Streamlining Communication Methods to Defend Tempo

Sep 9, 2018 | Defense, Communication, Game Planning

By Mike Harrison
Athletic Director/Head Football Coach
Holy Cross High School (TX)


Facing an up-tempo, multiple formation offense has forced us to find ways to match the offensive pace while being able to bring pressure, check coverages and have sound formation adjustments. It has been our experience that athletes who are confident in what they are doing play instinctively rather than reactively. Instinctive athletes tend to play faster and therefore become “playmakers”. Our ability to communicate effectively is the center of our defensive system and is based on the following principals:

  1.  Ease of communication through the use of wrist bands

  2.  Front end preparation by coaches

  3.  Putting information in an easy and coherent format that players can use in games


Our success is a direct reflection of our players and staff “buy-in” to this system. Once implemented it takes a tremendous burden off the players and allows them to play with confidence. In fact, our players affectionately refer to our defensive wrist band communication system as the “idiot card” due to its

Using Movement to Gain Numeric Advantages

The goal of an up-tempo offensive scheme is to disrupt the defensive signals so that the defense is misaligned.  This creates a natural mismatch for the offensive team to expose. The most common response of any defense when struggling to get calls in is to run their base defense. The offense takes away your ability to attack, and they gain the ability to dictate the flow of the game. In our defensive scheme we rely a great deal on movement to be successful, and we use automatics to gain a numbers advantage against certain formations, aligning in base would hurt us.

We wanted to be able to maintain our aggressive defensive style against any tempo offense we face. It simply took too long to signal a call in from the sideline to communicate the defensive front, stunt and coverage. The other factor we considered is that we wanted to be able to check/audible our defensive call by offensive formation-we wanted the ability to align differently vs a 1 back or 2 back set.

Limiting Defensive Techniques

The emphasis is on mastering a few techniques and then using those techniques to communicate effectively with the team through individual positions. Limiting the amount of techniques an athlete will utilize in a game allows them to execute those techniques at a high level. The greatest failures defensively usually fall in one of about three areas: 1. Alignment, 2. Reads and 3. Gap Responsibility. Our focus is to reduce those mistakes by effective communication against the up–tempo teams. 

We focus on coaching techniques with only a few formational adjustments that are predetermined, such as our wing/nasty rule for our OLB’s. The techniques are limited by position which again, allows athletes to learn few things, but do them very well. Most importantly with this focus on technique, it allows more quality repetitions at practice. This means we will become more instinctive and less reactive.

Using Coaches Call Card