Defending Tight End or Pro Spread Formations

Making adjustments versus TE sets in 4-2-5 or hybrid defense.

The game of football is a constant pendulum. As defenses move to hybrid players to combat the spread attacks proliferating through all levels of football, offenses are turning to tight end/”H-back” sets and a more traditional run game (Power, Counter, and Iso). An easy way for Spread teams to create an extra gap and keep their Spread principles is to add a TE to their formations.

More and more, if a team has access to a TE or “H-back” they are opting for a pro-style Spread look, basing out of 2×2 (Pro Twin) and 3×1 (Trey) formations, even running pro-style two-back sets (20p). This can stress a 4-2-5 defense because the hybrid Sam, or a true Nickel, can be exposed to a larger, stronger bodied TE and depending on how the defense chooses to align can put a safety in primary support of an interior gap.

In recent years, Oregon has used Spread TE sets with devastating effect, and even the typically receiver happy offenses similar to Baylor have opted to add more 11 personnel formations to their arsenal over the past few years to beef up the run game and force defenses to spin. Take a look at how Bret Bielema (former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach), a constant critic of the Spread, recruits running backs against Spread teams across the country. He is not the only one in his corner.

Football, unlike any other sport, is a constant chess match. The fluidity of the game from TE sets to Spread sets and back again puts stress on hybrid defensive coaches. It is important to have a plan when facing teams with TEs or H-backs. One play can have a formation that creates an extra gap on the line, the next is a Spread formation, and then finally the offense puts the H-back into the backfield again or lines him up out wide. All this can be carried out in one series. The defense must have a plan to defend every single formation without the ability to sub.

In a perfect world, defenses could insert a traditional linebacker against tight end/traditional formations, and substitute the traditional player for a hybrid/nickel against Spread formations. With the advent of the Spread, even the TE position is changing into a hybrid player, one that can flex out, play fullback, or line up and block in the box as shown above. Defensive coaches have found out subbing against tempo teams can be impossible and puts the defense at risk of a big play (or penalty). It is also not realistic.

In order to be great at something, a team must have consistency. Constantly subbing players in and out, while trying to teach box techniques and coverage skills can be a daunting task, and many times unrealistic for the lower level coach. It is important for a defensive coach to have a set of rules and a plan for any formation. When an offense goes from a spread set to a pro-style set, the defense must react quickly and decisively with no hangover. Another question that must be asked when defending Pro Spread teams is if they are an RPO or traditional run offense because this changes how a defense aligns immensely.  Continue reading “Defending Tight End or Pro Spread Formations”