By Wallie Kuchinski
University of St. Thomas (MN)
Wallie Kuchinski, Defensive Coordinator, University of St. Thomas (MN)
Editor’s Note: St. Thomas University is coming straight off a 14-1 record and was a Division 3 national championship runner up and the Tommie defense was a big reason why. Kuchinski’s defense yielded a mere 15 ppg this season and was ranked 15th in the country in scoring defense. Kuchinski has developed a reputation for developing dominant defenses in his five years with the Tommies, which earned him the 2011 footballscoop.com award as the top Defensive Coordinator of the year.
Please note: The following report is written solely about attacking protections, therefore the coverage component of these pressures is not stressed. It is centered only around the players involved in the blitz, not in coverage. For all intents in purposes, each of these pressures are covered with a three under, three deep principle.
There are multiple successful units used in football throughout the years. Whether we are talking about the Miami Hurricanes in the ‘80s using their dominant 4-3 cover 2 package or the old 4-6 fronts used by the Chicago Bears and Buddy Ryan in the ‘80s. Dominant units have evolved over the past three decades just as fast as offenses have evolved. We are now seeing 3-3 Stack defenses put their stamp on history as well as the dominant 4-2-5 units TCU and others have been running for the past few years. Meanwhile, 4-4 units have been having a high level of success in high school for years as well.
I’ve always thought if your scheme is sound and you get your players to buy in to your system, any form of defense can be successful. I am biased however and truly believe the 3-4 Okie defense is a superior scheme for a lot of reasons. At the University of St. Thomas we have implemented the 3-4 multiple pressure front for the past 4 seasons when our staff arrived in 2008. We have shared much success both in defending the run game and pressuring the passer the past few seasons. Statistically we have ranked at or near the top in the country in multiple statistical categories. Not limiting to scoring defense, rush defense, 3rd down percentage, 1st downs gained, sacks, tackles for loss, takeaways, pass defense efficiency, and red zone defense.
Let’s face it…we coach in a pass driven game these days and while our staff is committed to stopping the run with proficiency, affecting the passer is paramount in establishing a dominant unit. We have some impressive offensive minds at St. Thomas. If our head coach Glenn Caruso got on the white board and asked me how are you going to defend this pass concept vs. Cover 3 or how are you going to defend this pass concept vs. Cover 2 I’m not going to have some great answers. I played defensive end in high school and college. I am smart enough to know, however, that if you give the QB more than 3 seconds to throw the football consistently it doesn’t matter whether the kid plays high school, D3, D1 or in the NFL he’s probably going to complete that pass. Instead of dreaming up different ways to cover all these crazy route concepts our staff instead focuses on attacking different protections with our zone blitz concepts to get players coming free at the QB.
At the University of St. Thomas we have been employing multiple zone blitz concepts that attack protections out of our base 3 man front. While it’s difficult to find an offensive coordinator out there that is willing to take the flats for 5 yards all the way down the field, I would contest it’s equally difficult to find a good zone blitz defensive coordinator to pair his package down to a few pressures. After our staff determines what we need to use to stop the run effectively and get our opponent in a one dimensional passing situation we need to determine what type of protections they are using. As a 3-4 there are a few different 3 step, 5 step, and play action protections we see on a regular basis. Our staff categorizes protections as Full Slide, Insert (half slide, half man), Man, 7 man protection, and Rollout. We do categorize rollout in 3 sub-categories such as: Sprintout, Boot (naked), and Waggle (usually an uncovered puller). For purposes of this article we will focus primarily on insert, man, and sprint out as those are the ones we see the most. Nonetheless, in this article, I present 5 zone blitz concepts that attack various protections I feel everyone should take a look at. But before we address the different types of pressures, it’s important that I define some "buzz words" we using in our pressure terminology.
For an in depth look at the buzzwords Coach Kuchinski uses for his blitzes, click here to join the insiders.
All of our pressures are utilized out of the following three fronts:
Insert Protection Beaters
When dissecting insert protection you have to find the break where the offensive line will slide and the back inserts into the protection. Against an Okie front, it is typically the uncovered Guard that starts the gate, but determining where the gate is coming from has some challenges. All offenses have tendencies and you have to feel good about at least creating one on one’s if you guess wrong. Some offenses in our league slide the following ways:
- Slide away from an off-set back in gun
- Slide to the field
- Away or to the QB’s throwing shoulder
- To the right or left.
Once we find their tendency, we typically bring a combination of linebackers, a linebacker and Safety or a linebacker and Corner from the same side to attack the back as he inserts.
The Ralph Blitzis a blitz that I have seen almost every defense in the country use and for good reason, it’s the best! Ralph is a safety/corner/OLB and ILB blitz to the insert side. We run this blitz out of any front but the rules stay the same:
Ralph Blitz Rules:
- The DE to the Blitz has an "Arrow" tech on the OG. If the OG works to him he hits the A gap and if the OG works to the Nose he rips up field vertically in the B gap.
- The Nose for us is a Bull ‘n Pull guy in this blitz. His responsibility is to take a vertical step toward the blitz and Bull rush the OC and pull him away from the blitz so he can’t slide toward the pressure if we guess wrong.
- The DE away from the pressure is a "Stab" rusher. A Stab rusher must work a speed to power rush for two reasons. #1 to get to the QB’s up field shoulder and #2 to collapse the bubble so the QB does not get a nice open window to throw in.
- The Safety/Corner/or OLB to the blitz is an up field shoulder rusher as well but he needs to stay outside of everything.
- The ILB to the pressure side’s responsibility is to blitz tight behind (2nd) of the Arrow tech DE. He will read the OT: if the OT crashes down on the DE he stays tight to the DE and be a C gap rusher always finishing inside the back (See Ralph Diagram 1 Below). If the OT works out to him he needs to stay tight to the DE and be a B gap rusher (See Ralph Diagram 2 Below). When performed properly Ralph should allow a 3 on 2 to the insert side of the protection. If we guessed wrong and the nose does a good job on the Bull ‘n Pull we should get a 3 on 2 on the OG/OT.
To see video of the Ralph Blitz Concept, click the video below. Don't miss the additional 4 videos featuring game film of Coach Kuchinski's King, Spider, Twister and Steve blitzes - just join the Insiders. Click here to join the Insiders.
These are just some of the basic pressures we use to attack various protections. Again, we are convicted to stopping teams from running the football first and foremost. These zone blitzes are designed and coached for a specific reason. There are many ways to zone blitz in the run game, our philosophy is that these are not one of them. These have been some of the more successful protection beaters we run. Our philosophy defending the pass is to make the QB make a decision quickly so we can play fast.
I have been very impressed with the content of X and O Labs hope I have at least contributed in a small way to the vast knowledge I have gained in being a subscriber X and O Labs. I am honored and humbled to be asked to write an article. If I can be of any more assistance in any way to you or your programs please don’t hesitate to contact me.
What You're Missing:
Right now, members of X&O Labs' Insiders website are reading the full-length version of this clinic report - that includes all 5 videos featuring game film. And its really good quality game film, too. Here's what else Insiders membership will get in the full-length version:
The terminology of his blitz concepts including what he identifies as the stab rusher, the bull and pull rusher, the pull up field shoulder rusher and the arrow technique.
How he categories three types of protection- man, insert and sprint out- and the blitzes he uses to defeat each of those protections.
Assignment rules and video cut-ups of the following pressures: Ralph, King, Spider, Twister and Steve.
Why Coach Kuchinski doesn’t label rush lanes by gaps and how he teaches the process of the blitz.