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t is truly a pleasure and an honor to be able to represent Drake University in the AFCA Summer Manual. On behalf of our head coach Rob Ash and our defensive staff — Defensive line coaches Roc Bellantoni and Paul Davis, linebacker coaches George Sypnewski and Dan Sullivan — we appreciate the opportunity to share some of our ideas and hope that they can be of some benefit to you. When a certain scheme starts to enjoy some success, you can be assured that many teams will soon be running some variation of it. The zone blitz is definitely an example of this. Virtually every football team at the pro and college level, is running some form of zone blitz. At Drake, zone blitzes have become a vital and very successful component of our defensive package. This article will briefly discuss why we run zone blitzes and examine a few of our favorite ones. Before getting into our zone blitz schemes, I would first like to share our defensive philosophy. There are 10 important points to our philosophy. Drake Defensive Philosophy 1. The best defensive teams are great because of their ability to stop the run first. We want to put the offense in predictable situations. 2. To stop the run, we must put the best 11 defensive players on the field. 3. We want to be known for being relentless. When the ball is snapped, we are going to have 11 players flying as hard as they can to the football. 4. Look complicated, but be simple with technique, alignment and assignment. This simplicity will lead to aggressiveness. 5. Pressure and attack the offense. To do that we must be able to: A. Stem our fronts. B. Disguise our coverages. C. Blitz the quarterback. 6. Stress “three-and-out” series and getting off the field quickly. Most big plays happen when the defense is tired. 7. We must control the sudden change situation. Do not give up a touchdown in a sudden change situation. 8. Create turnovers. Force takeaways through emphasis. 9. We want to develop a “win every play” mentality. If the defense loses one play, we may lose the game. 10. Play with excitement, enthusiasm, effort, and enjoy playing the game.
What is a Zone Blitz? The term zone blitz refers to bringing an extra rusher and playing some form of zone coverage behind it. At Drake, we have a number of different ways to get an extra rusher. One way is to simply vacate an underneath zone by bringing one of our linebackers and not drop anyone. Some of our zone blitzes require us to bring two linebackers and drop one defensive lineman. We also have zone blitzes that bring two linebackers and drop two defensive linemen. Why Do We Run Zone Blitzes? In being an attacking pressure defense, we use a variety of five and six-man pressures, playing man free and straight man behind them. If we do not blitz, we often show blitz and play different combinations of man and zone coverages. We think by running zone blitzes, that we combine some of the best elements of both, blitz and zone concepts, while at the same time creating confusion and indecision for the offense. By showing the same pre-snap look and changing up between man and zone pressure, it makes it tough for the quarterback to get any kind of a pre-snap read at the line of scrimmage. We give a pressure look with man coverage as much as possible. When we run a zone blitz, the defender is falling off and passing the receiver to another defender. This creates confusion and makes it difficult for the quarterback to decide where he is going to throw the ball. We will play with our corners up in the face of the wide receivers, and play either press man or bail them to a deep third to further add to the confusion. Along with confusion for the quarterback, zone blitzes add confusion for the offensive line as well. Keeping offensive linemen on their heels by guessing whether their man is going to rush or drop leads them to play tentatively. Once we get the offensive linemen to play in a passive mode, we feel it really benefits our normal four-man pass rush. With our philosophy of being an attacking pressure defense, we rely heavily on our secondary’s ability to play man coverage. Even though this has been good to us, it does put a lot of pressure on the defensive backs. The zone blitz gives us a safe and effective way to still put pressure on the quarterback, but remove some of the stress put on the defensive backs when playing man coverage.
Chris Ash Defensive Coordinator Drake University Des Moines, Iowa
• AFCA Summer Manual — 1999 •
We use pressure to try to dictate and limit what an offense can do. By being able to create confusion, we hopefully can force an offense to commit a significant amount of practice time to preparation for our wide variety of man and zone blitzes. This takes practice time away from things that they want to do offensively. Once you have success putting pressure on the quarterback, offenses start going to maximum protection. They will keep their backs and potentially their tight end in for extra pass protection. Now, instead of getting four or five receivers out into pass patterns, we will start to see more two and three-man routes. By using zone blitzes, we can put pressure on the quarterback, plus have maximum coverage versus limited receivers. Another thing that we have discovered about zone blitzes is that our players have fun running them. Our linebackers are always wanting to blitz, and our defensive linemen dream about having the opportunity to get an interception or getting a big hit on a receiver while in pass coverage. Zone blitzes give us something that our players really enjoy doing and have a lot of fun preparing to run each week. How Do We Run Zone Blitzes? We base our zone blitzes out of our 4-3 and eagle fronts. We have the ability to get an extra rusher by bringing one or two linebackers and dropping one or two defensive linemen, depending on the blitz.
dropping a safety into the underneath hole area. As a change-up, we will run zone blitzes from a two-deep look.
Diagram 7: Eagle Storm Cover Three
Diagram 3: Cover Three Strong
Diagram 4: Cover Three Weak
Diagram 5: Three-Robber
check for run first. On his drop, he reads from No. 2 to No. 1. He is a seam to flat dropper. Sam: Blitzes D gap. Is a contain player. Mike: Blitzes strong side B gap. Scrapes tight off of the bandit going inside to the A gap. Will: Key is No. 3. Is a B gap player with run at him. Plays strong A gap with run away. He is the hole player vs. pass. Rover: Drops seam to flat strong. He reads No. 2 to No. 1. Free: Rotates to the deep middle third. Corner: Bail to deep outside third. The next blitz we will look at is run out of our eagle G front and we call it eagle G flush. In this blitz, we are going to bring our Mike and Will linebackers and drop our weak side defensive end. Behind our flush blitz we will drop our free safety into the underneath hole and play our three-robber coverage.
Diagram 6: Two-Deep
Diagram 1: 4-3 Front
Diagram 8: Eagle G Flush Three Robber
Diagram 2: Eagle Front
The first blitz we will look at is run out of our eagle front and called eagle storm. In eagle storm, we will blitz our Sam and Mike linebackers and drop our weak side defensive end. Behind it, we will play cover three to the strong side of the formation. Responsibilities Bandit: Rip inside and attack the guard’s outside shoulder. We want him to take the A gap by crushing the guard inside and then working vertically upfield. Nose: Cross face on the center into the weak A gap. Tackle: Contain player. End: Attack the offensive tackle to
Behind our zone blitzes, we will primarily play some form of three-deep. We can roll to cover three strong, cover three weak, or play what we call three robber, which is
Responsibilities Bandit: Contain player. Nose: Cross face of the guard into the strong B gap. Tackle: Contain player. End: Attack the offensive tackle to check for run first. On drop, read from No. 2 to No. 1. He is a seam-to-flat dropper. Sam: Attack the tight end to check for run first. On his drop, he will read from No. 2 to No. 1. He is a seam to flat dropper. Mike: Blitz weak A gap. Come tight behind the Will blitzing. Will: Blitz strong A gap. Rover: Rotate to the deep middle third. Free: Drop into the underneath hole.
• AFCA Summer Manual — 1999 •
Corner: Bail to deep outside third. The third and final zone blitz we will look at is called stack whip. It is run out of our stack front. In this blitz we will bring our Will and Mike linebackers and drop our strong side defensive end. Behind it we will roll Cover 3 to the weak side of the formation.
Diagram 9: Stack Whip Cover Three
Responsibilities Bandit: Attack the tight end to check for run first. On the drop, he will read No. 2 to No. 1. He is a seam to flat player. Tackle: Contain player. Nose: Cross face of center into strong A gap. End: Rip inside and attack the guard’s outside shoulder. We want him to take the A gap by crushing the guard inside and then working vertically upfield. Sam: Hole player. Read No. 3. Run to, play B gap. Mike: Blitz weak B gap. Scrape tight off of the defensive end going into the A gap. Will: Blitz C gap. Contain player. Rover: Rotate to the deep middle third.
The Drake defense held it’s opponents to less than 300 yards in total offense last season and was a big reason for the Bulldogs earning their second Pioneer Football League championship.
Free: Drop and become a seam to flat player weak. Read No. 2 to No. 1. Corner: Bail to deep outside third. We have had some success with our pressure package by incorporating the zone blitz. Last season, we had a total of 36 sacks and 18 interceptions in 10 games. We believe in the aggressive, attacking style of defense. Our players and coaches believe in our system and are committed to preparing it each week. Again, on behalf of our head coach Rob Ash and the rest of the Drake University football program, we would like to thank the AFCA for the opportunity to contribute to this year’s Summer Manual. I would also like to thank all of those coaches who, through the years, have helped us grow in this profession. We hope this article can be of some benefit to your program, and wish you the best of luck in the 1999 season.
NCAA Position on Gambling
The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering. Sports wagering has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community. Sports wagering demeans the competition and competitors alike by a message that is contrary to the purposes and meaning of ‘sport.’ Sports competition should be appreciated for the inherent benefits related to participation of student-athletes, coaches and institutions in fair contests, not the amount of money wagered on the outcome of the competition. For those reasons, the NCAA membership has adopted specific rules prohibiting athletics department staff members and student-athletes from engaging in gambling activities as they relate to intercollegiate or professional sporting events.
• AFCA Summer Manual — 1999 •