By Jarrett M. Laws, M.Ed.
Head Football Coach
Salem High School, Conyers, Georgia
In 2016, when I was hired by the administration at Salem High School in Conyers, Georgia, my immediate goal was to revitalize the program by introducing an uptempo style of football to a program that previously was a bare-bones 4-4 Cover 3. By year two, we were fortunate enough to reach the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA playoffs for the first time in four years.
We base our defensive pressure package on a concept we call “Deal It”, whereby, when we make a decision to bring pressure to the offense, we make an agreement that regardless of what they present us, we will take it as a “deal” of sorts, and in response, play the “cards” that have been dealt to us.
Nearly 70% of our pressure calls come in situations where we determine down and distance needs. For the sake of this article, we are going to examine our “Zone” pressure checks. So that we can focus on the philosophy rather than the scheme, we will limit our presentations to a few commonplace 10 personnel formations. We will start with the nomenclature of the call.
When we are in “Deal It”, we have decided to align according to what formation is presented to us. Our language is as follows: we use the name and mascot of a team (in this case, “Salem” for the front of the formation, and “Seminole” for the back of the formation) to indicate where the offenses’ protection void is. This is determined by the location of the running back, thus, where we will bring our pressure. We choose to bring pressure away from the RB, or if they have multiple RBs, we will overload the side of the formation where the least number of players are.
In Diagram 1, the formation is 3×1 / RB Near. The front side of the formation is covered protection-wise by the RB, so we would make a “Seminole 31” call, indicating that there is a 3×1 formation, and the backside of the formation is open for pressure. Our front 4 align in a “5-2-2-5″ technique set up in order to maintain a balanced look, limiting the offensive line’s ability to make a protection strength call. The Mike and Will LB’s align directly behind the inside defensive tackles in “20” alignments in order to maintain the balance. The Nickel lines up slightly inside of the #2 slot receiver. Our secondary shows a 2-high safety look (which is what we align in when playing a base look). The goal of all our alignments is to originate without a difference between our base and pressure looks.
We always have the goal of limiting the keys that are available to the offense with the intent of making their play call as difficult as possible. At the snap of the ball, the front side defensive linemen run an End/Tackle stunt, with the 2-tech first working across the guard and tackles’ faces to the C gap, and the 5 tech working behind the 2’s path to pressure the frontside A gap. The Mike plays a zone-drop coverage, working his eyes for coverage responsibility from the #3 receiver to the #2 receiver. The Nickel and Strong Safety play a “2-Trap” coverage on the #3 and #2 receivers. The frontside Cornerback is in a one-on-one coverage with the #1 receiver.
On the “Seminole”, or pressure side, the 2 technique works a “Bull rush” technique on the guard, occupying him from picking up the weak side end, who is working a long-stick route behind the 2 tech to the back side A gap. The Will LB rushes the QB through the C gap, with the goal of maintaining a tight angle to get to the top shoulder of the QB. The Free Safety uses the RB as a key to determine whether he is a blitzer or a cover down player. If he determines that the RB is working across to pick up the “Seminole” side blitzer, he will then blitz the “Seminole” side through the 1st open space that he can see. If the RB stays frontside, he will play a “Robber” technique to assist in covering the “Seminole” side single receiver. The “Seminole” cornerback plays a zone-depth man coverage technique. He knows that he has help underneath, so he only worries about carrying the deeper routes (Go, Post/Crossing, Comeback). This should always guarantee that we are bringing one more player that they can defend, without forsaking Zone coverage principles.
If the RB would have originally aligned, or pre-snap shifted to the backside of the formation (See Diagram 2), we simply make a “Salem” call, which indicates we are going to bring pressure from the front side of the formation. All our pre-snap alignments are the same, only this time, the frontside 2 tech and 5 tech run the “Bull rush” stunt, and the backside 2 tech and 5 tech run the End/Tackle stunt. The Nickel is now the unaccounted–for blitzer through the front side C gap. At the snap of the ball. The Strong Safety rolls down to Nickel level, and the Free Safety rolls over to replace where the SS came from, and THEY now play a 2-Trap coverage on the #2 and #3 receivers. To the weak side, the Will is in man coverage to the RB if he releases. If he stays in weak side protection, the Will zone drops underneath the weakside #1 receiver. If he works across to pick up a front side defender, the Will blitzes the QB through the 1st back side daylight that he sees. The “Seminole” cornerback still plays the zone-depth man coverage technique previously discussed.
If the offense breaks the huddle, motions, or trades to a 2×2 look, the defense makes a “Salem 22” or in the case of Diagram 3, “Seminole 22” call, indicating that the offense is in a 2×2 formation, and the backside of the formation is “open for business”, so to speak. The front side of the formation plays the same “End/Tackle” stunt game, and the “Seminole” side still plays the “Bull rush” stunt, with the Will still coming through the C gap. Because the leverage points have changed due to the formation switch, we would check our coverage to a 1 high look post-snap. The front side Nickel makes a #2 to #1 zone drop, and the Mike makes a “hook” drop looking to assist on a RB release to a #2 crosser. If the RB works across to assist in “Seminole” side protection, the Mike will blitz the QB through the first daylight he sees, and the Nickel would carry a #2 crosser. The “Salem” side cornerback plays an off-man look on the #1 receiver, using #2 as a key to determine what he will play. If #2 releases either vertically, or inside, the cornerback will match and carry #1. If #2 releases or works outside, the cornerback will drop and play his 1/3rd of the field. The Strong Safety rotates post-snap to a 1 high post-safety look, carrying the middle 1/3rd of the field. The Free Safety rolls down post-snap in a commonly known “Robber” look to work a #2 to #1 zone drop. The #2 receiver is used as a key on this side as well to determine the coverage. If he releases vertically or inside, the FS will carry him, and the “Seminole corner will match the #1 receiver. If #2 releases outside, the FS will continue his “Robber” path, and the “Seminole” cornerback will drop and play his 1/3rd of the field.
Finally, if the offense breaks the huddle, motions, or trades to a 3×2 look, the defense makes a “Salem 32” or in the case of Diagram 4, a “Seminole 32” call, indicating that the offense is in a 3×2 formation, and the backside of the formation is short on numbers. As in the previous looks, the front 4 maintain their “End/Tackle”, and “Bull rush” games, the Will LB still blitzes the “Seminole” side C gap, and the defense works to implement its 1-High previous adjustments. The #2 receiver is still used as a key on the “Seminole” side, but this time on the “Salem” side, the #2 AND #3 receivers have to be taken into account as keys for the Nickel and Mike players in order to determine whether they should be carried across or not.
There are a myriad of adjustments, personnel rule changes, and wrinkles that can be placed into these brief defensive looks. So many of you in our profession are gifted enough to build a better mousetrap than the one presented here so I will not insult your intelligence by implying that this is the panacea of defending offenses. Rather, I hope that this small contribution to our studies simply gets us to thinking more about better ways of imposing our will on these constantly changing offenses without allowing them to dictate what we can and cannot do. More importantly, this submission gave me another opportunity to share in the game that I love and to encourage all our fraternity to remember why we do what we do. The pandemic of 2020 has shown all of us the fragility of our game and I hope you have gained as much of a greater appreciate for the chance to lead young student-athletes as much as I have. I’m grateful to our coaching community and immensely thank you for taking time to share in this dialogue. And I leave you with what I always tell my defensive coaches; when you want to blitz, “JUST BLITZ COACH”! God bless, good health, and great victories both on and off the field to you all!