THSCA Football Lecture – Kirby Smart (2018)

Learn how one of the top defensive minds evolved his defense.

One great thing about being a coach in the state of Texas is “Coaching School” at the end of the summer. The Texas High School Coaches Association (THSCA) puts together a massive conference that covers everything from professional development to sport specific clinics. If you have ever been to football’s national convention held by the AFCA, then you have an idea of what this convention looks and feels like. There are regional meetings to elect representatives for leadership positions in the association as well as rule committees for each sport. The association functions as the voice of coaches across the state and works with the UIL (Texas’ athletic governing body).

The convention isn’t just about football, though it is dominated by football coaches. That shouldn’t be a shock in a state that worships the game. Most head football coaches in the state are either the athletic director for the district or coordinate the campus they are on. This means that most decisions about sports for a district or high school are centered around the head football coach. As with college football, many times you are “hired to get fired” in Texas. Every head coach in the state has a crucial role even outside of football. They basically make sure every high school runs smoothly in the athletic arena.

This year’s convention in San Antonio saw a record number of coaches from all sports. There were lectures and clinics for everything from swimming to soccer, track to football. It is one of the greatest transfers of knowledge in the state and everyone is invited. For many staffs, this is the last days of summer and many spend it as a time to come together for fellowship and plan for Fall Camp. Arkansas Head Coach Chad Morris and Georgia’s Head Coach Kirby Smart were the two main football speakers for this year’s convention. Below are my clinic notes for Coach Smart, which was one of the best I’ve been to. This will be different than my Don Brown clinic notes in the fact that I will add a little more commentary (and no PDF). Continue reading “THSCA Football Lecture – Kirby Smart (2018)”

Learning How to Spin – Adapting Saban’s Rip/Liz

Applying Saban’s Match 3 Principles to Split-Field Quarters Defenses.

Everyone can agree, Nick Saban knows defense. In fact, according to BCfToys.com, which rates college defenses on their efficiency and is “adjusted for the strength of opponent offenses faced,” has never placed Alabama outside of their top 10 in the past five years (low being #7 in 2014 – the only time they were out of the top five). In the past three years, Alabama has been either #1 or #2 in defensive efficiency. One of Saban’s bread-n-butter schemes is his Rip/Liz or Match Cover 3. This single-high coverage is crucial to his run defense and is adjusted to defend the offensive counter move in the four verticals.

Many defensive coaches are familiar with Saban’s Cover 7 schemes that he uses to defend spread teams from a two-shell, but his Rip/Liz tends to be the “go-to” coverage during base downs. Even Clemson has become a heavy user of the Rip/Liz concept, using the scheme to dominate ACC opponents (and also being in the BCfToys’ top 10 in defensive efficiency the last 4 years). Needless to say, the Rip/Liz concept is an important scheme that every coach should familiarize themselves with, even Quarters coaches. What makes the coverage scheme unique is its structure and how Saban decides to spin the secondary (and protect the seams). It’s something defensive coordinators who base out of Quarters coverage understand – Never roll strong.

Saban’s Rip/Liz

One of the unique ways Saban protects his defense is in the way he inserts the extra box player. Cover 3 and any single-high coverage is designed to maximize the box players. By spinning, the defense has created overhangs and cover downs to the slot players. These overhangs enable the box players to eliminate their conflicts. In a typical Quarters defense, at least one linebacker will be in “conflict.” This conflict player is typically where spread offenses attempt to attack the defense with RPOs. In the illustration of a typical Quarters defense below, the Will LB is the conflict player. He must fill the open “B” gap while covering down to the slot. Saban and teams that base out of Rip/Liz reduce the conflict for the Will by spinning the safety to his side over top the slot (DS).

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In Rip/Liz, the weakside safety is usually the spinning safety. By spinning weak, Saban is ensuring that his front side pass distribution is intact. Versus a basic 2×2 set this allows the ILB closest to the RB to vacate the box if the RB flares because the backside safety can fold into the box vs a QB run and in the pass the Will can handle the middle hole. Where the weak spin helps is against single WR sets (3×1/2×1). Many teams will choose to spin to the Trips side or the passing strength, but this can be dangerous because the defense loses an overhang to the boundary (and exposes the backside CB to a one-on-one matchup). Continue reading “Learning How to Spin – Adapting Saban’s Rip/Liz”

Structuring Your Defense – The Front

Just like coverages, a defense should have different fronts to combat a variety of formations & schemes.

Just like coverages in a secondary, a defense cannot live in one front or technique on the defensive line. How a defense structures its front line has a direct correlation to how an offense is going to attack it. Most defensive coaches in America understand that the defensive line is critical to not only stopping the run but putting pressure on the quarterback when he drops back to pass. It is no stretch to say that the top teams in any level of football usually have one of the best defensive fronts for that level.

The front, and subsequently the strength call, create the first line of defense against an offense. In a well-formulated defense, the front seven (and even the secondary) act as links in a chain. The anchor points of these links are always the defensive linemen. Understanding how these links react to each other is critical in developing a plan to stop offenses. Not every front (or strength call) is equal to one another.

Some fronts and techniques are better suited to defend Spread offenses than Power ones, and vice versa. For this reason, defensive coaches should carry multiple fronts for multiple situations. Just like a defense’s coverages and alignments are different when defending a Wing-T team compared to a 10 personnel Air Raid offense, different defensive fronts can help combat the multitude of offenses seen throughout the year, and why every defensive coordinator should carry several fronts in his toolbox.

The advancement (and acceptance) of hybrid players have led many DC’s to switch from three-down to four-down in the same game (or even during the season – game to game). To the point of being multiple and carrying a plethora of calls on the call sheet, Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator for Michigan insist, “If you have more answers in your toolbox then you can go to them throughout the season and it’s a matter of just getting them back on recall.” Having a multitude of options at a defense’s disposal can only add to what it can ultimately stop. More is simply, just more. It comes down to how well you can teach it. Continue reading “Structuring Your Defense – The Front”

Five Cut-ups to Improve Your Off-Season Self-Scout

Improve your off-season self-scout by creating special cut-ups.

01-gosOff-Season Film Study

Film study is one of the greatest ways to improve on schemes and calls made the year before. In order to correctly monitor the calls that were being made a defensive coordinator must look at certain scenarios where he struggled the year before. It is important to analyze the season with a critical eye and always ask, “How can we improve?” From player personnel decisions to eliminating calls altogether, using cut-ups from the year before allows the DC to evaluate when and where plays were called. Remember hindsight is 20/20. One way to increase improvement from year to year is to view cut-ups that highlight defensive deficiencies and struggles. There are multiple ways to create cut-ups, but it is important to have certain ones created that highlight the unique ways offenses attack a defense while allowing the DC to have hard data on what needs to be fixed within the scheme.  Continue reading “Five Cut-ups to Improve Your Off-Season Self-Scout”

Defending Jet Motion

Don’t take the bait. Don’t get out leveraged.

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The jet motion is a great leveraging tool that offenses use to either move the defense (to counter the opposite way) or cut them off (speed kills). Auburn under Malzahn has utilized the jet motion to create deception and outmaneuver opponents. The speed at which the jet motion attacks, forces the defense to recognize the motion and adjust accordingly. Because the offense is using a fast motion, the defense is forced to plus alignments or spin an extra player down to the side the motion is moving. Many times, an offense uses their best athlete on the jet motion to focus even more attention on the movement.  Offenses can even use the jet motion as a decoy because the defense has to honor the motion. To gain width, or to freeze an OLB/DE, offenses will send a jet motion to one side and run a play going away. This “freezing” of the defense allows an extra lineman to climb to the next level. This focus causes tunnel vision and can lead to exposure away from the direction of the motion.

Offenses use motion as a leverage tool. The Slot-T version of the spread, which Auburn runs, uses the jet motion to move the defense into compromising positions. Every 03-auburndefensive coach knows that when an offense uses motion (especially jet motion), the defense is forced to adjust promptly to the new formation. As stated earlier, the speed of the jet motion can make defenses over rotate to counteract the quick rotation of the offense. For many defensive coordinators, it is easier to rotate safeties (spin) than to bump linebackers because of the tempo at which the WR or slot is running. The introduction of unbalanced formations (X-off) and the utilization of the quarterback in the run game have made it more difficult for defenses to defend jet motion teams. In the picture above, Auburn used an unbalanced set to attack the Alabama defense. Out of the stack set shown, the offense can run a double lead jet stretch, running back counter weak, jet power read with two lead blockers or any QB run they choose. With so many play variations off of one formation and motion, it is no wonder many spread teams are using this type of motion to build whole offenses around. Any time the QB becomes a runner, the defense is stressed even more. The added value that the jet motion gives teams is undeniable. Continue reading “Defending Jet Motion”