Just Play: Simple, Multiple Defense

Implementing A Defense That Is Multiple, But Simple

Over the last 50 years, football has constantly evolved. The rules have changed, and offenses are spreading the ball out and scoring more points in today’s games. The defense has had to adjust and adapt to the new schemes, tempos and rules in order to keep up. As a defensive coach, I would love for the days of 10-7 final scores to return, but those are rare in the current game.

RoadTripSports_1x1Trends come and go, and seemingly do a full circle over time. Even though concepts continue to change and progress, some have withstood the test of time. A team has to be able to block and tackle. Offensively, a team has to score more than its opponent and ideally not turn over the ball. Defensively, a team must stop the offense and get the ball back. It is a pretty simple game, right?

As coaches, we all wish it was that easy, but we know the game is more complex. There are strategy, schematics and psychology to consider. I have been a football junkie my entire life and enjoy the mental aspects of the sport. I love to continue to learn more about the game.

Yet there is an aspect I firmly believe in, and it’s something that we cannot forget as coaches. It’s a simple creed: “Keep the main thing, the main thing.”

Three “Musts” Of A Great Defense

No matter what kind of defense or scheme you run, there are some aspects that are vital for success. Like many, I believe the 1985 Bears defense is one of the best all-time. I am sure I am slightly biased, with my parents and majority of my family growing up in Chicago, but that unit boasted three important qualities that I always look for when comparing great defenses:

  1. Effort – Regardless of the scheme, you must have 11 players running to the ball with elite effort. Playing with fanatical energy and chasing the ball like your life depends on it will cover up a lot of mistakes and issues.
  2. Buy-In – You must have players who are committed to what we are and to each other.
  3. Identity – You must be able to identify your team’s strengths. Find the things your unit excels at and can execute in any situation. Look for go-to strategies that your players are confident in and know intrinsically.

Just like offenses, defenses have been forced to adapt over time to stop new trends. I often hear coaches say they run a 4-2-5 or a 3-4. As we all know, there are many different ways to reach the ultimate result: a win. With all the different types of defenses, there is often a lot of carryover from one to another. Yet there are only a certain number of coverages and fronts a defense can run, and no matter what, you must have something that your players study in depth and can execute flawlessly.

Implementing Your System

The road to becoming a coordinator varies depending on your situation. You may be replacing someone who was fired or left for another job. Each scenario has its own challenges. In some instances, you may be taking over at a program that has not been very successful. Other times, it may be the complete opposite, like assuming the reigns somewhere with a rich history and high expectations.

At both Valdosta State and Kennesaw State, I was promoted to coordinator from within. In each instance, it was vital for the team to feel comfortable and have a smooth transition. While players respond to changes in staff roles and/or a new coaching staff, I made it a goal to keep the learning curve short and sweet. It was imperative to keep the verbiage the same or similar to what players already know so they can adjust quickly and respond seamlessly.

Making it yours, while still holding onto what helps your players be efficient and successful allows the team to adapt. Regardless of your circumstance, you are inheriting a group of players. As a staff, you must assess the personnel and see what fits their strengths.

Multiple, But Simple

I believe in having a defense that is multiple, but that’s also simple for the players to execute. Offenses today are well-versed in their systems. If your defense is predictable, the offense will be successful attacking you. You must give the offense different looks and keep them guessing with what-ifs.

When we install our defense, we want to build off of our base front and coverage, which will be our foundation. These base alignments and rules are crucial for the infrastructure of the defense. From that structure, we get into different looks, fronts and variations of coverages. There must be carryover and “same as” in these different looks. We want to give our players base rules that they can stick to regardless of the various sets opposing offenses will show.

When we add new fronts or move from one to another, it is vital that the fits stay the same as much as possible for the linebackers. How much we know as coaches is worthless if our players are unable to implement it. Our job is to take something that might be complicated and make it simple for our players to understand. (Diagram 1 and Diagram 2)

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Diagram 1

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Diagram 2

Growing As Teachers

Our job as coaches is to be efficient teachers and mentors. We must get our players to understand many different things. Everyone processes information differently and as coaches, we must identify how each player learns to find the best ways to allow players to access and comprehend what we are teaching. There are the four basic types of learning:

  1. Visual – Diagrams, presentations, playbooks, videos.
  2. Auditory – Questions, teaching, speaking.
  3. Kinesthetic – Walk-through, repetition, drills.
  4. Reading/Writing – Drawing plays, tests to recap, summarize.

A good coach finds ways to reach players and help them understand.

In today’s game, we must be creative and use technology to help our players engage and learn. The days of sitting in a dark room for an hour straight and expecting our players to stay focused is unrealistic for a majority of them today. Everyone uses different verbiage, but it is important to compartmentalize concepts into different categories. When we categorize coverages, blitzes and various defenses, it makes the learning curve easier for the players. Additionally, if you add something new, there will be some carryover.

Install Progression/Toolbox

One of the most important things is the order of our install progression. Within the first 6-8 installs, our goal is to instill 80 percent of the techniques our players will use. We aim for this mark so that when we add a new defense or adjustment, the players are not having to learn a new technique.

For example, we can add a new blitz and tell the cornerbacks that they are just playing squat, and the linebackers are just wall players. I learned that from listening to Mel Tucker speak during his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which made a lot of sense and has stuck with me throughout my career. So, we are intentional within those first 6-8 installs to ensure each position is learning the techniques that we will use throughout the season.

Each position coach has a toolbox for his group with concepts that must be checked off, as illustrated by the following examples for safeties. (Diagram 3 and Diagram 4)

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Diagram 3

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Diagram 4

Ability To Adapt

When we put in our defenses and organize our installs, it should vary depending on the type of players we have and what their strengths are. Every year, the players change, and you need to be able to adjust what you do based on the players. You do not want to force a square peg into a round hole. We build our playbook and system so that we can do a variety of things, but we also understand that we will not run everything it contains. Our goal is to have the schemes taught and ready to go if needed.

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During a season, you may have multiple injuries that can impact depth at certain positions. If we have a rash of defensive linemen injured and have to go to a three-down front, we need to have the capability to do so. We must have a set of tools that our players know how to use without having wholesale change and teaching an entirely new defense.

This article was written by Danny Verpaele, Defensive Coordinator, Kennesaw State University


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