The Modern Bear Front
Though the Georgia Bulldogs are known primarily for their three-down Nickel package known as Mint, their base package reflects a traditional 3-4 package. In their game versus Notre Dame in 2017, the Bulldogs featured two hybrid OLBs (not including their Jack ‘backer who is similar in every package) versus the various 12 pers. formations the Irish chose to run against them. One a true Sam linebacker (Base), the other a Nickelback (referred to as the Star/* – seen in the Mint package). When Notre Dame would switch to their 11 pers. package, Georgia could opt to sub in their Nickel package (in comes the Star). Even though new players come on, the packages function in similar ways. The pressures and fits many times only need minor tweaking.
The natural alignment of the Tite Front (above) lends itself to multiplicity. The ability to gap out the box allows a defense to stay in lighter packages versus heavier formations like 12 pers. When defending offenses like Oklahoma that feature a hybrid (flex) TE and a traditional inline/H-back TE (blocker), the ability to keep a Ni on the field while still being able to match the size in the box is critical. Modern offenses with the addition of hybrid TEs have made it difficult for defenses to match sub-packages with offensive personnel. Add tempo, and it’s next to impossible.
When a defense wants to match the size of an offense, it can take it’s Ni off the field and sub a traditional OLB or another hybrid DE. Georgia bases out of a traditional 3-4 with two hybrid OLB/DEs with the Sam usually being more athletic and having the ability to play to the field. The Jack and Sam versus a 12 pers. formation will function similarly. In Georgia’s case, the Sam in 2017 was #7 Lorenzo Carter, who currently plays for the NY Giants (3rd Round).
The main difference, as illustrated below, is the Sam aligns in a true 9 tech. and will relate to the TE. He can even be used in coverage, working the vertical Hook or taking the 1st player to the flat (called a ‘Backer 9). This type of thinking is what helped Georgia match up with Notre Dames multiple formations and sub-packages. The ability to get into a Bear Front in multiple ways also factored in against the Irish’s Zone heavy scheme.
In a traditional Bear Front, the defense will align in two 9s, two 3s, and a “zero” Nose. The ILBs will be in 30s or stacking the DTs (the ILBs can align wider depending on where the back is set). Coverage variations can stem from a multitude of two-high or single-high coverages. Obvious adjustments need to be made with the overhangs attached to the box, but most coverages can easily be modified to fit a defense’s needs. Plus, this package is mainly used versus 21 or 12 personnel, which in modern football are basically the same grouping.
If a team isn’t inserting the OLBs as contain, the overhangs can be used to cut the flat versus a two-back set or press and carry a TE in 12 pers. Below, the Jack and Sam could be “first-to-flat” players allowing them to sit next to the LOS, which is more natural, and carry the first back into their zone. Essentially, the Bear Front clogs all interior gaps and creates free-flowing ILBs with two contain players to funnel runs inside. Drop a SS or Rover on a TE and the defense has something that resembles the old Bear 46 (below).
The “modern” Bear Front aligns similar to it’s older counterpart but uses 4i techniques instead of 3s (to align with the Tite Front). The Nose can play similarly as well from a “zero.” The overhangs, like their traditional counterparts, can play contain or assist in coverage. The beauty of the Tite Front is that the defense can get to a Bear alignment in a multitude of ways, even stemming to it (moving to it pre-snap) on the QB’s indicator. It really boils down to a DC’s imagination. A defense can even blitz to a Bear Front.
The Bear Front is a great front against Zone schemes for the same reason the Tite Front is so popular, it clogs all interior the gaps and forces runs to go East and West. The two edge players create natural walls and inhibit Zone Reads (hybrid on the QB – match speed with speed). The front constricts the offenses space, funneling everything inside to free-flowing ILBs. In 2017, with Notre Dame featuring a heavy Zone Pro Style Spread scheme, it is no wonder Georgia used this front in numerous ways to defeat the Irish in South Bend. Watch any Georgia game, and this front will be used in one way or another. It is versatile and adaptive. Exactly what a modern defense needs in its toolbox.
Bear Versus the Run
The Bear Front allows the defense to gap out the interior gaps. Versus a 12 pers. Ace formation (below) the Mike will need to take the “C” gap but can vacate with flow away. In a typical two-high scheme, the backside CB will fit the “D” gap or be the primary force player to the boundary (Georgia refers to this as “Cloud” support). The CB support weak allows the Jack ‘backer to rub inside the TE (“U”). He is playing a heavy 9 tech. and will take the “C” gap weak. Will plugs the “A” gap but can vacate with fast-flow to him (think Stretch weak) because the Mike will take the cutback.
Tackle pulls are a favorite run concept versus the Tite Front because of angles. Dart and Counter GT, in particular, are the favorite run concepts used to attack the 4i’s since the front is designed to kill the Zone. This makes sense considering the 4is are inside the Tackle, and there is a contain or overhang outside. This gives the Guard a great angle for the block back, and there is no need to worry about the contain player when a TE is involved in the block. Most coaches that run the Tite Front will admit that gap plays utilizing the Tackle can be hard to combat from this front. The non-traditional pull by Tackle can make the LBs fit late if they are focused on RB flow or reading the Guards.
Coaches Note: To counter plays were the Tackle pulls in the Tite Front you can teach your OLB to that side to fold in with the OT. This allows the LBs to fit where they need yet you still have a plus-number in the box with the OLB folding. This is good especially to the open-side or away from a TE.
Notre Dame used a same-side Dart concept to attack the Bear Front presented by Georgia. As stated above, the alignment of the front lends itself to plays like this. One clever piece to this is the boundary TE’s block. He jab-steps knowing the Jack is playing a “heavy” 9 tech. This allows the TE to gain outside leverage in case the play bounces. The Jack, as anticipated rubs inside. The arc movement away from the gap brings the Jack back out with him creating a natural crease. The result is a large gain on 1st Down.
The run fits for the sam-side Dart are shown below. The play-side Guard “bangs” the Nose to allow the Center to overtake, and then works up to the Mike. Had the Guard walled the Mike and inhibited him from working overtop, the run would have been even longer. The Will inserts and spills the pulling Tackle, but runs by the RB. The Bulldogs used a weak rotation (Cover 6) and the safety scraped as support.
Another favorite play against the Tite Front is a “loaded” Stretch or Stretch Lead. Below, Notre Dame puts a Trey Wing formation into the boundary (Trips FIB). Georgia counters by dropping the strong-side safety (Cover 3). The Jack controls the edge by arcing with the Wing. The Irish pull the play-side Guard and is met by the Will, who spills the block. The Mike scrapes over the down-block by the TE and the RB is met by three Bulldogs, the Mike, Jack, and boundary safety.
Here’s a look at the run fits:
In an article by XandOLabs.com, Virginia Tech DC Bud Foster stated, “12 personnel… is the new 21 personnel.” As with 11 pers., the ability to get into multiple sets with limited subbing is a way defenses can dictate personnel groups while using tempo. The use of hybrid TE’s gives some offenses, namely Oklahoma, the ability to get into 12, 21, 11, and 20 pers. looks, all without the use of sub-packages. Notre Dame uses the same philosophy to give Georgia different looks, creating different matchups.
The Irish attack Georgia’s Bear Front with another FIB set (notice a trend?). This time opting for a 21 pers. look. The strength is into the boundary, but the H-back is set to the field. The Bulldogs align in a Cover 3 look to match the strength. Notre Dame not only utilizes a Zone heavy scheme but uses the QB in the run game as well. Below is an example of a complement to the Split Zone, the Arc Read or Slice play.
Georgia’s defense fits the Zone much like a four-down’s Under Front. The Jack ‘backer “surfs” (stays square with eyes on QB) down the line. The QB should have given the ball to the RB with the OLB’s shoulders staying square. Instead, he pulls the ball and attempts to outrun the Jack. This is an example of why the “surf” technique can work if you have an athletic DE/OLB. In this case, the OLB was able to chase the QB down, especially into the boundary with limited space. Some coaches will argue that surfing the end man on the line (EMOL) is problematic versus athletic QBs because the runner can beat the less athletic player to the edge. Above, the play resulted for little to no gain.
Most teams that run the Tite Front will stay in it versus 10 or 11 pers. groupings. As shown, the Tite Front lends itself the ability to transform into a Bear Front. In Georgia’s Mint package, the * or Ni will replace the Sam LB. The same pressures and stunts can apply, but now the Bulldogs have a hybrid OLB/Safety at the field LB.
In the clip below, Georgia opts to stay in their base defense, leaving #7 Lorenzo Carter (6’6′ 243) as the Sam LB. The ability to match Down & Distance, offensive personnel, or tendency with packages allows Georgia the freedom to match what they expect to get. As Carter moves from his cover down to the LOS, the Safety behind him moves down as well (stem). Notre Dame attacks with a Buck Sweep.
The Sam and SS move in tandem to their pre-snap alignments. Both the Jack and the backside 4i attack the mesh ensuring the handoff. Frontside, the Sam spills the first puller and then backtracks to make an impressive play. The Slot cracks the Mike and the SS meets the second puller outside the box. Had #7 missed the tackle, the Will would have been there to make the play. Interesting that UGA had two players for the QB. This could have been a missed assignment by the 4i considering the Jack surfs down the line.
21 (A) Personnel
Georgia opted to stay in their base personnel against Notre Dame’s 21 “A” grouping. 21 “A” refers to the lack of FB, instead, the Irish use a second RB and motion him back into the backfield. This type of grouping allows an offense to use two speedy backs and a pre-snap “Spread” formations. The “back” moton turns the nub-Trips set into a 21 pers. Guns-Split Twin formation. To counter, the Sam ‘backer stems down to create a Bear look.
The overhang away from the TE is allowed to fold into the fit. #7 does just that, even running himself out of the play. This is a bonus because it allows the box numbers to grow post-snap and also frees the ILBs to flow faster to the ball knowing they have a defender flooding in for cut-back. The initial penetration kills the play instantly and the result is a gang-tackle for no gain. Another example of the Bear look clogging the gaps and making it hard for the Irish to run the ball.
The Bear looks helped Georgia defeat the Irish on their home turf. When Bear schematics are added to a Tite Front, the defense is given a flexible front structure that can be used against multiple personnel groupings formations. Whether lining up in it against 12 pers. formations, or stemming to it versus Pro-Style sets, the ability to clog gaps and make runs go lateral is why the Tite Front has become popular.
Georgia continues to use this structure in their Mint and base packages. It is easy to get into and adapts to most offenses. If in their Mint or Nickel package all that is needed is an edge rush from the * and Jack. If given a Spread set, to begin with, the Bulldogs can just stem to it and play a Cover 3 scheme behind it. The end result in 2017 was a win in South Bend. The Bulldogs held the Irish to 55 yards rushing on 37 attempts. Notre Dame’s QB Wimbush was 16 for 1 yard. Not a bad night for Georgia defending the ground game. If utilizing a Tite Front, the Bear adaptation is a great tool to carry against Zone heavy offenses.
Want more resources on the Mint/Tite Front:
1. Tite Front Clinic:
2. Mint vs Tite Front:
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