Lone Star Clinic Notes – Mike Elko Texas A&M (2019)

Mike Elko talks building a championship defense & defening RPOS.

Building a Championship Defense

I thought it was refreshing to hear a coach talk about the overvaluation of the defensive scheme as it refers to winning games. As coaches, we can get hung up on trying to be something that we are not, searching for the latest blitz or coverage package, or too focused on what other (“better”) teams are doing schematically. When we do that as coaches we lose sight on what defensive football really boils down to, tackling and pursuit.

Yes, there are some schemes that are better than others, but there are no “catch-alls” in football. What may work for Mike Elko at A&M might not work for me at Midlothian HS. That being said, we can all find value in fundamentals, and it is important to understand survival bias and how it affects the way we approach our work as coaches. Schemes will always evolve, but no defense can be great without relentless pursuit and great tackling.


The opening line in Elko’s clinic was a statement regarding the overall defensive scheme, “Forget it,” he stated. As long as defenses line up correctly and there is an overemphasis on the little things (fundamentals), any defense can be successful. Elko suggested there are five objectives of a championship defense:

  1. All out effort
  2. Angle of pursuit
  3. Tackling and turnovers
  4. Eliminate fatals (80% of TD drives have an explosive play of 20+)
  5. Don’t sacrifice fundamentals and focus on stopping the run

The overall effort of a defense has to be cultural and cannot be compromised. This is something that you see from all the top defensive minds. Belichick has his “Do your job” mantra, Saban talks about an unrelenting commitment to excellence, and Don Brown has a “no tourist” policy. Elko follows suit when regarding effort and talked about how that culture has to be created. It’s human nature to seek the path of least resistance, but it is the coach’s responsibility to push his players to do better.

Elko talked of a story about his first practice at A&M. It took the 1’s 11 tries to get the effort he wanted during his most basic pursuit drill (5-cone pursuit). It is a non-negotiable for him and starts with what he refers to as a “Smart Swarm.”

Pursuit comes down to a few simple things, judging angles and using your leverage (where is my help?). Leverage is something that is tremendously important and players must know where they are on the field and how others are reacting off of them. For example, it isn’t smart for a CB to rip inside when he has to keep outside leverage. Understanding how each link on the chain reacts to each other is important when creating a swarm mentality. Continue reading “Lone Star Clinic Notes – Mike Elko Texas A&M (2019)”

Throw Out The Stats

Five ways to judge a defense.

“Some teams will play 55 snaps today. I think we defended 17 possessions, 110 (snaps), so we just played two ball games… That’s why the yardage thing is so irrelevant.”

– Glenn Spencer/DC, Oklahoma St. | via Kyle Fredrickson, NewsOK.com.

It’s time for defensive coaches everywhere to start changing the way they view modern defensive football. The “spread movement” is real, and it is not going away. The spread scheme, though vast in its styles has one basic principle, create one-on-one matchups by using the entire width of the field. Adding tempo to spread schemes creates more possessions and opportunities to score points. It is not uncommon for college teams to run 90+ offensive plays in a game or a high school offense to reach 75-80+ plays. As the amount of snaps being played in a game increase, it puts more pressure on the defense to line up correctly and play every snap. Most teams in the Big 12 will play a half game or more each week compared to its SEC counterparts. As Glenn Spencer stated in the quote above, the yardage stat is becoming less relevant than ever before. To gauge how great a defense is in the modern football era defensive coaches and pundits everywhere need to readjust the standards for what makes a great defense.

Five Points of Emphasis

Points Per Possession

Conditioning against tempo teams is a premium for the defensive side of the ball. More possessions create more opportunities for points, thus more opportunity for mistakes. Spread teams operate by creating one-on-one matchups and “spreading” the field to create space. As more spread teams implement tempo and gain more possessions, the old stats of yards per game and points per game become irrelevant. If a team gives up 28 points and defends 8 possessions (3.5 PPP), are they better than a defense that gives up 35 points but defends 15 possessions (2.3 PPP)? Defensive coaches need to be less infatuated with yards and points. The only points that matter are the ones needed to win a game. The PPP stat evens out teams that play spread versus teams that play traditional huddle-up offenses. If looking at the PPP stat, one can better determine the strength of the defense because it focuses on how many drives turn into scoring drives. A drive is a drive, the difference is how many did a team defend, and did it give up some points? A good number for a defense is anything under 2 points, elite is under 1.5. Continue reading “Throw Out The Stats”