Defending Option and Gap Schemes with the Bear Front

Jun 26, 2017 | Front, Defense, Odd Front Structures

By Kai Smalley
Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
Snohomish High School (WA)
Twitter: @fbcoachsmalley



I have been fortunate enough to play for and work under some great defensive coaches which has helped me develop my defensive philosophy. The first coaching job I received out of college was as a defensive line coach under a coordinator that based out of the 46 Bear. I spent two seasons learning the adjustments and nuances of the defense. Two seasons later, I was hired as a defensive coordinator and I have been using it since. Though it has never been a base defense for my teams, the bear has remained a mainstay adjustment in my defensive playbook. It is always in our spring and summer installations so that we can use it and rep it any time and not have to spend valuable practice time during the season to teach a "new" front.


The architect of the 46 Bear defense, Buddy Ryan, developed it to create an 8-9 man front and outnumber the offense, especially on the strong side of the formation. Originally the Bear was used in 4-3 personnel, since becoming a defensive coordinator I have based out of both even (4-3) and odd (3-4 and 3-3) fronts. Each front allowed me to get to the Bear front. As offenses have evolved the Bear defense has had less of place in most schemes, but we still see plenty of 21 personnel and other run heavy sets that the Bear is designed to stop.

At Snohomish, we base out of a 3-3 stack. Throughout the season, we will see several different offensive schemes, the 3-3 has allowed us to be flexible enough to adjust to the offenses we see. We have found that the 3-3 has been the easiest to shift to the Bear. This is mainly because the personnel and positions allow us to make the correct adjustments without having to teach to many different / new techniques.

Base Alignments for the 3-3 and the Bear

The charts and diagrams below list how we align in both our base 3-3 front as well as our Bear front. The whole purpose of using the 46 Bear is to get 8 or even 9 players in the box to stop the run, so I have listed the base alignment and run fits below.


The alignments and assignments are similar for each position which keeps new teaching to a minimum. This allows us to be able to teach the basics of alignment and assignment without having to treat it like a different defense altogether. 

  • The Tackle and End both practice playing 3 technique players in our 4-man fronts, so their jobs are easy to teach.
  • The Nose is always a two-gap player so his job remains the same in both fronts.
  • The outside linebackers remain force players, just walked up outside of the offensive tackle to the weak side and the tight end to the strong side. We teach and work on force technique everyday with our outside linebackers in the 3-3, so this is a simple transition.
  • The Mike and Will remain inside linebackers. The Mike and Will play a back out to their side. The Mike takes #3 to the strong side and the Will takes #2 to the weak side.
  • The Sam, who is usually our bigger, more physical inside linebacker is used as our fourth man when we reduce to a 4-man front. He plays the same way in Bear and is a C-gap player. 
  • When we are in the Bear front, we play primarily running cover 0. The Corners are responsible for coverage first.
  • The Free is also primarily a pass player, but we will play him closer to the line of scrimmage than normal because we are jamming the tight end on the line with 2 players. This allows him to insert in the run game quicker.
  • Our Corners know they have no help and must play tight man coverage.

Keys, Reads and Rules

Defensive Line:

The Nose will play off the block of the center. His job is to never get reached, meaning he will play off the block of the center and work his body into the appropriate A-gap. The backside A-gap can be covered by the backside inside linebacker. He will also be getting double teamed so he must be able to either split the double team or eat up the blocks.

The Tackle and End will play in a heavy 3-technique and key the guards block. They have two rules playing this position: