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Defensive Ends: Using Your 7-Technique to "Bully" Tight Ends

By Jared Pospisil

Defensive Columnist

X&O Labs

Jared Pospisil, Defensive Columnist, X&O Labs

Researchers’ Note: Please welcome Jared Pospisil to the X&O Labs’ team.  Coach Pospisil is the Defensive Coordinator at Union High School (IA) and will now also serve as a monthly defensive columnist for X&O Labs.  His previous report on his Cover 4 Run Read Drill is one of the most read and commented reports in X&O Labs’ history. As you’ll read in his first column below, Coach Pospisil brings a unique perspective to solving problems on the defensive side of the ball.  And every month, Coach Pospisil will bring you unique – but proven – ways to better your defense. Please welcome Coach Pospisil by posting in the Comments section below.

One of the main things that has helped our defense improve over the past few years is the development of our defensive end play, particularly as it pertains to maintaining a solid C gap defender.  What we do with our defensive ends is not groundbreaking; still, we are happy with our "Bully" method that we use to package and teach a particular DE concept in our Over 43 defense.

Ironically, it took getting a thumpin’ in the first round of playoffs four years ago to bring about the positive change.  In that game, we played Crestwood High School (IA), a very physical, two-tight end, full-house backfield offense, whose main plays ran off the tight end’s rear.  Crestwood routinely caved down our DEs so quickly that our linebackers and defensive backs did not have an opportunity to fill before the running backs were already five yards downfield.  The next day, as I replayed the events of the game over and over in my head, I was became sick thinking of how effective the off-tackle play was for our opponent and how ineffective our defense was at stopping it.  Then I realized our defense faced many teams in our district whose main offensive plays ran off-tackle, and we did not defend that play well all year!  From that day on our defensive staff set out to find a way defend the C gap better.

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At the time, we utilized two 5-technique (outside shade of the offensive tackle) defensive ends in our Base Under front (Diagram 1).  We taught them to key the ball and attack the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle across from them at the snap.  Unfortunately, this left them extremely vulnerable to a down block from average tight ends, notwithstanding some of the bulldozer types we regularly faced in our district.  After talking to a few college coaches and watching film of a number of college and professional games, we decided that we would ask our DEs to widen to 7-techniques (inside shade of the TE) in an attempt to give our defenders a better chance to fight off the down block.

Still, we did not want to tell the defensive end "just line up wider."  Instead, we set out to develop a concept labeled with a tag word for our new DE play, a tag word that would encompass the required alignment, key, responsibility, and technique.  We settled on the term "Bully" because that is what we wanted our DEs to do to TEs: We expected the DEs to harass, beat up, and knock down TEs.

The "Bully" Technique:

7-Technique Defensive End

Now, any time our DEs see a TE align to their side, they are to utilize the Bully technique.  We tell our Bully DEs to align their outside nostril to the TE’s inside nostril, as close to head-up as possible without actually being head-up (Diagram 2).  The DE’s movement key is now the TE, not the ball.  We used to be a ball-key team.   However, we felt that when the DE looked down at the ball or the offensive tackle he was an easy blind side target for the TE.  Now when the DE focuses on the TE, he has a fighting chance to maintain the C gap.  As far as technique, we believed that we didn’t want to distract the DE from his mission—destroying the TE.  As a result, we don’t get too detailed with his technique (stance, shoot hands, drive feet, etc.).  We just preach to the Bully DE that, once the ball is snapped and the TE moves, the DE’s only job is to attack the TE and drive him into the backfield—whatever he needs to do to get the job done.  Focusing on just one man (in this case, the TE) can be tough for young defensive linemen who always wants to look for the ball.  However, in my experience, the more a high school defensive lineman looks for the ball, the less likely he is to make a play because he gets blocked away from the play.  As a result, we preach to our DEs that if they execute their assignments correctly and "bully" the TE, they will get their fair share of the action.  As proof, this past year our strong side DE was one of our defense’s top tacklers.

Weaknesses of the "Bully" Technique:

7-Technique Defensive End

Because the Bully concept displaces the C gap into the backfield, offenses no longer gash us with runs off tackle, they are now either funneled to waiting linebackers or bounced wide to waiting DBs.  Still, all concepts have their weaknesses.  Consequently, because our DEs align wider in the Bully concept, we anticipate methods teams will use to beat it.  We practice backside tight end scoop blocks that, if successful, may create extra gaps.  We build in various linebacker and defensive back adjustments to address offenses attempting to run more inside.  For example, we may shift our linebackers slightly more to the weak side vs. teams that run a lot of FB lead weak (Diagram 3-4).  Also, when we play teams that run a lot of weak side inside plays, we coach up our safeties to recognize our DEs being blocked outward or fold schemes that create allies off-tackle.  We build in adjustments to arch releases and fold blocks by the TE.  For all other situations that chip away at the Bully concept during a game, we do the best we can to adjust.

Note: normally we treat the Wing in a Wing/O-tackle alignment (any back within 2x2 of the offensive tackle) as a TE.  Normally we see the Wing perform blocks similar to a TE; therefore, we usually Bully the wing (Diagram 10).

This report continues below...

Get the "Bully Technique" Coaching Points

Members of X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website – Insiders – get full-access to the full-length version of this report which includes specific coaching points of the "Bully Technique" as it pertains to defeating the following types of blocks from the tight end:

1.  Base block from tight end

2.  Arc block from tight end

3.  Backside Cutoff block from tight end

4.  Backside Scoop block from tight end and tackle

5.  Gap double team block from tight end and tackle

6.  Zone combination block from tight end and tackle

7.  Out block from tackle with a fold scheme from tight end (most common block when playing the "Bully" technique, according to Coach Pospisil)

These block destruction techniques are significantly different than from a protypical defensive end alignment.

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Insiders Members: Click here to login and access the full-length version of this report - including all 12 diagrams.

Continued From Above....

"Bully" as a Philosophy:

7-Technique Defensive End

Using a tag word for a specific set of situations and techniques is effective for a number of reasons.  First, the Bully term implies a very concrete, physical image, one that the DE clearly either is or is not demonstrating, there is no in between. Consequently, when watching film, coaches can say, "Tommy, does that look like you are bullying the TE?"  If the DE is not dominating the TE on the film, it is easy to see, and clearly the answer is "no."  At that point the DE benefits from a tangible example of correct and incorrect technique, and his coaches can give him instruction as to how to improve his effectiveness.

The second benefit of our Bully tag word is that it allows us to compartmentalize the teaching progression for our DEs.  We transition from purpose to expectation, from recognition to alignment, from key to attack, and then finish with special situations, such as reacting to specific types of TE blocks and releases we encounter throughout the year.  Additionally, teaching the Bully technique gives our coaches and players a concise vocabulary to address the offenses we see from week-to-week.  For example, if we encounter a team that aligns in an offensive tackle – wing set, it is not uncommon for our DEs to turn to their coaches and ask, "Do you want me to Bully this?"

Finally, the Bully concept as a whole allows even mediocre DEs to be an effective at helping stop the run.  As long as the DE is able to at least cause a stalemate with the TE at the line of scrimmage, we consider it a win for the defense.  We have been blessed with some extremely strong and athletic DEs.  However, even the weaker, less mobile DEs have been successful for us using this concept.  The question boils down to this: If all I have is a less-than-outstanding DE, would I rather he goes against an offensive tackle or a TE?

Although we use an Over 4-3, the Bully technique may be useful for Under teams as well.  The weak side DE can benefit from the Bully technique, as he widens to a tight 7-technique (Diagram 11).  A weak side Bully DE should help the weak side LB greatly mainly because a Bully DE keeps the TE from combo blocking down to the weak backer during weak side power runs.  On the strong side of the Under front, widening the DE to a 7-technique Bully may prove somewhat excessive when the Sam backer is already aligned in a 9 technique. 

However, one variation to this may align the Sam farther from the line of scrimmage, in a 2x4 or 4x4 alignment off the TE (Diagram 12).  In our current Over scheme, we have a call that places our Sam 4x4 off the TE to address heavy toss or pass tendencies, or to give our Sam a better launch point for blitzing off the edge.

For the past two seasons, our new Over 4-3 defense has benefitted greatly from the Bully concept.  It is an easy fix to a problem that plagues many high school programs.

>>>Read More: X&O Labs’ Defensive Line Study – The Most Comprehensive Study of the 7-Technique, 5-Technique, 3-Technique and Shade Nose Ever Conducted. Click Here.

Questions or Comments: Post your questions or comments below and Coach Pospisil will respond shortly.

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