Last year Baylor’s defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, ran into a serious issue, lack of defensive line depth. Anyone who has watched Baylor under Bennett’s tenure knows that they base heavily out of a four-down, but faced with little depth and injuries to key players, he turned to a three-down front. The transition, for the most part, was smooth. How was Baylor able to keep a steady hand on the defense while, to an outsider, completely change the playbook? They just switch to an under front, replaced the boundary end with an outside linebacker (Taylor Young), and kept their run fits.
Even in a four-down scheme, most defensive coordinators will have a three-down playbook used for situations that call for drop-eight coverage, or obvious passing teams/downs. In Baylor’s case, they had already shown the playbook was there. In order for a smooth transition, without the labor of creating a brand new scheme, the Okie Front was installed. An Okie Front is essentially a 5 technique, shade nose, and a 3 technique. When the front is set to the strength it resembles an under front, with the OLB to the boundary as a wide-9.
Even when the front was switched, the run fits and pass distributions didn’t change. The front was just flipped. This quick tweak allowed Baylor a quick transition verbally (calling plays) and schematically (run fits/pass distributions) when the switch to three down was decided. Even to 3-by-1 sets, the front stayed the same as the Baylor’s base 4-3’s, the under front. The “Jack” backer, for the most part, played by Taylor Young, essentially read the end man on the line of scrimmage acting like an end in run and an OLB in pass. More importantly, the pressures and blitzes were only slightly adjusted so they could be run out of an under front.
The advantage in running an Okie is not just in the run fits, by setting the 5-tech to the field the Sam is allowed to cover down to the #2 receiver. This simple adjustment gives the defense a plus-1 in the pass, while keeping the box intact. Much like Narduzzi at Pitt, Bennett transitioned into a quarters press scheme over his tenure. The theory behind running press with quarters is it limits the number of route choices, thus creating predictability all while keeping a nine-man box.
When faced with a dilemma such as lack of defensive line depth, a defense can be multiple and creative. Even if a defense runs a 4-3, it is an easy transition to a 3-4 through the Okie Front. This transition can be especially useful at the high school ranks where depth can fluctuate yearly. When installing a 4-3 defense, teach the Okie Front right alongside it. This allows the players to see the slight adjustments and creates fluidity between the schemes. It is important to have a base defense, something that can be leaned on regularly and expanded, but when faced with depth issues a defensive coach can look at their own scheme and find ways to tweak it to fit personnel much like Baylor had to in 2015.