By Steve Erxleben
Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
Southern High School (MD)
At Southern High School, our defensive staff believes in zone pressure and the ability to bring any combination of inside linebackers, outside linebackers, and secondary players on any down and distance and at any position on the field. We split our blitzes into categories based on what combination of players (ILB/OLB, ILB/ILB, OLB/OLB, or ILB/Secondary player) is built into the pressure.
Against most 2 back personnel groupings (20,21 and 22) on 1st down and 2nd and 4+, we use a combination of “edge” blitzes (ILB/OLB blitz from the same side) and “staggered’ blitzes (ILB and OLB from different sides) team. We will primarily focus in this article on the 3-man surface in 21 and 22 personnel first then examine the weak side counterpart.
On heavy run downs, we like to put the “numbers” or the shade/1 technique to the 3-man surface and the reduction to the weak side or the 2-man surface. The reason we prefer this is we feel that putting the “numbers” to their numbers will create two hard edges, one in the C gap and one in the A gap. Our force player outside and two alley players to leverage the FB and TB in a full flow situation. Blitzing the 2-man surface offers the opportunity to trap or close down the cut back and keeps the run front side and hopefully altered to the sideline.
The main issue with the two back run front side is that if every lineman base blocks to the side of the TE, there are 5 blockers front side and only 4 defenders if the front is sent away and the reduction is put to the TE. We primarily adjust to this with our coverage by adding the safety as a box run defender and allowing the backside ILB to be a true fast flow player. Adding the pressure, however, throws more at the blocking scheme and works in our favor as we work to funnel the ball and get at least one player unblocked.
All of our “edge” or same side ILB/OLB blitzes are places on a map and begin with the letter “T” to designate what stunt/movement our call side defensive tackle is running and where our ILB and OLB call side are fitting. The side away from the blitz is playing base technique like they would be in a regular base defensive call. All of our “staggered” or opposite ILB/OLB blitzes start with the letter “N” due to the fact the nose guard is primarily involved in the pressure and not just playing a normal read technique. Having a good mix of both edge and staggered blitz on 1st down and any heavy run down and distances keeps our blitzing identity and allows us to play with different styles and abilities with regards to our personnel on the field.
To set the foundation, I wanted to talk briefly about our base defense. We look at our blitzes as concepts, so in our verbiage one term can cover the assignments of multiple players and 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. In that case, 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 with match-up zone coverage principles on the back end. On virtually every snap, our interior defensive tackles are aligned head-up on the OT 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 due to the fact 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. We also do this with our secondary to creates deception to what coverage we are in.
When we “set our front” we are telling our 3-interior linemen to take a 45-degree angle of attack. 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 OT. Now a B gap player, the DT will collision the inside half of the OT getting his inside hand on the inside edge of the OT’s shoulder pad and his outside hand down the sternum of the OT. We give our interior players a pressure key and a read key. In this situation, our 4I DT is feeling the OT he is slanting away from but actually reading the block of the OG. If the OG blocks down and away from the DT or pulls inside, he 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 OL and play the B gap aggressively. Our NG repeats the same movement from his O technique 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 OT. If it is a two TE set or we are slanting to the TE in 21 personnel, the DT’s pressure key is the OT but he is reading the block of the TE.