Using “On” and “Off” Calls to Defend Option in Odd Fronts

Jun 1, 2020 | Front, Defense, Odd Front Structures, Game Planning, Defending Specific Offensive Systems and Concepts

By Isaac Sturgis
Defensive Coordinator and Inside Linebacker Coach
Guerin Catholic High School (IN)
Twitter: @IsaacSturgis


We play multiple teams that use an element of option in their offense.  I think when you have to defend option, you have to be pretty basic in your design, or kids get confused. Unsound defense leads to big plays.  To combat option teams (teams that use what I call Zone Read, Triple Option, and Power Read) we use a simple On/Off call.  On means a gap exchange between the C Gap and B Gap defender, is onOff means a gap exchange between the C Gap and B Gap defender, is off.  All of my calls are ON by default.  If I want the gap exchange off, then I signal off (My signal is I act like I am turning off a switch). For us, we want to be simple but appear to be multiple to the offense. 

The On/Off call helps us give multiple looks to the offense.  We don’t want the QB to become comfortable making his give or keep read.  We try to show different looks to create confusion for the QB.  I want to dictate to the offense.  I want to give the QB a keep read, then stunt to stop him or I want to give the QB a give read and then stunt to stop the RB.  The On/Off system, allows our defense to do just that.  All of your calls need to be synced with the On/Off Principle in mind.  I know when I call a particular stunt/blitz or coverage I need to tell the defense that we are in our off.  You have to think about this ahead of time, so there aren’t Friday night mistakes. 

We are a Slant/Angle 3-4 defense.  We play Cover 3 (& variations), Cover 2 (& variations), Man Free, 0, 3 under 3 deep or 4 under 2 deep.  We try to have as many responsibilities and techniques for our players be similar or “Just Like” in everything we do.  The On/Off principle is the same.

Our Base Defensive Alignment in below in diagram 1.  We want to show this look every time the offense breaks the huddle.

Diagram 1

If Off is called, our defenders know that if they are playing an off technique (Outside Blitzer, Straight Defensive End) then they are responsible for the QB in Zone/Triple and the Jet against Power Read.  This is the same principle in all of our calls.  If Off is called and you are a C gap rusher, you have the outside portion of option.  If no Off (on) is called and you are a C gap rusher then you become a chase player responsible for the dive while the ILB to that side is the QB player.

If you are an Edge rusher (Cover 0) then you have QB (Zone Read) or Pitch (Triple or Speed Option), or Jet against Power Read.  Nothing can get outside of you.  You must also know that if you are on or off you can spill or wrong arm against a puller.  If you are and edge rusher you cannot spill the ball. 

*Important coaching point is that I think it is very important to have flexibility in your defense to be able to call the strength where you want it.  I like calling the strength to the back against option teams, but also want to have the ability to call the strength away.  Maybe you don’t want to call strength to the back for a particular reason, but want to call it to the field or boundary or the TE.  Don’t box yourself into only defending the Field or Boundary in your defense. 

Diagram 2 and 3 are our base calls.  Diagram 2 shows “Angle 3” and Diagram 3 is our “Slant 2” These are our two major looks that we use.  *If we are playing an option team, then we will most likely end up playing these two looks the majority of the time.

Diagram 2

Diagram 3

The very first thing we do as a defensive staff when playing an Option team is decide who we want to carry the ball.  If the QB is dangerous we want to give him as many give reads as possible, then stunt to the back.  If we want the QB to carry the ball because he’s not as dangerous as the RB, then we will give him as many keep reads as possible.  At the end of the day, our kids have to know only a few things.

If we are veering to the back, then we are going to be in Off most of the game.  Defensively that means that we want the RB to carry the ball, we don’t want the QB to carry the ball, and we are going to give the QB a give read and stunt to stop him.  See Diagram 4.

Diagram 4

If we want the QB to keep the ball, then we will be veering away from the back.  When we veer away from the back, our OLB knows he is in chase technique and our ILB is in scrape technique. 

Diagram 5 shows Veer away from the back – There will be no Off call made, so we are ON by default

Diagram 5

To study game film of this concept, click on the video below: