Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Clinic: A Series on the Endicott Gulls Defence - Defensive Front

Coach Jason Scott returns with part 2 in his series looking at the Endicott Gulls defence. This week he talks about how the Gulls set their front.

The Endicott Gulls Defensive Front
I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for the Endicott College Gulls (Beverly, Ma) as their Defensive Line Coach this past season. One of our key objectives this year was to improve our rush defense, so naturally we work very hard at each practice to prepare to stop the run, and set very high standards for ourselves every game – after all, no-one rises to low standards...

We finished the season as the best rush defense in the NEFC, as well as the tenth best team against the run nationally, giving up – on average – only 87 yards on the ground each game, and keeping our opponents under 1000 yards throughout our 11 game season. We allowed 2.5 yards per carry, and surrendered only 7 rushing touchdowns all season. One particular highlight was against Plymouth State, where they rushed 51 times for only 100 yards. We shut them down on the ground and forced them to make plays outside their comfort zone.

Our success is attributed to the coaching staff stressing fundamentals and an aggressive approach to the game. Our primary goal is to stop the run, which in turn controls their passing game. We have a slew of talented pass-rushers and a great scheme, and we want to be able to turn them loose, so we want to make sure that the opposition is facing a 3rd and 6 or longer, so we can bring some heat.

We work these fundamentals in every practice – we need to get our guys lined up right, and get them playing fast. They can only play with great speed when they are comfortable and confident with what they have to do on any given play. To coin a term, they must do their job! We believe if the fundamentals are taught right, the concepts and schemes become second nature, and very little ‘thinking’ has to be done – they’ll see it, recognise it, and make the play.

The Scheme
We play 3-4 defense, with an aggressive, slanting defensive line. Due to the fact that we play an almost exclusive zone coverage scheme, we need to make sure that the players that we send (usually four) in each scheme get to the point of attack and stress the Offensive Linemen. Remember, we don’t want our guys ‘thinking’ too much – it makes them slow – but you bet that we want the opposition to be forced to think!

In order to understand what we want to do with the Defensive Linemen, it’s important to know what our scheme looks like, and how we want to attack the Offensive front. We find that getting our DL to attack and penetrate is more useful than just plating up on the blocker and ‘protecting the gap’ – in past experiences, I’ve found this gives the advantage to the offense – they know who to block, and slows us down. Everything we do – especially in the verbage we use – is designed promote our aggressive nature.

In the Gull defense, we (almost) always call the strength to the field – this is the way we want our Defensive Linemen slanting.

If the ball is on the hash – the call is easy. The Free Safety will make the strength call, which will be echoed down to the Defensive Line via the Interior Linebackers.
Our Defensive Line aligns with the typical 30 front base techniques – the Ends are head up on the Tackles (regardless of a TE) in a 4 technique, whilst the Nose is in 0 technique – head up on the Center. In addition, we have two ‘overhanging’ Linebackers – the Hawk (almost always to the field) and the Bandit (almost always to the boundary).

In our base front – ANGLE – the Bandit will aggressively attack the edge, whilst the Hawk (assuming that he has read pass), will drop into coverage.

This concept is true for all our Base Angle formations – the Bandit knows that he will always be to the Boundary, and will always be driving off the edge. The Defensive Line knows that they have their gap to the strong-side; they know who they have to read, and who they have to influence.

The Defensive Line: Assignments and Rules
The Defensive Linemen need to be, not only strong and quick, but also have the ability to be able to recognise the blocking scheme almost immediately. This again, goes back to working on fundamentals in practice – we repeatedly go over the technique that we’d see on the Saturday, and ensure that the block identification becomes second nature to the Defensive Linemen.

We coach them to take a short, quick initial step with the foot that is in the direction of the call. This first step should be at a 45 degree angle. Our hands will shoot up, quickly delivering a punch to the gap that we’re moving to. Our second step – the recovery step – will be determined by the movement of our key.
Our SIGHT key will be the next offensive lineman that we’re moving towards, except when that player is a Tight End. If the Tight End is our original sight key, we will use our peripheral vision to determine whether they are releasing or attempting to block us. Once this is established, we will redirect our attention back to the Offensive Tackle and make a read from him

So, with that in mind – in ANGLE – the Nose will be driving to the A gap, reading on the Guard, with the weak side End also reading the Guard, but driving the B gap. The strong side End is punching towards the C gap, reading – at first – the blocking threat of the TE, and then the strong side tackle.
It’s the goal of Defensive Linemen to attack the gaps, and force the Offensive Line to respect them as threats. In an ideal world, we’d like the Nose tackle to draw a combo block from the Guard and Center, allowing the Linebackers to flow and make plays. It’s tough for the weak side Guard to climb to the next level, because of the aggressive, penetrative nature of the Defensive End.

Once we have gained control, and made our read, we must turn the opponent’s shoulders by pushing with your post hand, and pulling with the other. After we have turned the shoulders, we must use a disengagement move and pursue to the football. The three most common techniques we use are:

SHRUG: Use this when your opponent has too much of his weight forward and we can use his momentum against him. Once the Defensive Lineman has turned his shoulders, and locked out his post hand, we coach the defensive players to pull the opponent violently towards you, down and away from our gap or responsibility, before we throw the blocker to the ground, and find the football

RIP: We use this against an opponent that has good balance in his attack. Once we have turned the opponent’s shoulders, we’ll attack one side of the blocker in the direction of the gap responsibility. Dippping our near shoulder, we’ll rip our inside arm through the outside hip of the blocker in order to get the shoulder under and through. Punch through into the sky, and banana step past the blocker, replacing his foot. Finish my continuing to push up the field as you pursue to the football.

SLIP: This is used when we have outside leverage on a blocker that is trying to reach us. Once his shoulders are turned, we coach them to attack one shoulder in the direction of the direction of the gap responsibility. They should then reach for the back of our opponent’s shoulder and grab jersey or pad and pull his shoulder turning it down across the body. Slip the inside arm over the blockers shoulder as stepping with the inside leg.  We follow through with the inside arm, brining our elbow down on the blockers back as you pursue to the football

Playmakers Alley
The play of the weak side end is so vital to the success in our running game, as he bring so much to the table in the running game.

Consider this – the Offensive Scheme wants to run a Zone play to the field – most schemes would have the weak-side Guard and Center working against the Nose, with the Tackle on the weak-side stepping inside to seal off the Defensive End. The strong-side Guard would be then left to work against the Strong Side End, and work up to the play-side linebacker.

However, in our scheme, we step strong side with our Nose Tackle, which means that the Guard has to respect his stunt, and work with the Center to pick him up. This keeps the play-side linebacker free to flow. On the weak side the Guard would be stepping down into the A gap, opening up a huge hole in the B gap – this is filled with the Defensive End, who, because of his aggressive nature has beaten the Tackle to the gap – working his head and hands across him and getting in Playmakers Alley.

This is the zone in which we feel good about the Defensive End chasing the play down from the backside – the Guard has left him alone, whilst the End has used his technique to beat the Tackle to the point of attack. This is also true when the Guard pulls on a Power or Counter – it allows the End to have a shot on the ball, and be a playmaker.

Do Your Job!
Of course, the work of one player would be rendered useless if the rest of the Defensive Front do not do their job – it’s vital that they understand that if they do their job then we should make plays on every down. In addition, they need to trust their teammates that they are also doing their job.

This, once again, comes down to repetition at practice – get the fundamentals down, repeat the fundamentals, and then repeat some more. As soon as everyone understands their role and their assignment, the whole front should perform and defend as one, formidable unit.

I’ve skirted around huge aspects of our defense, as I’m being held to a word limit, I’ve tried to cram in as much as I could. If you do have any questions, I really urge you to contact me ( and I’d be happy to answer any more of your questions.

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