30 Defense: The Aztec Change-up

Ken Delgado Defensive Coordinator San Diego State University San Diego, Calif.

he Aztec Change-Up is the perfect description for our 30 package and its role in our defensive scheme. In order to completely explain this role, I need to give a brief description of the Aztec style of defense. The ever-evolving Aztec defensive package has received input from many assistant coaches, but the credit belongs to the knowledge and leadership of Claude Gilbert. Prior to Ted Tollner’s arrival at San Diego State University, the Aztec defense was ranked 94th in the country and seventh in their conference. The Aztecs needed a personality change and Coach Gilbert brought in an attacking style that has been his trademark. This year, Claude Gilbert ended his distinguished football career and the defense finished 18th in the country and No. 1 in the Mountain West Conference. When teams aggressively use slanting multiple 4-3 fronts, with safety and linebacker blitzes, a personality or style of defense is created. I am hesitant to name this style of defense, because the football world does not need another cliché, for example, the “West Coast Offense.” The Aztecs are not the only team in America that uses these tactics as a base scheme. One thing that is for certain is that the offense is forced to adapt and prepare thoroughly for this style of defense. We know there are positives and negatives that this style of defense can create. Big plays and excitement are often created on both sides of the ball. The results we want to focus on are big plays by the defense that result in a loss of yardage and create absolute pass or draw situations. When a defensive blitz creates a big play on a first down, what is a good call for the second down? Logic tells us if it worked the first time, call the blitz again. However, that is not always the smart answer. An obvious passing situation is created for the offense, so most defensive teams will turn to their conventional nickel package. A nickel package can be defined as a four-man rush with a defensive back substitution that allows more coverage and people on the field. The keyword is “conventional” in what most defensive teams do in a nickel package. Most offensive teams have a prepared passing attack against man and zone nickel packages. Most offensive teams have a standard running attack that can be easily applied to nickel fronts. We have success in our 30 package because it is so radically different from our base scheme and it is not a common fourman rush nickel scheme.


We turned to a three-man front and played a three-deep, five underneath coverage. This is certainly not a new concept to the football world, but it becomes extremely effective when used with an aggressive gambling blitz scheme. We found that using this patient type of package threw off the tempo of the offense and, more importantly, the timing of the quarterback. We also believe that this solves two perpetual problems of nickel packages: stopping the run (draw) and having enough corners to play nickel coverages. (Diagram 1)

Diagram 1

Defensive Line The play of the defensive line is crucial to the success of the package. The front must relentlessly rush the quarterback with a bull rush mentality. The defensive line’s goal is to collapse the pocket and prevent the quarterback from stepping up and having vision down the field. The ends are asked to make physical inside moves and stay in the throwing lanes of the quarterback. The ends are to stay active in the face of the quarterback and not to be concerned with normal contain rush principles. There is usually a double team on two of the three rushers, so a wide escape type rush becomes counter-productive. This mentality alone is an extreme contradiction to blitzing teams. A scramble by the quarterback must be to the sideline, which has an immediate benefit for the coverage. Now the coverage squeezes to the side of the scramble and less field is being utilized by the offense. This scramble action allows one of the underneath players (strong safety or outside linebacker) to come off cover age and tackle the quarterback. A defender can only come out of coverage if he is not threatened in his zone or if the quarterback has crossed the line of scrimmage. The rush mentality and alignment of the ends makes them excellent players against the draw and inside run. They essentially become two-gap players on inside run, which is usually a foreign concept for slanting fronts. This becomes an effective rush

• AFCA Summer Manual — 2000 •

the alignments for a three-by-one formation are shown in Diagram 2. This is crucial because most offenses will attack with four vertical routes. The middle linebacker lines up five yards deep and shades the center strong. The outside linebackers line up five yards deep and align inside shade of the tight ends or ghost tight end. The middle linebacker must drop to the vertical of a No. Those sacks were the result of relentless effort by the front. The front remains the same while the strong safety on the strength side still aligns on the No. 2 wide receiver. This 30 defense also is an option against teams who empty the backfield or teams who have option threats. The corners align 10 yards deep slightly inside the No. What I have shared here is just the base of the package. Diagram 2 Conclusion The Aztec 30 package has proven to be successful for the defense because it is simple. Strong Safeties The strong safeties are curl to flat players that work for 15 yards deep. The priority is to get depth and tackle shallow routes. but there are some key coaching points. The most important objective for the deep defenders is to not let the ball get thrown over their head. the outside linebacker must walk out and split the difference between No. 2 wide receiver. We averaged at least 11 snaps of our 30 package per game and recorded 13 sacks for the year. If there is a No. but deep drop. 2 receiver for a minimum of 15 yards. If the No. The free safety aligns 12 yards deep in the middle of the formation and also must stay on top of the deepest route. The strong safeties become good flat defenders. Linebackers The assignments of the linebackers are simple and common to three-deep principles. especially if a team does not possess the gifted outside speed rusher. 1 wide receiver and play an outside. the remaining linebackers align outside shade of guards. something radically different than the base package. The deep coverage remains the same. 2 receiver. When the ball is on the hash and the No. The strong safety on the weak side aligns five by five yards from the tackle or tight end. When the outside linebacker walks. plays A gap run. The alignments of the ends are heavy outside shade on the offensive tackle. The underneath coverage becomes a blanket that drops with enough depth to discourage vertical routes.mentality. It is truly an honor to contribute to this manual and hope this concept can help teams who are looking for simple coverage options that can compliment aggressive blitz packages. It is understood that he will recognize vertical threats and split any two inside vertical routes. The linebackers must contest all intermediate routes in their zone and break to all underneath routes. Diagram 1 is drawn to a two-by-two formation. 2 wide receiver is aligned to the field 10 yards or more from the tackle or tight end. contest intermediate routes and tackle shallow routes for a five to seven yard gain. 3. but also indecision and frustration by the quarterback. The strong safeties become good outside run defenders and at times will tackle a scrambling quarterback. If there is no vertical of No. and it makes the offense work on • AFCA Summer Manual — 2000 • . It is important that the corners understand where their help is and to not let anyone get behind them. but take note of where the vertical routes can develop (Diagram 2). If there is no No. 2. 3 so the middle linebacker can work to the vertical threat of No. almost directly head up. The linebackers must level off at 15 yards and not bite on any shallow crossing routes. It is important that the outside linebacker drop over the top of No. It is an unethical practice and violates the Association’s Code of Ethics. 1/3 coverage. then the strong safety splits the difference between the end man on the line of scrimmage and the wide receiver. 1 at a depth of 15 yards. 3 and the tight end or tackle. The versatility of the personnel used is also beneficial in times when there is a rash of injuries in the secondary. 3 wide receiv er is wider than six yards from the tackle or tight end. then the outside linebacker can work to the curl of No. 3 receiver (15 yards) or drop to the hole. First priority of this drop is to get depth and to carry a vertical route of a No. AFCA legal counsel has reminded the Board that copying film without permission is in violation of copyright laws and could become a legal matter if an institution wants to protect itself against such illegal copying of film. He plays A to B gap inside run. The Board urges every coach to get written permission from all schools involved before copying film. The nose tackle aligns head up on the center. There are several coverages that can be applied and we also like to blitz from this package. We enjoyed an 80 percent success rate of holding our opponents to a gain of six yards or less per play and forcing them to punt. Adjustments The adjustments are easily applied to any formation that an offense can present. and bull rushes the center. the strong safety aligns head up and initially holds off the vertical with a tight. Just apply the normal three deep principles that are taught in your base coverages. They are C gap run defenders on flow towards them and cutback run defenders on flow away. The coverage responsibility of the outside linebackers is to drop through the hook of the No. the outside linebacker can widen three to four yards. 2. Corner/Free Safety The deep coverage is the easiest part of the package. Copying F i l m / Videotape Without Permission is Unethical The Board of Trustees is concerned about the practice of some coaches who copy game film without permission of both institutions involved in the actual game footage.

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