By Bill Hawkins
Defensive Coordinator/DBs Coach
South Terrebonne High School (LA)
One of the biggest commodities that a high school defense can have is defensive linemen. Most schools may have one or two players who have the size, strength, speed, and skill to play the position while having to fill in the rest of the spots with undersized players. Most high school defensive linemen have one or two of the above traits but most high schools I have coached for or played against have to play with players who are not “ideal” for the position. The majority of the players that we have playing the position are smaller, quicker players that are lacking in one or more of the criteria mentioned above.
When playing against teams who are run heavy (like the majority of the teams in our district) with the players we have, we cannot line straight up against teams who outweigh us and let them fire off on our defensive linemen all night long. Eventually they will wear us down if we don’t move and stunt our players. By playing in static positions and techniques, it makes the offensive linemen’s jobs easier because they can follow their blocking rules and fire off on the defensive line. However, by stunting/slanting/moving our defensive linemen (post-snap), we create moving targets for the offensive line to block, make them have to stick to and follow their rules on the run, and can make them chase and block the “wrong” player. This can allow for our defensive linemen to come through unblocked, run through lanes for our linebackers to go through untouched, or plug everything up inside and force the ball to bounce out wide to our overhangs.
In order to successfully run as many stunts, slants, and movements as we do, communication and simple reads for the players are the most important factors. We try to communicate everything that we can on the field so that the players can hear the call and play faster instead of having to think about their job, assignment, or technique. Categorizing the slants and stunts and giving them names helps with executing the movements and can be built upon to incorporate other pressures and blitzes down the road.
Our base defense is built out of 3-3-5 personnel, but we are often playing with 4 players at the line of scrimmage. Structurally, we run an under front and also utilize a tite front as our base. Strength is called to the passing strength of the formation so that our nickel always aligns to the side with the most split wide receivers and our Jack can line up on the line of scrimmage as a 4th defensive lineman. Our three down linemen include our End, Nose, and Tackle. The end and nose align to the strength (Under) and our tackle aligns weak in either a 3 tech, 4 tech, or 4i depending on the call. We utilize 4 different categories of slants which tells one or three of the down defensive linemen the direction they are moving. Everything is an R or L word to tell the players the direction they will be slanting to. Players have to understand that there are two different types of slants: head up slants and shaded slants. If the player is in a head up technique, then they are slanting to the gap and playing it like they are shaded on their man.
If the player is in a shaded technique (inside shade or outside shade), then they are reading the next adjacent offensive lineman in the direction they are slanting to.
From there, they will play a “Heads/Tails” technique. If the next adjacent offensive lineman’s head is coming to you, go across his head. If his tail is going away from you, scrape paint with his hip and your hip and work down their heel line as square as possible to get in the next gap. Working the heel line prevents vertical seams from being created vs the run which gives the ball carrier chances to cut back or pullers to kick you out.
Slant Group 1: Ron/Lynn
The tags “Ron/Lynn” tells just our nose that he is slanting either to the right or left (hence the “N’s” in the names). This tag is utilized in multiple stunts and pressures and is taught as a head up slant and as a shaded slant. You can use this in a regular bear front and slant the nose strong or weak, or you can shade him on the center, stunt him strong towards the guard, and bring a linebacker across the center’s face to blitz into a bear front (one of our more common pressures). We have multiple base calls and pressures that we use “Ron/Lynn” for, but it is a simple call to remind our nose the direction he is slanting without having a linebacker tapping his hip to tell him where to go.
Slant Group 2: Rhino/Lion
Like the previous tag, “Rhino/Lion” tells the two strong side defensive linemen (End and Nose) to slant to the direction called. We use this slant almost exclusively out of our Tite front because it will bring us from our 4i-0-4i or 4-0-4 alignment pre-snap into our Under front post-snap. This is typically used vs 11/12/21 personnel formations to make it look pre-snap like the offense would have the angles to down block us and beat us to the edge. By stunting to an under front, we can either eliminate the down block from the TE or whoever would be trying to get to the second level which keeps our LBs clean. If the TE still gets to the 2nd level, the C gap should now be closed due to the 4/4i slanting out. We continually stress to our players that if they come through clean off of their slant that they must not get up field and stay square and work the heel line to still be able to work to the ball carrier and spill pullers if necessary.
Slant Group 3: River/Lake
“River/Lake” is used exclusively in under and over fronts to move post-snap from an under to an over front and vice versa. Changing the picture from pre- to post-snap is key for us to not be static and give the offensive line a chance to fire off on us. This movement tells our nose and 3/4i tech to run a shaded slant to the direction called. We have several different ways that we use this call. Many times, we will just run the slant with no added pressure, and it is a great look and changeup to when we do play static (non-slanting or non-stunting) fronts and calls. This movement is also an often-used base movement in many sim pressures, creepers, and blitzes to help open up rush lanes and get 1 on 1s with a back in protection or create run-throughs for 2nd and 3rd level rushers.