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:
- All out effort
- Angle of pursuit
- Tackling and turnovers
- Eliminate fatals (80% of TD drives have an explosive play of 20+)
- 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)”