Transitioning Between Even and Odd Fronts to Defend RPO’s

Mar 12, 2018 | Front, Even Front Structures, Defense, Odd Front Structures

By Mike Kuchar 
Co-Founder/Senior Research Manager 
X&O Labs 
Twitter: @MikekKuchar 




Rose-Hulman Institute defensive coordinator Nick Davis believes in playing man coverage. It’s his philosophy. Even with some of the more intelligent student-athletes in the country (Rose-Hulman is an engineering school) Coach Davis believes in the simplicity of lining up man for man and playing ball, particularly against RPO offenses. Although Coach Davis’ players have the ingenuity to paly both man and zone coverages, he just chooses not to. 

“Our kids have trouble playing zone because they play with man eyes because they are so used to it,” he told us. “We’ll see our overhangs that will run with crossers. It’s really been a detriment for us to do something else. Our kids are smart but are lesser athletes that whom we play. So we tell them to stay on the hip of their receiver. And if we tell them to do one thing our kids are going to focus on doing it.” 

Clearly, they have done what’s asked of them. The Fighting Engineers defense produced the following numbers this past season (all national ranks): 

  • #1 Player in the Nation with Sacks (17 sacks) 
  • #2 Team Sacks  
  • #9 TFL 
  • #11 Yards per Carry 
  • #16 Rush Defense 
  • #19 Pass Completion Percentage 
  • #24 3rd?Down Defense 
  • #30 Red Zone Defense 

From a base standpoint, each player in the Fighting Engineers defense has a gap or a man. Some defenders will have a man and a gap if there is a tight end involved. According to Coach Davis, he’s seen less and less RPO’s than two-high quarters teams because of there is no leverage placed on overhang players. “ We create match-ups and it doesn’t matter where they are,” he told us. “We get lined up quickly and we just play with the proper leverage- inside or outside. Since we are a box team (and not a spill team) we can change our leverage to cheat inside if we are getting hurt in the slant game. We teach all our defensive backs press man coverage and off man coverage from both the outside and slot positions so we can get the best match-ups.”         


The novelty of the Rose-Hulman defense is that Coach Davis plays a 3-3-5 structure based off four down personnel. He is able to cross train defenders so that he can adjust the front structure depending on the offensive personnel or formation. “We like to be more even fronts against heavy personnel and more odd fronts vs. spread personnel,” said Coach Davis. “We will do both even and odd fronts vs. both personnel types to keep people honest.” For the most part, Coach Davis plays a field/boundary defense. He’ll play with two true defensive ends (one of which that can be a hybrid interior technique), one Nose, one hybrid linebacker (that can play on the line of scrimmage in four down fronts) and two traditional linebackers who will be in the box. “We like this personnel because we do not need to sub personnel to match the offense and we can present multiple looks,” he told us.     

This is the following personnel descriptions that Rose-Hulman uses in its backend: 

Dime: Best cover slot player. Most athlete safety or third best corner  

Rover: Needs to be able to cover second best slot player and match physical Tight Ends. 

Mike: Most physical defender. Does not need to play much.  

Bob:?Best athlete of the linebackers. Needs to be able to play on the line of scrimmage. A player that may be able to both rush and cover.  

Will: Mixture of the Mike and Bob linebacker. Needs to be able to cover but also be a physical guy. He plays man on the tailback quite a bit.   

As referenced above, Rose-Hulman will vary its three-down vs. four-down looks depending on the formation structure presented. In one-back looks, the Fighting Engineers will align in odd stack looks. Against two-back structures, they will choose to be in more four-down fronts adjusting with the B linebacker up on the line of scrimmage. “We treat 10 personnel and 00 personnel the same and would like to be in an odd front of some sort,” he said. “We treat 11, 12, 20, 21 personnel the same and would like to be in an even front of some sort. ?Our base coverage adjusts to any personnel or formation.?We can add cover safeties or corners if we want against 10 personnel and physical safeties or stack linebackers against heavy personnel. Our system allows us to interchange position and not lose a beat.”