After learning the 3-4 defense five years ago, our staff has come to love it. The 3-4 defense allows us to be in multiple looks at any given time and still be gap sound. We have also learned that we can run this defense with different types of athletes and still be good.
Our biggest challenge is finding where certain players fit into the defense schematically. So we will start there.
3-4 Defense Personnel
Defensive Ends: We look for an athletic, but bigger-body player at this position. We prefer players who have a wrestling background. They must be able to slant.
Nose Tackle: We look for a big body that can take on multiple blocks. He should be able to slant, but doesn’t need to be as athletic with it.
Inside Linebackers: We look for smart guys for here. They typically make all the strength calls. We want these guys to be able to read the offensive linemen. In a perfect world they would be quick/fast and able to play a little man coverage, but if not we have adjustments if they are not.
Outside Linebackers: These guys have to be athletic and strong. They are our weapons in this defense. They will be engaged with a tight end some and on the line. Other times they are a true outside linebacker. Size isn’t as much of an issue, but they have to have a motor.
Safeties: These guys are our adjustors. We have a strong safety and he needs to more like an outside linebacker, but also able to cover. The free safety can either be the same as the strong safety, but ideally he should be athletic and able to cover and range receivers.
Cornerbacks: These guys need to be able to cover and range receivers. It doesn’t hurt if they also like to hit and get into the mix some.
As you can see, the personnel can vary from position to position. You may also be able to see how a strong safety as a freshman can turn into an outside linebacker as a junior and maybe even turn into a defensive end as a senior.
Something to note is that it also depends on the athlete and what kind of football player they are. We have some guys that are playing out of position, but they make up for it with tenacity and enthusiasm.
3-4 Position Names
- Strong End = Anchor (A)
- Weak End = Jack (J)
- Strong ILB = Sam (S)
- Weak ILB (W)
- Strong OLB = Spur ($)
- Weak OLB = Bandit (B)
- Strong Safety = Rover (R)
- Free Safety = Free (F)
- Corners = Corners (C)
A note about strong- and weak-side players, we use those terms pretty loosely. We are more of a “field-and-bench” type of team with that. We also have some guys who are interchangeable and can play both. It really depends on your athletes and your philosophy.
Basics of the 3-4 Defense
In our multiple 3-4 defense, we’ll slant the front line and bring a linebacker in most of our calls. Depending on which linebacker is brought and where we are on the field (i.e. middle or on a hash), it dictates what coverage we’ll use. We have a system to make our calls easy for the players.
A note about this system — it is easy for the players but it can be difficult for the defensive coordinator. The d-coordinator has to put it all together and make it fit the call. So our base call is 66 Strong Spur 3 (I have changed the naming to not give anything away.)
DIAGRAM 1: Base 3-4 Defense 66 Strong Spur 3 vs 2×2 (Open) Formation.
66 = The defensive front. We are a 123 for the guard, 456 for tackle, 678 for tight end. Lower number is the inside-shoulder, the middle number is head up and the bigger number outside is the shoulder. I always got confused with the i’s and it seemed weird counting on the tight end, so I developed this system to make things easier for me.
Strong = Direction the stunt is coming from. We can also be Field, Bench, Weak, or Strong. We can also call it to or away from the back if needed. The defensive line always slants opposite of the call. So in Figure 1, for example, we’ll give a left call and the defensive linemen slant to the right.
Spur = The stunt or blitz. You can call all of your stunts/blitzes here. Many people give names to groups of stunts. For instance you could give your OLB stunts weapons name and your ILB stunts animal names. If the call is left then the stunt is coming from the left side. When stunting/blitzing we have a check that if a running back crosses your face your peel off with him.
3 = The coverage. This is the coverage and is our base coverage. The Rover rolls down and plays the flat late, while the safety rolls to the middle of the field and plays deep third. The corners also have deep third.
When the offense gives us a TE we typically are engaged on him. If we have a C stunt/blitz with the outside linebacker it is called off and we play through the tight end (see Diagram 2).
DIAGRAM 2: Base 3-4 Defense 66 Strong Spur 3 vs 2×1 (Pro) Formation.
We will run a Cover 2 coverage if we send an inside linebacker (see Diagram 3 & Diagram 4). This allows us to stay sound.
DIAGRAM 3: 66 Strong Sam 2 vs 2×2 (Open) Formation.
DIAGRAM 4: 66 Strong Sam 2 vs 2×1 (Pro) Formation.
We can send an outside linebacker from the bench side only if we are on a hash (see Diagram 5).
DIAGRAM 5: 66 Bench Spur 2 vs 2×2 (Open) Formation.
This article was written by Jason Roth, Defensive Coordinator, Plainfield High School, Plainfield, Ind.