Coach Tom Hochhalter is the head coach at Calvin Christian High School in Grandville (MI). Before taking on this challenge, Tom served as Defensive Coordinator at West Ottawa High School and at Holland Christian High School where his team won a State Championship in 2008. Tom is known for his exhaustive preparation and understanding of the 3-5-3 defense.
Tom Hochhalter, Head Coach, Calvin Christian High School (MI)
By Tom Hochhalter
Calvin Christian High School (MI)
Researchers' Note: Coach Tom Hochhalter is entering his first year as head coach at Calvin Christian High School in Grandville (MI). Before taking on this challenge, Tom served as Defensive Coordinator at West Ottawa High School and at Holland Christian High School where his team won a State Championship in 2008. Tom is known for his exhaustive preparation and understanding of the 3-5-3 defense.
The first year I was a varsity defensive coordinator my head coach told me that defensive game planning was simply matching up your best defensive calls to the offense's best plays. I thought that was easy enough. As that first season progressed so did my skills of developing a defensive game plan each week. I thought his idea was straight forward, but I had to figure out when and where the offense was going to call their best plays. So I devised a method that I continue to use and tweak weekly.
The first step is to determine tendencies that the offense has. The ones I look for are:
- Down, Distance, and Field Zone location.
- Personnel grouping which is determined by the number of running backs and tight ends.
Of course getting all of this information can be quite a laborious task. I have worked to minimize the time it takes to find this information by using film breakdown programs like Hudl. These are great tools for breaking down scout film of an opponent and allow break down film in many different forms and create scouting reports for your staff and players.
Once all of the data is logged in Hudl, I use a variety of custom reports to help me construct a detailed "Hit Chart." This "Hit Chart"combines the two most common defensive gameplan concepts, down and distance breakdown and field position breakdown, creating a hybrid form that has proven to really find the tendencies that the offensive coaches lean on during the game. Here is how it works...
First, I established the list of down and distance categories that I want to assess with the chart. You can get as detailed as you want, but I have decided to use the following 18 categories.
- 1st and Possession
- 1st & 10
- 2nd & 1-3
- 2nd & 4-6
- 2nd & 7-10
- 2nd & 11+
- 3rd & 1-3
- 3rd & 4-6
- 3rd & 7-10
- 3rd & 11+
- 4th & 1-3
- 4th & 4-6
- 4th & 7-10
- 4th & 11+
- 1st & Goal
- 2nd & Goal
- 3rd & Goal
- 4th & Goal
Each of these categories will become it's own chart that tracks the type and direction of the offensive plays from of that particular down and distance in the different field zones.
The second step is to define the field zones that we want to assess for each down and distance category. Here are the 6 categories and corresponding rationale for the field zones I use on each hit chart:
- Minus 1-15 - This zone tells me what the team wants to run in abnormal, coming out situations.
- Minus 16-39 - This zone helps me understand how the team likes to start longer drives when they are already out of the shadow of the endzone.
- Minus 40 to plus 41 - This zone shows how the team wants to start drives when they have good field position and how they extend longer drives into the opponents territory.
- Plus 40 -21 - This zone shows us how the team approaches the red zone.
- Plus 20-5 - This zone shows the team's red zone tendencies.
- Plus 5-1 - This zone focuses in short yardage red zone situations (also known as goalline situations).
With these zones arranged vertically on the hit charts, I then arrange the play type and play direction categories horizontally for each zone. For the teams we play, I have found that I can get away with using 10 categories. They are strong pass, strong run D gap, strong run C gap, strong run B gap, strong run A gap, weak run A gap, weak run B gap, weak run C gap, weak run D gap, and weak pass. In addition, each category has a general run / pass, strong / weak side attack percentage will be calculated. To be more specific, I break each category down into 6 field zones to determine run / pass percentage as well as running plays to the strong and weak side gaps or pass plays to the strong or weak side.
Here is a quick look at how this all starts to come together:
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Once I have a visual, given by the Hit Chart, I match up defensive calls to each situation. Each call will consist of the front, blitzes and coverage. I will match up the number of calls for each situation based upon the percentage of plays the opponent has run in each situation. Typically there will be more 1st & 10 calls in the Minus 16 - Plus 21 than in the Minus 1-15 zones. Consequently I will have more variety of defensive calls for this situation.
The "Hit Chart" can also be used for personnel groupings or offensive formations. I use the "Hit Chart" regularly because I can get a good visual of how an offense operates in given situations and in particular zones of the field.
With this information I create my call sheet. If we are playing an opponent who we have played several times before I will use the data collected from previous seasons. With this data I can get a very detailed and accurate determination of the offensive coordinator's play calling. If we are playing a new team I will use general percentages for each down and distance situation.
After each game, I complete a new hit chart based on that game to determine if my scouting information was close or if I was way off. More often than not, I have found this to be a very accurate way of game planning and calling a defense. If/when I do find differences, I can then use that new chart to start my work the following season.
After reading Coach Hochhalter's procedure for preparing a defensive game plan, we want to hear from you. What processes/resources have been the most helpful for you in making your defensive game plans? Post your response in the "Comments" section below.