Simplifying Communication to Defend High Tempo Offense

Aug 7, 2017 | Defense, Communication, Game Planning

By Bart Bruner
Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebacker Coach
St. Xavier High School (KY)
Twitter: @bbruner4


Have you ever confused a player you are coaching because you used too many words? 

Has one of your coaches ever slowed down practice because he is explaining something to one player? 

Has one of your players ever been confused because two coaches gave him conflicting instructions?

Have two coaches on your staff ever tried to call the same formation or play two different names?  

These and other questions are issues our defensive staff at St. Xavier High School (Louisville, KY) has tried to address by attempting to improve our communication. Many staffs have turnover in coaches from year to year and also decide to change or alter their scheme which ultimately leads to challenges in communication between coaches and consistency in coach-player communication.   

Over the past two years, our defensive staff has worked extensively to improve our structure and system of communication and teaching. Our goal is to have a scheme and techniques that are simple, as well as a system of communication that is efficient for coaches and players. We have evaluated everything to ensure we are talking the same language with each other and with our players. We also have attempted to streamline our communication so we can coach faster. Our scheme calls, techniques, checks, teaching progressions, and coaching points have all been evaluated, scrutinized, and sometimes adapted to reach these goals.

Many of our opponents are multiple in scheme, formation, motion, shift, and personnel groups, as well as various tempos. This has made our goal of simplicity more challenging as we are forced to check defensive calls and adjust alignments sometimes multiple times in one play. This article will attempt to explain our process and purpose.

Who We Are:

Like most other staffs, all of our decisions are based upon a philosophy that we have developed and believe in. Our defensive philosophy is simple:

  1. Be More Physical than the Offense
  2. Be Gap Sound & Zone Sound
  3. Keep the Passing Game in Front of You
  4. Fanatical Effort 4-6 Seconds, Point A to B: Full Speed.  (Borrowed from Ohio State)

Our scheme is 3-4 Slant/Angle Front with multiple zone coverages. Our personnel and call system are field and boundary based. We believe our calls and communication must be simple and efficient to defend the best offenses we face. We focus on emphasizing great technique, block destruction, pursuit, and tackling as opposed to multiple schemes and calls.   

Many of our opponents’ offenses, especially our biggest two rivals, are multiple in scheme, formation, motion, shift, and personnel groups, as well as various tempos.  We use our two rivals’ offenses as a litmus test for all we install on defense. They have had extremely successful programs, especially offensively, for many years.  They are known for their complexity and multiplicity, as well as for their great execution.

Will our scheme hold up?  Can we easily recognize all formations, motions, and shifts?  Can we keep our call vs. Empty, Quads, or Unbalanced formations?  Can we clearly and quickly communicate any and all necessary checks before the ball is snapped?  How much practice time will it take to get all the above executed with a high level of confidence?   These are all questions we ask ourselves as we continue to evolve defensively each off-season.  We continue to evaluate the answers to these questions as we install in the pre-season and in game planning from week to week during the season.  We often use our philosophy stated above to remind ourselves and our players of what is most important and how we ultimately want to be playing defense.  We strive to insure that communication lines are open on both ends.  We ask our players questions constantly and demand answers, as well as attempt to recognize difficult concepts and plan for them accordingly.

Simplifying Communication: