The Tite Front has made a tremendous impact within defensive coaching circles the past couple of years. Since I first wrote about the front in October of 2016, it has become a top scheme across the football landscape with many defenses moving to the front as their base. The Tite Front plays on the Spread’s reliance on the open “B” gap “bubble” found in most four-down defenses.
The open gap is called a “bubble” because there is a natural opening in the four-man front and the conflict player is usually located there. Conflict players, which are usually the overhangs, are the ‘backers most offenses read when designing RPOs or packaged plays. The Tite Front is great against Spread teams that utilize Zone heavy run schemes to attack a defense because it gaps out the interior of the box (meaning everything is clogged up).
Gapping out the interior gaps with the Tite Front allows a defense to plug both “B” gaps by placing defensive linemen in them, mainly in what is referred to as a 4i technique (the Defensive End will align on the inside shoulder of the Offensive Tackle while reading the Guard). Many times in the Tite Front, the Nose will “lag” or attack the Center from a “zero” (head-up alignment) and “fall back” to the “A” gap to the RB’s side. This technique combined with the Tite Front blocks the natural cut-back lane found in Zone runs.
The diagram below illustrates how the Tite Front forces a typical Zone to go East and West. Depending on the read for the QB (overhang or Mike) the result is still very similar. In a typical Tite defense, the Ni will be completely removed from the fit, allowing him to cover down and negate the Bubble or assist in pass coverage (more offenses are using play-action with pass routes behind them for their RPOs). If the QB is reading “Pass” or “Give,” the hanging Ni should force the handoff. The lagging Nose closes the natural cutback lane for the RB and forces him to bounce front side to a plugged “A” (Will) or an edge setting Jack. The Mike is a bonus in the fit because he is reading flow/mesh.
If the QB is reading the Ni and sees him hang, he may feel there is a soft edge and pull the ball. If this is the case, the Mike will collect him at the LOS with support from the Ni who will trigger if the QB pulls the ball (each player on half the QB). Either running result ends in an East-West movement or drastic cutback. All of these are a bonus for the defense.
As shown, versus the Tite Front a typical Zone is made to go horizontal (East-West). The RB is forced to hit the run in the opposite “A” gap where a LB is ready to insert. This goes against what many want out of the Zone, a clean cutback. When the RB bounces the zone all the way out the front door, there is an overhang presence that is not typically being read for an RPO pass. The defense has pinched every gap in the box and has forced the offense outside to free hitting players. The basic run fits are shown below.
Georgia, in particular, uses the Tite Front as their base defense with two hybrids for OLBs (DE/OLB). The Bulldogs refer to their Nickel-based Tite Front defense as Mint. It is a unique package that has a plethora of adjustments off it. The Bulldogs can run most of their coverages and blitz packages from this personnel grouping.
Kirby Smart, Georgia’s Head Coach, mainly uses the Tite Front versus 11 or 10 personnel offenses. The modern offense has quickly been moving to the use of a hybrid TE/H/WR types that can align outside in the slot, on the line versus three-down defenses, or in the backfield as an extra blocker versus four-down defenses. To counteract the multiplicity of the modern “big” WR, the Bulldogs turn to their Mint package.
Intro to Mint
Kirby Smart is a well-known commodity in college football. A long-time Saban disciple, Smart has overseen the evolution of the Saban defense since 2004 when he joined the LSU staff as the DB coach. Under Smart’s tutelage, the Georgia Bulldogs have sustained the success Mark Richt was able to maintain prior. Outside of Smart’s first year in Athens (2016), the Bulldogs have been in the upper regions of Defensive Efficiency finishing 4th in 2017 and 11th in 2018. Smart’s 2017 team was able to play in the National Championship game, losing to his mentor’s (Saban) Alabama team. Smart’s prior tenure at Alabama speaks for itself, winning four National Championships while in Tuscaloosa.
As illustrated in my 2018 THSCA clinic notes, prior to the 2018 season, Smart has overseen a transformation within the Saban schematic tree. Moving from the plugging 3-4s of the early 2000s to the present hybrid Nickel Mint and Base fronts. The players are smaller and faster because they have to deal with modern Spread attack, even in the SEC. The modern offense has forced defenses to adjust. One of those main adjustments has been to move to the Tite Front (below).
In Mint, the Jack or hybrid OLB/DE is set away from the passing strength, and the Ni, referred to as the * (Star), works to the passing strength. Base rules state these two hybrids are to never be on the same side of the ball in Mint (that is not to say they don’t have packages where they can be). The $-backer is typically the most athletic of the ILBs (think a 4-2-5’s Will) and aligns with the TE. The Mac, or Mike, goes opposite the $. If the offense is in a true 10 pers. formation (no TE) the $ will then align off of a predetermined (gameplan) WR.
In the diagram above, I put that WR in yellow. If the personnel grouping is 11 with a TE on the field, the $ will go to the TE’s side even if flexed out. Below is an example that demonstrates the roles for each player in Mint. When the TE motions, the $ and Mac switch place. This happens multiple times a game when teams utilize shifts by the TE.
One addition the Bulldogs utilize in their scheme is the use of a delayed blitz versus the pass (pass rush lanes are shown by the dotted lines in the diagram above). Most three-down defenses will attempt to send a fourth rusher. In Mint, the obvious choice would be the stand-up Jack, but in some cases, it is better to send one of the ILBs. The way this works is clever. Once the offense has shown its cards and is in pass-pro, the LB opposite the * is allowed to insert on the Guard.
Both 4i’s will rock outside for contain, gaining one-on-ones with the Tackle and widening the gap, isolating the Guard in space. The Nose, will engage the Center and work to the *’s side (hopefully bringing the Center with him). This “lag” helps bring the Center and Guard together forcing a double on the Nose. Finally, the LB opposite the * will now insert on the Guard. If the Guard were to rock out with the 4i, there is a gaping hole for the LB to run through. Below is Colorado (HC Mel Tucker was the Georgia DC in ’18) running a delay stunt.
The beauty of Smart’s scheme is that the personnel can be switched out to fill the need of the defense. I wrote about how 3-4 teams can manipulate their overhang hybrids depending on personnel groupings in my article on Baylor’s Okie defense from 2016. Georgia does a similar adjustment. In Nickel groupings, they can carry a * (Ni) and a $ (hybrid Will) to combat Spread heavy offenses, then switch to a more traditional 3-4 personnel group (Base similar to a Bear Front) when going against Pro Spread or “heavier” personnel groupings.
I highlighted Georgia’s base defense versus Notre Dame in 2017 HERE.
Georgia can also sub in traditional down linemen to create a 4-3 or 4-2-5 package if need be. In a podcast over the summer (2019), Mississippi State’s Head Coach Joe Moorehead stated the use of hybrid fronts that can bounce from three- to four-down is what gives his offense the most issues. This multiplicity allows Georgia to get in the best situation possible without the need to have a ton of sub-packages. They can go from Mint to Over with no players being subbed out and even have calls were the Jack and * are on the same side. This makes the scouting more difficult for offenses. The Jack can easily turn into a D-lineman like shown below in this simple pin-and-pop stunt.
Versus the Run
The Tite Front is great against zone-centric offenses because is it cuts out a Spread offense’s lifeline in the “B” gaps. The conflict players are allowed the ability to fully cover down because of the front’s structure. The overhang to the RB’s side is out of the fit, while the overhang away is now responsible for contain and in the fit. If the RB is set to the TE’s side, putting the Jack (“J”) in the fit, the overhang will give a call to the ILB telling him they will now play an “In/Out” coverage (think “Banjo”). The Jack will still be responsible for the QB. The fits are shown below.
The Tite Front is also an “even” front in the sense that, regardless of formation, it doesn’t really change. The “zero” Nose allows the defense to dictate where he will insert depending on the offense. Versus a typical zone style attack, the Nose will most likely go to the RB’s side (cut off the cut back). The ILBs are kept clean because of the 4is demanding double teams. The hope is the Nose will command one too, creating two “free” ILBs. The hybrid DE (“J”) will play contain or “1st-to-Flat” depending on the coverage.
The Mint Front is not a traditional hybrid package in the sense it is created to defend the pass. This particular package is built to stop the run. In fact, most of the Saban-ites that run this package will tell you, the Mint package is a run-stopping scheme. Beginning with the front, the whole package is designed to “spill” everything to free-hitters or clog up the middle and rally the troops. Spill refers to the clogging of the interior gaps, forcing runs to either hit back or front door. Either way, there is a drastic cut being made and it keeps the ILBs free to flow with the RB.
In the diagram on the left (simple Zone Read), the $ will run through the “A” gap while the Mac works to the “C” gap to collect the QB. If the TE were to arc back (Arc or Slice Read), the Mac can fit inside or out depending on the coverage of the Ni (*). In Mix, the * would be in the fit and the Mike can fit inside the arcing TE. If regular MOD (think MQ’s SKY), the * is out of the fit and the Mike can work to box knowing the $ will flow with him.
In the 3×1 diagram (right), a simple Arc Read is illustrated. If the TE were to Load (stay in and seal the edge), the $ would still sink to the outside protecting the cutback. The Mac then becomes the free player. Typically on the backside of a 3×1, the Safety will sink into the box, essentially becoming the Will LB. This allows the $ to play man on the TE in Cover 7 (a term used to describe a variety of split-field coverages in the Saban scheme).
The first image also discusses the reads for the 4is. The DE to the right will close off the Guard reaching for the Nose (Away = Crash). Opposite the formation, the Guard is working to the DE. This tells him to squat and hold his gap. The 4is are taught to engage the Tackle while reading the Guard. In the image to the right, a typical adjustment is shown. In most Saban schemes, there is some kind of line stunt built-in to protect the Safety or CB dropping into the box.
The most famous of these line movements are the Jimmy/Pony stunts that are used in their Over Front (four-down). In Mint, the fourth rusher can come from an ILB (usually away from the RB) or the Jack. In the above diagram (right) a pin-loop (Pop) is shown.
Below is another example of a pin-loop stunt. In the clip below, Auburn runs a Speed Option strong. You can clearly see the Jack loop back inside as the Tackle works to him. If the Tackle would have worked away, the Jack would have held contain. The 4i inside will work off the Tackle. Away tells him to work behind to contain.
Here is another look at a pin-loop stunt versus Empty, which can be an auto check depending on the gameplan and call:
As I wrote in 2018, offenses attack the Tite Front through various gap schemes and (quick) outside hitting runs. Another way to combat the front is to use FIB (formation into boundary) sets combined with quick motions. Below, South Carolina aligns in a Bunch Open (FIB) set, only to shift the H-back and then “Jet” the Slot. The rules in Mint put the Jack to the field and the * to the boundary (pass strength). The shift and motion do not change the alignment, meaning the Jack doesn’t have to become the * (change of strength motion). As the ball is snapped, the Jack stays inside the arcing H-back and holds contain. The result is a major loss for the Gamecocks.
Change of strength motion is tough for any defense. It forces each overhang to understand the other’s rules. Below, Mizzou uses a simple change of strength motion to get the * as the “Backer 9.” The * works down to the line of scrimmage and the Jack works back to his cover down. The overhang to the TE, when the RB is present, will work in tandem with the $ (Banjo). The Safety will sit on top of the vertical.
Below, the * doesn’t work to the flat with the “fast 3.” The slight reroute by the * enables the RB to gain leverage on the Wheel. The result is a TD. When talking about the evolution of his scheme in the summer of 2018, Smart mentioned the use of change of strength motions versus the Mint package as a way to gain advantages on the defense. Mizzou’s motion was ultimately successful.
Below, the Gamecocks align in a Trips Open set. The RB is aligned weak and deep. This should signify one of two things, a downhill inside Zone or Speed Option. The latter is ran. The Jack holds contain and takes the first threat (QB). In typical Saban fashion, the boundary Safety sinks into the box, taking the pitch (Sky force). The result is a loss for S. Carolina.
One thing to note is the “over shift” by the two ILBs (and illustrated above in the diagram). The $ exits the box and aligns in an apex cover down while the Mac leverages the field by aligning in the “A” gap to the Trips side. Though it may look like the defense is shifted too far, Saban defenses use the backside secondary to make up for the loss of the $ in the fit. This allows the defense to leverage the RPO to the field by taking the $ out of conflict. The Mac replaces the $ and the Safety or CB is the force player to the boundary. Above is a Sky adjustment, meaning the Safety will sink and be the force player. If playing a Cover 2 concept backside, the CB would then be the force.
To understand the pressures that fit off the Mint Front, you must understand Georgia’s base. The Bulldogs base is a 3-4 with two hybrid OLB/DE body types. The move to the Mint package takes away the field OLB and replaces him with a true Ni or *. In Georgia’s base, the front seven resembles a typical Bear front with two 9s, two 4is, and a zero Nose. Understanding the base unlocks the ability to understand Georgia’s basic blitz package off the Tite Front in the Mint Package. Base alignment versus an 11 pers. 3×1 Y-off set is shown below:
Now that we have set the structure of Mint we can progress to the basic pressure package Georgia uses versus Spread teams. The first clip is a simple Ni (*) edge pressure. This is a four-man pressure that post-snap looks identical to the base 3-4 structure seen in the Bulldogs base. The Jack will fit versus the run or drop into coverage (Curl/1st to Flat) while the * has blitz contain. This is considered a replacement blitz because the Ni replaces the Jack in the rush and vice versa. The coverage piece behind this is Rip/Liz.
The next step is to add both edge players as contain rush. This puts a simple five-man pressure post-snap that can look like Mint pre-snap. Add an ILB insert and now you have a great run down blitz. The latter is shown below.
Finally, if looking to get “exotic” with pressures, the Mint package combined with a CB blitz can surprise an offense to the single-WR side. This pressure is great if a defense presses the CB on the backside, or plays a version of Cover 2. Doing both puts the CB in close proximity to the LOS.
Below, Georgia runs a “Chop” blitz versus a 3×1 set. You can see the DE and Nose to field cheat or shift their alignment pre-snap. This gets them into a better position and into what I refer to as the Okie Front (5/0/4i). The boundary stunt can take the Tackle and Guard inside depending on the protection, leaving the CB clean off the edge.
Below, the O-line fans and picks up the blitz, but the QB has to throw over the CB. The coverage piece is a simple Fire Zone with the boundary Safety dropping down to take the “X” WR. Though the ball is completed, the result is a limited gain and a 3rd Down.
The Mint package was designed to kill the run by Spread teams. It meshes well with an Odd Front base defense because it can easily morph into a Bear Front. The ability to have four D-lineman in the game, one being an edge rush or contain DE/OLB, gives a fluidity not seen in many defenses. The Bulldogs, in the Mint Package, can go from Over to Under and back to Mint all without subbing players. In the modern game, the ability to be multiple and adaptive is crucial.
Watch enough Georgia and you will notice that Mint is a package and a front structure. It is not their base and is not used on every down. Versus run-heavy packages, the Bulldogs will sub into their Base (traditional 3-4 and Tite as the front) or into an Over package with two traditional DEs, a Nose, and a true 3 tech. This multiplicity depth is what sets the Saban tree apart from many other defensive systems. They have an answer for everything. Mint is just one cog in a massive wheel. It is a tool to be used when needed.
Finally, the pressure package that goes along with the Mint Front aligns with Georgia’s base. It is all about getting back to a Bear Front. In Mint, the front will be aligned in a Tite alignment with a contain Jack LB that can be used to rush the edge or drop into coverage. The addition of rushers from the second and third level are used to disguise fits and coverages. At the end of the day, the Mint package is designed to stop the run from Spread alignments.
What’s the difference between the Mint Package and the Tite Front? MQ answers.
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