By Michael Bellacosa
St. John the Baptist High School (NY)
The approach we take defensively at St. John's will always remain the same no matter what offensive scheme we face: we will overwhelm the point of attack. We focus on putting pressure on our opponent using multiple fronts stemming from a 4-3 defense in order to make the offense very reactive.
Our primary call in attacking a spread offense that use jet motion from the backfield is what we call “Stack”. This is a simple over front moving one of our linebackers to the line of scrimmage and stacking our remaining linebackers slightly outside of our defensive tackles giving them protection. It has been very effective for us over the past few years and I believe it can be a nice weapon for coaches to add against these types of teams.
Before I get into the “stack” call itself, I feel it is important that you understand why we take this approach. Our goal is to never break our 7 man box and to bring in up to 9 whenever we can. With that, we are comfortable and confident in sending anywhere from 4 to 7 players after the QB with as much movement up front as possible. Our middle linebacker and safeties are the key to making this style of defense succeed.
I have always believed the best way to play defense at the high school level is to take the reactive nature of defense out of the equation and take an offensive play calling approach to the other side of the ball. The objective is simple, to overwhelm the point of attack and overload the line of scrimmage with movement and different angles created by various fronts. With this approach in mind, I draw up a simple game plan with as many different fronts as possible to stop the offense’s top plays.
Our opponents have tried to spread us out and get players into space using traditional spread rules and a hurry up style. Our style never changes and I feel that by keeping the receivers in front of our defensive backs and tackling well, teams are not able to short pass us down the field. By committing so many players to the box and playing so close to the line of scrimmage, we are dictating to the offense to throw the ball, and throw it quickly since the rush is coming.
The most important thing that I think of when putting together a defensive game plan is to maintain my aggressive approach and line up in a way so that my players can always play my call. We never check out of a call no matter what the offense does.
To counter our defensive approach, many teams have been running full speed jet motion as a way to make us react quickly with hopes of creating a mismatch.
The middle linebacker becomes the key to defending this style of offense. Most of the jet motion comes from the backfield in a 32 personal type grouping (3 receivers and 2 backs). Instead of playing with a single high safety, we will use our middle linebacker to drop coverage in the middle of the field while sending pressure off the edge with our outside linebacker and weak side safety.
Diagram 1 (below) shows our base 4-3 defense numbering our safeties and linebackers 1-5 front left to right for our blitz purposes in other packages. Our defensive line have specific landmarks to hit across the offensive line to help keep their pad level down and stop them from peaking in the backfield. Our base coverage is Combo 2-1 man coverage with linebackers picking up the back out of the backfield. This coverage is simple implementing switch principles to defend any pick plays and combination routes.
We commit our 2 and 4 linebackers to the line of scrimmage on more than half of our defensive snaps. They are our bigger linebackers, similar in stature to our defensive ends. Our 3 linebacker is the key to the defense. We look for a player with the build and skill set of a large safety. He must be able to run sideline to sideline and cover backs out of the backfield on swing and seams when we are in Red coverage. In the case of defending this full speed, last second jet motion, he must be able to drop and play a middle zone.