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ur coaching staff here at the University of Sioux Falls would like to thank the AFCA for this opportunity to share with other coaches some ideas on defense that have helped our program. I believe strongly that we have a very unique organization in which we help each other make our programs better by the exchange of ideas. Since 1961 when I started coaching football, many others have given a lot of influence to the programs which I have coached. Being personally involved more on the offensive side of the ball, I realize the importance of a defensive philosophy that emphasizes turnovers and scoring on defense. Nothing can change the momentum of a game faster than a critical turnover or even more so, a defensive score. There may be certain seasons where you are blessed with an offense that can outscore any opponent. The key to success and consistency every year is to have a defense that helps the offense either score or puts them in a position to score when your offense is not as prolific. Our aggressive style of defense that emphasizes turnovers and defensive scores has been a major source of our success over the past couple of years. 1999 • 17 turnovers • -5 turnover margin • One defensive touchdown • Record: 6-3 2000 • 17 turnovers • +5 turnover margin • Two defensive touchdowns • Record: 6-4 2001 • 49 turnovers • +26 turnover margin • Seven defensive touchdowns • No. 10 overall defense in NAIA • Record: 12-2 • National runner-up 2002 • 40 turnovers • +14 turnover margin • Five defensive touchdowns • No. 1 overall defense in NAIA • Record: 12-1 • National semi finalist I would like to thank our defensive coor-
dinator, Chuck Morrell, and the rest of the defensive staff for their input on this article. Fine Tuning Philosophy After completing a statistical review following our 2000 season, we felt that we were not achieving the up-tempo style of defense we had been preaching to our players. In the previous two seasons we had created a mere 34 turnovers in 19 games, and only three of those resulted in a defensive score. As a staff, we felt a finetuning of our defensive philosophy was in order. We began with the simple slogan “11:30.” We ask our players, “What time is it?” They respond with a resounding “11:30!”. We must have 11 hats on the ball and go three and out at a minimum every time we step on the field. Anything less is considered a minus for the entire defensive unit. With this simple concept ingrained in our players’ psyches, we expanded our strategy to encompass three things we felt we wanted to accomplish on the field as a feared and dominant defense. These are as follows: 1. Score: This is our primary objective every time we step on the field. There is nothing more devastating to an opposing offense than giving up points during their possession. While many people talk about scoring on defense, we wanted to actually do it! We believe it is imperative that if we are going to score, we must practice scoring daily. 2. Turnovers: Regaining possession of the football for our offense in a timely manner is our number two goal. The closer we can get our offense to the end zone without allowing the opponent punt unit to step on the field, the more opportune our chance is to score points in a rapid fashion. 3. Three and Out: Again, we want our players to believe three and out to be a worst-case scenario. Practice Implementation Once we redeveloped our philosophy, we sought improved practice methods that would turn into direct results on the field. We were able to break turnovers and defensive scores down into two basic areas: Individual and Team fundamentals. Individual Fundamentals Turnover drills are executed on a daily basis within each position group’s individual period. We also make use of a turnover circuit at least twice a week during the sea-
Dan Durrett, a 6-4, 240-lb defensive lineman out of Houston had 18.5 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season.
son. This is a high-energy time that we use at the beginning of practice, and it is referred to as “The Pit” (Diagram 1). The concept of a turnover circuit is obviously not a new concept. We all use it in some form or fashion during the week.
What we try to incorporate into the session is a level of urgency and desire by bringing all three position groups together and rotating them within a close physical proximity roughly resembling a triangle. A significant key here is keeping the total time of drill execution to five minutes or less. We want to hold the focus and intensity of both the players and coaches involved. The scene is quite chaotic with “Ball!” calls coming in unison and loose footballs flying all over the place. We believe having the entire group in close relation to one another leads to a
heightened energy level. Our players are eager to perform the drill aggressively when they know not only are all the coaches watching, but their peers are as well. We use three stations, each station lasting approximately 90 seconds, which essentially gives each player one opportunity to perform each drill. We use the following drills with several variations: 1. Double Team Strip: Three players from a triangle, with the ballcarrier facing two would-be tacklers. On command, one player executes a perfect form tackle while the other attacks the ball vigorously until the ballcarrier releases it. The player that forced the loose ball then covers the ball in a fetal position while the tackler continues to drive the ball carrier away from the action. 2. Trail Strip/Punch: This is a very common drill where a ball carrier works away from the defender at three-quarter speed. The defender will either execute a strip or a punch and then work to make a recovery while also ensuring the tackle. 3. Scoop and Score: The players align in a single column and work full speed towards a coach standing 15 yards away. The coach releases the ball at various trajectories towards the player. The defender executes a scoop by lowering the hips and bending one knee while working one hand under the ball and popping it up into his chest. He then secures the ball and sprints past the coach for the touchdown. 4. Scoop and Pitch: This drill is the same as Scoop and Score, only this time the players form two lines. The player in front of the coach executes a perfect scoop, while the second player trails in good pitch relationship. Once the scoop has been initially secured, the defender will then perform an option pitch to the player who is trailing. The trailer will secure the pitch and sprint past the coach for the score. 5. Tip Drill: This drill is to simulate a batted ball by the defensive line. Players work in tandem, one behind the other as they work toward the coach. The first player tips a thrown ball up in the air while the second player catches the ball at the high point, secures it, and sprints past the coach for a touchdown. Many different drills can be incorporated into “The Pit,” so we have many options and switch it up on a daily basis. The main focus of this drill is two-fold. First and foremost is a chaotic aggression towards the ball. The second is quite sim-
ply ball security on the way to the end zone once the recovery has been made. We want to make sure that we do not make a big play only to turn it back over to the opposing offense. Again, the sense of pandemonium created by this circuit drill allows our players to get excited about creating turnovers. “The Pit” is as much about mental aggression and excitement as it is about technique. Team Fundamentals We emphasize the turnover in every single phase in practice. We may be working inside game, 11 vs. 11, or pass skelly; the type of team function is somewhat irrelevant. In each team drill we do, the whistle does not blow until all 11 players are in pursuit and a minimum of two players have made a serious attempt to strip the ball. If that means that the scout team has just completed a 70-yard pass play, then all 11 players are sprinting down the field, and the exercise does not end until two defenders have attempted to strip the ball. Every time a loose ball is scooped, or we get an interception, the whistle is not blown until all players sprint to the end zone for the touchdown. There are a couple of other team drills we do outside of an offense vs. defense set up. They are as follows: 1. Crack-Back Drill (Diagram 2): This drill is often incorporated into a standard pursuit drill. The coach running the pursuit drill will either drop back and throw the ball or release it on the ground roughly 25 percent of the time. The crack back is then on. The defender (Sam linebacker) that intercepts or scoops the ball will immediately take off down the sideline. The nearest defender up the field (stud defensive end) will immediately turn back towards the ball carrier and crack back on the nearest offensive threat to making the tackle.
All of the remaining defenders work down the field, forming a wall in front of the ball carrier. The key coaching point
here is that the blockers will work from the sidelines out and push their heads over their field shoulders to look for the nearest threat in front of the ball carrier. We also emphasize keeping all blocks above the waist and in front of would-be tacklers, while leaving those offensive players alone that are clearly out of the picture back up the field. The defender nearest the ballcarrier and closest to the sideline will then work pitch relationship (SF), awaiting the ballcarrier’s pitch out to him. We execute this drill all the way into the end zone. Once we reach the end zone, we focus on celebrating as a team, ensuring a momentum swing in our direction while avoiding foolish penalties. 2. Hustle Drill (Diagram 3): This drill is used to emphasize hustle and ball recovery. Five defenders lay down on their backs with heads toward the coach. Three standup dummies and a coach with a ball are placed on each sideline 25 yards down the
field. Once the primary coach at the front of the five blows a whistle, all players scramble to get up and turn to the coach for a direction.
hustles back and participates in the very next drill. Conclusion We believe that these simple adjustments allowed us to go from 34 turnovers and three defensive touchdowns in 1999 and 2000 to 89 turnovers and 12 defensive touchdowns in 2001 and 2002. The biggest single factor is the mind set of the players. We encourage our players to pick up any loose ball on the field and run with it and pitch it if necessary. While this may go against conventional wisdom, we truly believe that we must push our men to play on the edge and take some chances in order to establish multiple big play opportunities and swing the all important momentum in our favor. When all 11 players believe they have a chance to impact the game and get in the end zone, going after the football becomes a natural reaction!!
The coach will then indicate a direction to one sideline or the other. All five players take off on a dead sprint to the indicated sideline. Once the players approach the sideline, the coach to that side releases the ball. The players must either take out a bag or recover the ball. The remaining player that does not get a bag or the ball
“Smash Mouth” Football, Similar Terms, Should Not Be in a Coach’s Vocabulary
Hard-nosed, maybe, but “smash-mouth” football is not how competent football coaches refer to their game. Football is a contact game, but terms that reflect brutality and violence do not belong in a coach’s vocabulary. Image is one reason to clean up slang terms like smash-mouth that have become popular in the media, but a more compelling reason comes from a legal standpoint. In a courtroom, descriptive terms are used against coaches and the game. Don’t hesitate to ask your fellow coaches, student-athletes and especially the media who cover your team to cooperate and refrain from using overly-descriptive terms that reflect poorly on the game and your profession.
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