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The 4-3 as a H.S. defense.

The 4-3 defense has enjoyed a resurgence at every level of football since the late 1980's thanks much to (1) Jimmy Johnson at the U. of Miami and the Dallas Cowboys, (2) the popularity of one-back and spread offenses, (3) the increased emphasis on passing, and (4) the even-front defense.

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The "40" has proved particularly effective on the high school level because of its flexibility. It can easily be adjusted to different formations, motions, schemes, etc.; can readily be converted into both odd and 8-man fronts; and is adaptable to all kinds of personnel. For example, the line-backers do not have to be big, "plugger" types and you can "hide" bigger, slower kids at defensive tackle.

PHILOSOPHY:

The 4-3 defense is basically an inside-out, gap-control defense that attempts to take away the inside running game and force the offense to run wide and pass. Combined with a four-spoke secondary, the defense can out-number the offensive running game regardless of formation. Against the pass three linebackers can afford more versatile and effective under-coverage.

It is also an excellent attacking defense with many ways to force offensive errors through the use of line stunts, line backing games, and blitzes. Because of its aggressive nature, high school kids find this scheme fun to play and coaches can "make something happen" with well-timed defensive calls.

SIMPLICITY OF TEACHING:

As a coach, we used the standard technique numbering system variously credited to Bear Bryant and Bum Phillips. Even-numbered techniques were head up or nose-to-nose on an offensive lineman, while odd-numbers indicated shaded or eye-to-eye techniques. We additionally labeled a strong shade on the center a "plus" alignment and a weak shade on the snapper a "minus." (Diag.1).

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This allowed us to use multiple fronts with a minimum of teaching. Once a player learned his technique number, he knew his alignment, stance, which arm and leg to attack with, and which gap he was responsible for.

BASE "40" DEFENSE (DIAG. 2):

Ends: 7 technique--you are responsible for the off-tackle hole. Flow away, chase.

Tackles: 1 technique. Stop the trap, sneak, and draw--do not let anything come between you two.

Outside linebackers: Align in a 5 technique at a minimum depth of 3 1/2 yards. Key the near back--on flow to you, scrape to the 9 gap (outside hip of a tight end). Never let the offensive tackle cut you off. On flow away, check the 3 gap on your side for counter or cutback, then pursue.

Middle linebacker: Align head up on the center at a minimum depth of 3 1/2 yards. Key the FB. You have the 3 gap to flow. Never let the center cut you off.

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SPLIT-END ADJUSTMENT (DIAG. 3):

The basic adjustment to the split-end side was to "Switch" the DE and OLB--the end moved down to a 5 technique, and the OLB widened to a 7. This put a defensive lineman on his offensive counterpart, and our OLB in a more advantageous pass-coverage position. He helped discourage slant passes to the SE and directly in front of his gap responsibility on flow toward him.

On flow to the offensive strength, we'd react as shown in Diag. 4. On flow to the weak side of the formation, we'd move as in Diag. 5.

VS. DROP BACK PASS (DIAG. 6):

In our basic coverage with the secondary playing some form of three-deep, the strong side OLB would be responsible for the curl area, the MLB the strong hook, and the weak side OLB curl to flat responsibility.

The ends would contain rush and have screen responsibility. The tackles rushed through the 1 gaps, keeping the QB between them. We usually assigned draw responsibility to our right tackle, while our LT was the better pass rusher.

VS. SPRINT-OUT PASS (DIAG. 7):

The play side OLB, reading flow toward him, now had contain. We prefer to have linebackers contain because they are generally more athletic than defensive ends.

The MLB would pick up the OLB's curl responsibility. The OLB away from flow keyed the tight end; if the tight end was on his side, the OLB would cover him man-to-man on a drag route, or look for a throwback screen.

If the TE was away from him, the OLB would look first for a crossing route. If the TE went up the field or out towards the sideline, the OLB would float through the middle hook area, anticipating the QB to turn up and run inside contain.

The play-side DE would rush inside out and would get the "sack" if the OLB forced the passer to pull up and set to throw. The tackles would likewise rush inside out and get to the QB anyway they could. The DE away from flow had the important assignment of tailing as deep as the QB that if the passer scrambled back toward him, he would be in position to contain and get the tackle.

DIFFERENCES FROM THE "MIAMI/COWBOY" 4-3:

In the 4-3 version most popular in college and pro football, the strong-side DE plays a 9 technique, the strong DT a 3, and the weak DT a "minus" (Diag. 8).

This front is predicated on the 9 technique end's being able to both avoid being hooked by the TE and "wrong-arming" blockers from the inside to "spill" the play outside whenever the TE blocked down. The 3 technique tackle had to do likewise vs. the guard.

The OLB would have to react opposite the DE, the MLB in tandem with the DT. In other words, their gaps might change after the snap, depending on the blocking scheme.

We found that high school players do not react as quickly or as well as collegians or professionals. Putting our DE's in 7 technique simplified the reads for the ends and OLBs. It also helped our strong safety, keying the TE, determine run or pass sooner.

Similarly, with the DTs in 1 techniques, our MLB could flow faster because the offense was discouraged from running the buck trap play, which is much more prevalent in high school.

Of course, we had the ability within our package to change the gap responsibilities for our DE and OLBs, and DTs and MLB, depending on the scheme we were facing.

When defensive linemen were playing an outside technique, they were coached to make sure they knocked the offensive lineman who was attempting to block down on a LB off course at the snap and close inside hard, allowing our LBs freedom to run to the ball.

OTHER FRONTS:

Once our players had learned the technique numbering system and our base defense, we could utilize the strengths or their defenses and create problems for the offense through multiplicity. We could align or "stem" to odd (Diag. 9), 8-man front (Diag. 10), "nickel," and other defenses (including goal line and prevent), without changing our personnel.

By Bruce Bendix, Head Football Coach, Heritage High School, Saginaw, MI
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Title Annotation:FOOTBALL
Author:Bendix, Bruce
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:1177
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