his two-safety look.

"No matter how you draw it up, the offense will have four guys at the point of attack: the QB, the tackle, the guard and the running back.  If you're a one gap type team and you're playing it that way, whether your have a five and a 1-tech or a 3- and a 5-tech it really doesn't matter because it's four on three," says Aranda.  "You have two DL and one LB.  The DE gets the shaft because he has to play two aspects: the dive, the bend of the dive to the inside out to the QB.  You're cheating a guy.   An easy answer is to use someone from outside the box and bring him inside the box.  The problem with that is the bubble screens and the now screens that are thrown by these offenses.  Teams will read the LB that is walked out.  If that LB steps up and reads run on the play action to handle QB on zone read.  Once the QB sees him step up, he disconnects from the RB and throws the slant over the top of his head.  It's a tough play (diagram 1).  I found you needed to get four and four and equate the numbers post-snap."

So, after years of toiling with it, Aranda has changed to a more unconventional methodology when attacking the read zone schemes, and it comes in the name of equating numbers in the run game by two-gapping players across the board.   Now, we must say it takes a ton of teaching, but if you see this across your schedule like Aranda did in the Mountain West Conference, it may be of interest to what you’re doing.   He calls it getting "four on four" concept in the run game and like any other defensive preparation it starts with dissecting which kind of zone read team you are seeing.

"Zone" Read Teams vs. "Zeer" Read Teams

 When Aranda starts prepping for a read zone team, he makes two vital distinctions.   Are they a zone read team or a Zeer read team?  Sounds like science fiction?  It did to us, at least until he explained it.

  • Zone Read Teams: This means the back is aiming for the outside foot of the guard.  Zone teams cross the center and go to the opposite guard.   There is no real threat of a bend back.  It's an away side play.  The QB is a threat to run it if you're not honoring him.  Most teams that run the pure zone read these days will have the back even with the QB because there is no real threat of a wind back, they are looking to puncture (diagram 2).
  • "Zeer" Read Teams: This is a combination of veer/zone read schemes. These plays hit downhill like a veer.  Now it's a read because they try to put a two-on-one conflict on a DE. Many of these schemes are run out of the pistol or the broken pistol formation (diagram 3) that we’re seeing so much of now in the college game. 

2-Technique: Using the Hard-Shoulder Technique


Aranda aligns his defensive tackles head up the offensive guard and he calls them his read attack player.  His job is to play the back-side block of the guard.  "We will either get a surge to the right or the left," says Aranda.  "The guard is trying to set him up one way and the tackle will try to knock him out one going inside or the center will knock him out going outside, depending on where the play is going.  The tackle will try to knock him and try to work up to our Mike LB (diagram 5).  He wants to go hips, hands and feet into blocker.  We talk about lifting blockers; we want to block the blocker.  Take him where he wants to go.  As the guard sets up inside, I want to take him inside at a 45-degree angle. We talk about fighting the hard shoulder."

"The hard shoulder on the surge block (scoop) is going to be inside shoulder of the guard, not the outside shoulder.  If we attack the outside shoulder we can get turned out (diagram 6).  We want to be square.  We want to play big, and play thick.  Inside hand full presses through inside shoulder of guard.  We run our feet and knock this guy back. 

"Now the offensive tackle has to make a choice.  If he comes all the way down with the 2-technique we have a chance to fall back with the fourth player (Mike LB) and be an extra player on the QB (diagram 7)

"If the tackle chooses to come off on the fall back LB, the 2-technique, becomes the 3-technique with leverage so he becomes the fallback guy (diagram eight).  If the 2-technique does a great job of squeezing that thing down, the A gap is a wash.  He needs to knock that guard back and get that guard and center on two different levels.  He wants to occupy the Center.  We want to get knock back on the center, so that the back has no thought of bend back."

Mike LB: Pre-Snap Responsibility

Aranda has a very simple philosophy when it comes to his second level players playing the read game: If you’re in the core, you play in the core and if you’re outside the core you play outside the core.  "This handles all of that fly sweep you may see out of unbalanced formations," says Aranda.  "There is no inside linebacker needed to run down sweep, or safeties negating force.  Everything must be assignment football, particularly when playing the option"



This Report Continues Below...


ATTENTION Insiders Members:

Watch Over 10-Minutes of Aranda’s Game Film

In the full-length version of this report available on the Insiders website, you’ll discover:

  • How to decipher between what Aranda calls "Zone Read" teams and "Zeer Read" teams and how to prepare for them differently.  There are several coaching points associated between both.

  • What happens when teams man block the zone read game?  Aranda's got an answer for that in his "Ray" and "Lou" calls that adjust the front post-snap.

  • Hot to train your front side defensive end to use the "Aztec" technique against zone runs so he leverage reach blocks without widening his gap integrity.

  • BONUS: Over 10-minutes of game film of how Aranda used his two-gap principle at Hawaii against Utah State and Nevada's Pistol Offense.

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Continued From Above…

His Mike LB’s assignment pre-snap when playing the Zone or Zeer read is to sit in the A gap, but post-snap he has some key progressions to work through starting with his first step.  Again, Aranda makes a distinction between pistol teams and pure shotgun teams in the read zone scheme.

Mike LB: Playing the "Fall Back" Technique

Initially, Aranda tells his Mike LB’s to work to stack the 2-technique, but as the play bends back he must be ready to fall back.  To do that, he must be at five-yards. "If it's coming tight downhill, that 2-technique is going to clear out the A gap.  There is no A gap so it's already bending back to begin with.  As the offensive tackle is coming down on the 2-technique, and our 2-technique is already squeezing the guard, the RB will bend back. The further he bends back, there is our 5-technique.  For our Mike LB reads, we play clear or cloudy. If they zone it, the guard surges on the 2-technqiue, the tackle wipes out the 2, now Mike is already sitting in the gap so he plays the back. If the back bends it and it's cloudy (the end is there) the Mike is over the top and will be a QB player inside out (diagram 11). If the Tackle works to surge on 2-technique, then turns back out on the 5- technique (to open up the B gap) it’s a clear read so the Mike hits it (diagram 12).  Essentially, he plays clear to cloudy and dive to inside out on QB. But everything works off the defensive tackles.

Read Side 5-Technique: Play First Threat

With so much emphasis placed on this player in option schemes, Aranda likes to keep his rules simple: He tells the read side defensive end to play first threat.  That simple.  No shuffle techniques, no feather techniques, no spill techniques, etc.  Just play first threat and play it hard.  "His alignment is hand to foot of that offensive tackle and we tell him first threat which would usually mean dive to QB but it's really QB to dive because the QB will show first prior to the bend back (diagram 13).  The QB will show first.  At the snap must come out of his hips, throw his hands and put his feet in the offensive tackle's feet. He’ll squeeze down the line and play the first guy that shows.  We want his outside foot back so he can plant his inside foot and come flat down the line in order to play the position of a wind back.

Flexed Linebackers: Coordinating Force with Safeties

As for the outside linebackers in his 4-3 scheme, they are perimeter players and will not get caught up in the dive game.  They are QB to pitch players.  In 2x2 formations against a slot, the OLB will have his outside foot to the wide receivers inside foot and be 4-5 yards outside ball.  He reads the EMLOS to the back.

"The way we play quarters, the outside LB is the force defender.  We play the safety as sky force but it's a replacement force if the LB gets cracked.  We used to put the safety as the pitch player, but he also has number two vertical so he’s in conflict.  Teams could run the back-side number two in orbit and now they have a pitch player.  The LB plays into the number two receiver man-to-man.  He'll play the QB if he comes out his way and he'll also play pitch.  The safety is sitting off of him.  He plays the outside half of QB to pitch.  We tell the safety if number two blocks he triggers off that LB so we can get those two involved (diagram 15).  Whenever that safety has pitch responsibility in a quarter’s system where he has two vertical, there is a problem.  We need to be tied with the LB.  We play crack replace with the safety so the LB can be more aggressive.  If they run a slant/bubble combination, the safety must see the block on that LB.  The LB who is covered down can play the run aggressively through receiver.  The safety is the protector." 

Adjustments to 3x1 Sets- 4-2 Box

"Everyone does the same, but now we have two core linebackers.  The difference is now in the wind back play the quarter’s safety or corner will help on the cutback and would have to come all the way across.  The backside 2-technique plays hips, hands and feet and knocks back the guard and winds up playing a 2i to play A gap.  In pistol, if the back steps right, that 30-techique backer steps right and plays A gap to the right.  If the back bounces to the left away from where he opened, then he would rock back and fall back with the back.  If it hits downhill, he plays A, if it bends back, he needs to be a football player.  The front side 2-technique plays from a 2- to a 3-technique playing the hard shoulder.  The 5-technique to the read side will play the first threat. He'll squeeze that tackle.  He'll play the bend of the dive to inside out of QB.  He's a dive player first.  He'll secure the dive and come back out and play the QB.  But the guy who is unblocked and playing the QB is the over the top LB (diagram 16)."

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