Having a set routine throughout the year alleviates the stress of creating a practice plan every week. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel every on a weekly. Even if an opponent’s scheme changes drastically from week to week, it is in the best interest of the staff and players to keep a consistent thought process throughout the season and build towards “Game Day.” When creating a weekly schedule a defensive coach should approach it much like teaching a class.
The early part of the practice week should be focused on getting to know the opponent’s base plays and formations while reviewing how the defense’s base alignments and calls line up against an opponent’s scheme. Towards the middle of the week is when the pressures and “stop calls” designed to shut down a particular offense are worked, and later in the week slow it down and review before the final test – Friday Night. There should be a build up of knowledge, all built off the foundation – the base defense.
Each day should also be set aside for a certain theme (1st down, 3rd down, Red Zone, etc), all accumulating on the Thursday walkthrough (think of it as the review before the test). By Wednesday there should be no more tweaking of the call sheet. The worst thing a coach can do is create doubt by changing alignments or add calls the day before the game. The only thing that should be changed is the elimination of calls that the staff doesn’t trust or the players couldn’t execute during the week. Below is a sample work week for a defense.
Typical Game Week
Sunday (Day 0 or Film Review):
Sunday is spent reviewing the opponent’s film breakdown data and looking at the hit chart. The first film usually watched is the “Explosives Tape.” This tape consists of what the opponent’s offense has been explosive in (runs over 10 yards/passes over 15). Is it a WR they are targeting, do they have a speedy QB that tends to get out of the pocket? Where and what are these explosive plays. Once the staff has identified where the explosives are coming from it is time to turn to the hit chart and create a game plan for how the defense will align.
The point of the hit chart is to allow the defensive staff to pick up tendencies and identify ways to attack the offense. The staff should go through each main formation and discuss how the base defense will align. Once the base is established the defense can start developing ways to attack tendencies and create “stop calls” to use later in the week. Most base defenses have a set of movements and pressures that are called on a regular basis. These can be run with a defense’s base since the players are familiar. Any new scheme or rarely used situational call should be practiced and repped later in the week. All practice plans are completed and the scout team playbook is created before the day is over.
Monday (Day 1): Full Pads
Monday is an introductory day for the players. During practice, there will be a “formation adjustment” period that should last no longer than 10 minutes (this can also be done during pre-practice if time doesn’t allow it). The Form. Adjustment period is where the players will align to the opponent’s top formations and base calls are ran. This is a walk through setting and a time to teach and make any alignment tweaks for that week.
During this period it is important to explain what the players will see from each formation. In a perfect world, each practice begins with an “adjustment” period. The goal of this period is to cover all base formations (throughout the year) and base calls to create muscle memory in the players. The utilization of this period will help the players to easily recognize formations and naturally line up correctly.
Monday’s are base days. This means the defense will stay in its base calls. The only pressures that will be used in Monday’s practice are ones that are considered the defense’s “bread-n-butter” calls. Each Monday preferably includes a good-on-good pass skell. and team situation (1st down). Once the scouts come over, there is an inside run period followed by as pass skell period. Outside run is next up, and practice is ended on a play-action/screen period as a team or total “team” period. The first day of the practice is to expose the defense to what they will see, with the emphasis being 1st down.
Tuesday (Day 2): Full Pads
Tuesday is when the “stop” calls are inserted into the practice plan. Monday should have introduced the players to the base for that week. Tuesday is the next step in the evolution towards game day. During a Tuesday practice, the players can expect to see much more pressures and blitzes. This is the day to make sure that what a defense is calling is going to work.
Monday was for the base calls, and to get the players lined up. Tuesday’s are for matching up the opponent’s top plays against a defense’s stop calls to counteract. The down and distance focus of Day #2 is still 1st and 2nd down. There is still a good-on-good period, usually a pass skell (if seeing more power teams, a true team session would fit). Like Monday, Tuesday is separated into inside runs (or conventional runs), a field skelly (what is the defense seeing in the middle field zones – -30 to +30), outside runs/options, and finally, a team session that is based off what the opponent is showing the defense on 1st and 2nd down.
The skelly portion of Tuesday’s practice is used to see if the blitz pass distribution is going to work against the offense’s top pass concepts. The worst thing a defensive staff can do is create a blitz and never work it against something that will stress it, primarily a pass or certain formation the opponent runs. Tuesday is the best day to stress all of a defense’s calls to see if they really work or do they just look good on paper. Failure is fine, as long as it’s now (Tuesday) instead of Friday Night.
Wednesday (Day 3): Shells
After reviewing the practice film from Tuesday, any call that didn’t fit well or was too risky versus pass should be dropped. Wednesday is the day where everything is solidified and the call sheet established. Generally, a defense should also take a step back in terms of contact.
The first session for the defense is a Red Zone pass skell. It is beneficial to move the ball from the 20-yard line in as the session goes. This movement gives the players spacial awareness, and offenses tend to change closer to the goal line allowing the staff to show this in the script. Once the defense reaches the goal line, the defensive line is brought over and the defense can walk through the opponents’ goal-line package (runs and passes).
Finally, the practice is finished off with a 25-30 play script with a set down and distance. This gives the players a feel for how the game might flow. All the plays are selected based on the opponents’ tendencies and breakdown. The script usually starts off with plays from the opponent’s own -20. As the script goes deeper it should work in plays from the middle of the field (teams like to take shots past the 50), and then the pre-Red Zone (+40-30). The calls for this session will match the game plan. Nothing is random and works towards the End Zone, just like a game.
Thursday (Day 4): Helmets
Typically the day before a game is an intense walk through. After the special teams’ portion is complete the defense should go through all the sub situations and packages for the game plan. Once the packages have been run through, the defense can transition into a ten play run script to cover the top 10 opponent runs from the field. The calls are scripted to match the call sheet. Once finished with the team run portion the defense will transition to a field pass skell (15 plays) and then a Red Zone skell (moving towards the end zone, and about 12-15 plays). If a team is heavy run in the Red Zone the adjustment is to have a full team session with the offense’s top Red Zone plays. Finally, the practice is finished in a review of the defense’s PAT/FG block, safe punt, and “victory,” or Hail Mary, defense.
Friday = Game Day
Clear Plan and Execute
Bottom line, a defense should have a clear plan for the week and execute it throughout. A defensive staff should not be afraid to stress its players and scheme to see if it fails. There is nothing worse than going through a full week of practice and no one really getting tested (We learn through failure!) It is also unrealistic. The point of practice is to stress the mind and body so the game slows down.
Each day has a theme and needs to be reflected in the plays a defense will see from the scout team/opponent. Tuesday is probably the most important day of the week. That is the day a defense sees if the gameplan will really work and all the calls are run. It is also critical to work pressures in all situations, run and pass. Without ever running blitzes against the pass a defense will never know if the distribution is there. Again, have a plan and execute. Knowing what the week will bring helps the defensive coordinator and his staff be more efficient during the weekend. Wasting time is a leader’s worst enemy. It creates dissension and negative attitudes. Work smarter, not harder.
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