Make the Most of the Linebackers in a 3-4 Defense

By Aaron Nowell

Defensive Coordinator

Broken Arrow High, Okla.

Twitter: @Coach_A_Nowell

The Install

There are so many facets of a defense that a coach needs to teach a player that finding a starting point can be like finding a needle in a haystack. When I was approached about writing this article I immediately thought, “Where do I begin?” I came up with five areas that our players need to have a full understanding of:

  • What is it they are being asked to do?
  • When are they doing this?
  • Where are they doing it?
  • Why are they being asked to do it?
  • How are they going to accomplish the task?

What are we as a defense trying to accomplish? The most important thing for us as a defense is to win pre-snap! The players have to know their alignment and assignment without hesitation. We use several methods to teach this such as chalk-talk sessions, walk-through sessions, detailed player manuals and tests. We continue this on the field in a high tempo setting using two huddles 20 yards apart and the defense moving between the two huddles as they get a call on the move.

Once we have established our base alignments and assignments, we begin to introduce when to check versus certain formations. The checks can be a week-to-week basis or this is what we do against a certain offensive formation. We will work our checks in each segment of practice (9 on 7, 7 on 7 and team). This season we were extremely fortunate to have two inside linebackers that had extremely high football IQs. They were able to handle a lot and get us into our checks very quickly, thus we were not scrambling to get lined up.

Where do we want the ball to go? We will always be plus-1 to the offense’s strength, meaning we will have a hat they cannot account for. We will bounce the ball to this player, the unblocked player. It is important for all players to know they fit. We will rep an opponent’s top five run plays against their top eight to 12 formations depending on how diverse their offense is. By knowing who the plus-1 player is, we feel it helps the kids to know where to fit so that the ball is forced to our unblocked player.

We feel it is important for our kids to understand the “why” behind our alignments and assignments. The last thing we want to hear from a player is “I thought …” We want them to know and understand all aspects of the defense so they are able to play at an intensity that their opponent cannot or will not match. In order to teach these things you must present them in several forms to the players.

We believe that by providing manuals for the players to read and take notes in that they are able to hear, read and write the information they are responsible for. Next by watching cut-ups of themselves or older players perform the required duties of the position, they can see how to do it. Finally we start to build the skill during our individual periods, then build on the concepts in small groups, such as 9-on-7. Eventually it’s all put together in our team periods. We can then refine their technique through the use of film study. There is not a more powerful tool than film! Have the kids talk you through the play you are watching on film, you will know real quick who knows his job.

Here is a sample from our LB manual:

    1. S is in the V (half-way between most inside receiver and tackle) 5 yards deep
    2. M is in a 20 technique, heels at 5 yards.
    3. W is in a 20 technique, heels at 5 yards.
    4. R is in the V (half way between most inside receiver and tackle), 5 yards deep.
    1. Key through ear hole of offensive tackle or TE.
    2. If ear hole is down and to me, squeeze to LOS and set the edge keeping outside arm and leg free.
    3. If ear hole is down and away, stay at depth and shuffle with flow and check BCR (Boot, Cutback, and Reverse).
    1. Key hat of center to guard to back.
    2. Mike and Will are responsible for the 3 and 1 gap if there are no pullers.
    3. Fast flow Mike and Will fit in the 3 and 1 gaps.
    4. Inside zone Mike and Will fit in the 3 and 1 gaps to the side of the back to match the path of the back.
    5. If you have a pulling lineman, the first inside backer will fit inside of the first puller, and the back side inside backer will fit underneath the second puller or take the run through if it presents itself.

The final part of the install process is completing the square of trust. Coaches trust players – players trust players – players trust coaches – coaches trust coaches. While it is important to understand the defense, nothing is more important than doing your job. This is actually an aspect we grade player’s film on during the season.

Do you have a thought about this article that you would like to share? If you do, email managing editor Dan Guttenplan at Tweet us @fnfcoaches.