By Eric Jones,
Roy High School (UT)
Editor’s Note: Eric Jones played for Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. After college he spent 5 years as a Linebackers coach and Special Teams Coordinator at Woods Cross High and Syracuse High. Last season was his first year as a Defensive Coordinator at Roy High School in Roy, Utah.
In this clinic article, I’ll be describing our approach to installing and using fire zones within our 4-3 defensive scheme. First, we base our defense primarily out of the Under front. All of our fire zones, which I call Dogs, are used from the Under front. I prefer strongly to run my Dogs when the ball is on a hash mark. This doesn’t mean they can’t be run from the middle of the field, but I’m more comfortable when the ball is on a hash and I’ll explain why in later in this report. I’m all about simplicity so we only install three fire zones. However, using a simple tag word for each Dog, we can show up to 6 Dogs without much hassle to the original three. We run a Field Dog, Short Dog, and Pipe Dog. I’ll detail each below.
Field Dog (the common NCAA fire zone) is my favorite Dog in the litter. It’s simple, effective, easy to teach, and safe to run. With the ball on a hash mark, I’m always looking for situations to bring pressure. I won’t blitz much if our "base" defense is getting the job done. However, I’m not shy about blitzing if we need a momentum play or simply want to keep the offense on their toes. Some basic rules for our fire zones are as follows:
1) We always declare strength to the field.
2) The DL always slants away from where the blitz is coming from.
3) The boundary side DE is always the dropping lineman.
4) The blitzing LB’er will always blitz the gap originally covered by the DT on his side.
My huddle call would be "Under Field Dog 3." We call it Field Dog because the pressure is coming from the wide side of the Field. Therefore, the DL will align in an Under front and slant one gap away from the Field. I know this is contrary to many fire zones out there. The current lingo with many universities involves landmarks such as Long Stick, Radical Slant, Hot, Inside Rush, and Outside Rush. That’s how I learned them in college but I’m not comfortable using those concepts with high school kids. So we simply slant one gap away from the call. That means the field side DE slants from his 5-technique to the B-gap inside of him. The Nose slants from the field side A-gap to the boundary side A-gap. The 3-technique Tackle slants through the inside hip of the boundary side OT and continues working for contain. The boundary side DE takes 1-2 read steps up field to decipher run or pass. If he reads run, then he plays run by setting the edge into the boundary. If he reads pass, then he drops into the boundary side flats. His goal is to take away the quick passing game to #1 and then react up the any swing routes by the back into the boundary.
The two blitzers that are active with Field Dog are the Sam and Mike linebackers. The Sam is blitzing outside the EMLOS from the field side. He aims at the deepest shoulder of the deepest back and must not let the ball or QB get outside of him. The Mike backer is blitzing through the field side A-gap where the Nose is vacating. For coverage rules, both Corners are playing a press-bail technique. They align pressed initially and bail to a deep third during the cadence. We aggressively squeeze slants and posts. Anything that releases hard inside we will back off and play over top of #2. The Strong Safety becomes the Curl/Flat defender by replacing the blitzing Sam backer. In our base Cover 3 scheme and in our Dog scheme, our Curl/Flat defender uses the SCIF (Seam to Curl to Flat) technique. That means the SS will align and play off the #2 receiver to the field side. The SS will play #2 man-to-man on any vertical or outside releases. The SCIF defender can release any shallow inside route to the "Gut" defender. If he releases the hard inside route, then he’ll zone off underneath the #1 receiver. The Free Safety rotates to the middle of the field and plays the middle third. He’s a typical middle third defender and aligns over the #3 receiver in the formation.
That just leaves the Will backer. He is initially the "Gut" dropper and works toward the #3 receiver in the formation. However, the Will must always check the formation on the boundary side. Anytime we get a displaced #2 receiver into the boundary (as you will see in Diagram 2), Will must give the dropping DE a "Gut" call. This simply means the dropping DE will drop to the middle of the formation and the Will walks out to SCIF the displaced #2 receiver into the boundary. This protects us against vertical threats coming from the boundary where our less athletic DE is in coverage. You could elect to make a "gut" call when the TE is #2 into the boundary or just let the DE ride him into coverage. We try not to get too technical with the dropping DE’s. The DE’s either "spot-drop" the flat or "spot-drop" the Gut if Will calls them to it. Here are a couple diagrams of Field Dog against a 2-back set and a Spread set. (Diagrams 1 and 2)
A simple variation of Field Dog is called Field Dog Switch. Any time we tag the word "Switch" to a Dog, it simply replaces the edge blitzer with the Safety to that side. The original edge blitzer now takes the safety’s coverage responsibility. So Field Dog Switch 3 means that Sam will now SCIF #2 and the SS can blitz off the edge. Everyone else on the defense keeps the same job.
Short Dog 6
Cover 3 is a Safety rotation to a 3 deep zone. Cover 6 is a Corner rotation to a 3 deep zone. So we use Short Dog 6 because we’re blitzing the boundary side Corner and Mike linebacker. Our safeties know that when we play Cover 6 a safety is taking an outside deep third because we are rotating a Corner up into the flat. In Short Dog 6 we’re sending the Corner on a blitz and covering the flats with the DE or Will (Gut call). We still align in our Under front with strength declared to the field, this way we don’t tip our hand initially to the offense. An offensive coordinator can’t tell whether we’re going to bring the fire zone from the field or boundary because we align the same in both Dogs initially.
The D-line adheres to their rule of slanting one gap away from the where the blitz is coming from. Since it’s Short Dog, the DL slants toward the field. The wide side DE won’t have a gap to slant out to unless he has a TE on his side, so his rush becomes an outside contain rush to the field. The Nose can help himself out by aligning in a 1-technique on the Guard (inside shade) instead of shading the Center. The Nose knows he needs to get to the field side B-gap so it’s advantageous for him to start in a 1-tech to make his slant to the B-gap easier. The 3-tech DT slants from the boundary side B-gap into the A-gap. The Mike backer will end up wrapping behind the 3-tech and gets into the boundary side B-gap. The boundary side Corner will start in a pressed alignment and creep down the LOS during the cadence to get into position to bring edge pressure from the boundary. He aims at the deepest shoulder of the deepest back and must keep the ball and/or QB inside of him. The wide side Corner plays a press-bail third coverage. Sam is the "SCIF" player to #2 to the field. The SS has deep middle third and aligns over #3 in the formation. The FS rotates to an outside third for the blitzing Corner. The boundary DE takes his read steps and then spot-drops the flat if he reads a pass set. The Will takes the Gut by working toward the original #3. Again, Will can give the short side DE a "Gut" call anytime we get a displaced #2 into the boundary.
This report continues below...
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* Coach Jones' Short Dog Switch Blitz, a changeup to the Short Dog blitz concept
* Coach Jones' Pipe Dog Blitz, a horizontal pressure designed to get downhill on the QB
* A video tutorial on all of Coach Jones' zone pressures out of his Under Front complete with in-game footage
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Continued from above...
Some coaches may ask, "Why not blitz the Will in Short Dog?" Like I said before, I shoot for simplicity whenever possible. My Will backer is a better cover guy than my Mike linebacker. I want the kids to get good at what they do. I know it’s a weird angle for the Mike to blitz from, but it keeps my rules and adjustments simple. The Mike is ALWAYS blitzing in my Dog package. Will is ALWAYS the Gut dropper and adjuster to formations into the boundary. The boundary side DE is ALWAYS the dropping lineman. Many of the defensive positions are very simple to teach with these rules. They hear the word "Dog" in the huddle call and they know their job. The safeties have to be the most dynamic but isn’t that why we put the kids we do at Safety? Here are a couple looks at Short Dog. (Diagrams 3 and 4)
So that’s our Fire Zone package. Three blitzes from the same initial alignment, with lots of carryover teaching. It’s sound against the run, and safer against the pass than cover 0 blitzes. What’s more is that it’s very fun for the kids. We ran over 40 Dogs last year and only gave up two big plays in more than 40 snaps of Dog defense. One was a 15 yard run and the other was a 35 yard TD pass. Neither big play was a schematic issue. We had break downs in technique and/or assignment that cost us in those situations. The rest of those plays resulted in hurried throws, confused blocking schemes, incompletions, sacks, TFLs, and short gains. If you have the time to install fire zones into your defense I would highly recommend it. I love to blitz! I love to send 6 and play cover 0, but that’s not always the best option. I like my Dogs on 1st and 10, 3rd and medium or long, or when I want pressure but don’t want to gamble too big. Dogs allow you to send pressure while getting more eyes on the ball and having deep help. Dogs aren’t perfect but they sure do add a different dynamic to your pressure packages. I hope you learned something that can help your team or even just made for interesting reading. Thanks for having me and good luck to all of you this Fall!
You Tell Us: When teaching your zone blitz schemes, do you teach terms such as the Long Stick, Loop, RAC (rip across center), etc. where defensive lineman are asked to move two gaps or do you "keep it simple" as Coach Jones does by having them move just one gap away from the call?