By Steve Erxleben
South River High School (MD)
The ability to utilize fire zone blitz concepts on any down and distance is a powerful asset for any defense. It allows the defense to be multiple and defend numerous blocking schemes out of virtually any formation due to its balance and ability to adjust. With such a variety of zone schemes, gap schemes, and man schemes out of multiple formations and at much faster tempos, having a system that applies pressure and dictates tempo has been critical to our success. It also allows defenses with different levels of personnel the ability to play fast while staying sound and not having to worry about bending but not breaking.
We have also found that the ability to adjust blitz paths when bringing pressure to and away from the play is critical to successfully stopping the run. This concept adjusts the angle of the run play and spills it to safety support and/or the unblocked defender as gaps close or cancel themselves out. As a 76% blitz team at South River High School, we found that giving our defenders the ability to readjust their blitz angles by keying the hips of down lineman assignment was critical in getting our defenders unblocked. This allowed our players to play gaps across the LOS and effectively attack the offense.
Even though this is a discussion on adjusting blitz angles versus various 1 back runs, it is warranted to briefly discuss our base defensive structure and some basic technique of our down linemen. We look at our blitzes as concepts, so in our verbiage 1 term can cover the assignments of multiple players. Our linebacker’s ability to fit off of the movement of our front is critical to executing each blitz call.
Our base defense is the only defensive call we have where we are in a “read” situation and we are asking our front 7 defenders to key lineman and fit off of blocks to leverage their gap responsibilities. Our base defense is a slanting, 1 gap, odd front scheme with match-up zone coverage principles on the back end. On virtually every snap, our interior defensive tackles are aligned head-up on the offensive tackle in a 4 point stance in a 4 technique. Our nose guard is also aligned head up and in a 4 point stance, aligned in a zero technique, head up on the center.
We like the head-up alignment because it establishes some deception and allows us to disguise where pressure is coming from as well as where we are setting the front. The head-up alignment also plays into a lot of the bluffing and bailing we do with our second level players and our secondary. This creates additional deception to what coverage we are in as well as where we will set our 1 and 5 techniques to the backside and our 4I/3 and 5 techniques to the call side.
When we “set our front” we are telling our three interior lineman to take a 45 degree attack step in the direction of the call and leverage the gap nearest to the slanting call. On the snap, our call side DT will move low and hard staying as square as he can from a 4 technique head up to a 4I technique, inside shade of the tackle. Now a B gap player, the DT will collision the inside half of the tackle getting his inside hand on the inside edge of his shoulder pad and his outside hand down the tackle’s sternum. We give our interior players a pressure key and a read key. In this situation our 4I DT is feeling the tackle that he is slanting away from while reading the block of the near guard.
- If the guard blocks down and away from the DT or pulls inside, the DT will get his eyes inside, squeeze and stay square leveraging the B gap.
- If the guard blocks towards the slanting DT, he will get up the field to the heels of the linemen and play the B gap aggressively.
Our NG repeats the same movement from his O alignment but his pressure key is the center and his read key is the backside guard as he becomes a 1 technique backside. Our backside DT away from the call is also performing the same technique accept his pressure key and read key are the same unless he is aligned to the TE. If he is to the open side, he is moving from a 4 to a 5 technique and his pressure and read key is the tackle. If it is a 2 TE set or we are slanting to the TE in 21 personnel, the DT’s pressure key is the tackle but he is reading the block of the TE.
In our base defense, we will set our front either to the field or the boundary, to or away from the multiple receiver side, to or away from the TE, or to or away from the back in the shot gun. Where we are setting the front is a weekly game plan decision. Every snap we make either a “Roger” or “Louie” call which dictates where the 4th rusher is coming from and, if we are in a 3 deep situation, where safety support is spinning. Our interior linemen always slant away from the front call (Roger/Louie) as the 4th rusher (our call side OLB) becomes the C gap player/5 technique call side (Diagram 1).