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n behalf of Tennessee Tech University 11 defensive personnel fit to support the

Zoning Out
and our head coach, Mike Hennigan, it run. Being sound both against the run and
is a great honor to present this article for pass in each coverage is important; there-

the 2003 AFCA Summer Manual. I would fore, we put a major emphasis on where
like to thank my current staff, Damon we fit as a defensive unit. Diagram 1 below
Bradford (linebackers) and Dewayne shows our defensive base alignment.
Alexander (defensive line), and past staff
Eric Roark (SMU) and Chris Jones
Diagram 1: Base Alignment
Te nn es s ee
Tech Zone
(Montreal-CFL), as well as all the restricted
earning coaches for all of their hard work,
dedication and great times we’ve shared
through my four year tenure as defensive
coordinator at Tennessee Tech. Last and Coverage
most important, I would like to thank my
two predecessors, Mike Hennigan (head
coach) and Mike Smith (defense coordina-
tor, Jacksonville Jaguars), for their vast The secondary, linebackers and defen-
knowledge and guidance as I took over a sive ends have the responsibility of stop-
defensive system that has evolved through ping (forcing) the end run and playing the
the last 17 years from their hands to mine. run-pass. The primary “force” defender can
either be the free safety, rover, corner, line-
Pass Defense Philosophy backer or defensive end depending on the
Our philosophy of pass defense begins front and coverage called. There are four
with applying pressure on the passer. Most key elements of defending the end run:
of the time, your best pass defense is a 1. Force.
good pass rush. At the same time, we also 2. Alley (Cutback).
want to be able to jam and disrupt the tim- 3. Secondary Support/Play Pass.
ing of receivers with their patterns as they 4. Pursuit.
release down field. Communication is also
important to be effective in pass coverage Force
where it is the responsibility of everyone in The player that is responsible for out-
our secondary to communicate by talking side leverage vs an end run. The “force”
(ex: “ball” calls, splits, motion adjustments) player meets the play forcing the play to
or through the use of hand signals. cutback to the inside or causing the ball
Our basic theory is to mix a variety of carrier bounce so he is vulnerable to pur-
man to man and zone coverages in pass sit- suit. It is very important that the “force”
uations. We try to have a zone coverage to player must constrict or squeeze the width
compliment every man coverage concept of the running lane; therefore, minimizing
we have. If our defensive backs execute the the area between himself and the next
coverages properly, vary their secondary inside defender (the alley player).
alignments, and use effective disguises, we
can create uncertainty and problems for Alley
opposing quarterbacks and receivers. The player responsible for the middle
This uncertainty can create doubt in the position between the force and the pursuit.
opposing players’ minds as to the type of The “alley” player must control the alley
coverage to expect, which in turn, may area by defeating the blocker and staying
reduce the number of pass patterns that a in an inside-out relationship on the ball.
quarterback and receivers have confidence
in using. No where is the concept of Team Secondary Support
Defense more evident than in pass The player responsible for secondary
defense. With the coordination of applying outside leverage if the “force” player loses
pressure on the passer by our line and tight outside leverage. In addition, the “sec-
coverage by our secondary will produce ondary support” player is also responsible
interceptions, sacks, and the ability to con- for playing the toss pass. If a receiver
trol our opponent. releases down field, the “secondary sup-
port” player must play pass until the ball
End Run Force crosses the line of scrimmage. This player
End Run Force is one of the most must also replace the force player vs. the
important concepts of defense where the crack block.
Pursuit which we align in a four spoke secondary us to involve nine players against the run.
The other eight players not responsible with the philosophy of dropping seven Sky pass drops can be seen in Diagram 5
for the other three elements of End Run defenders in coverage. The free safety on both the strong side and weak side.
Force. All pursuit players must maintain an (strongside) primarily works with the Sam Diagram 5: Sky Coverage
inside-out relationship on the ball carrier linebacker, Mike linebacker, and corner. Our
and have the awareness of other defend- rover (weakside) works with the Will line-
ers’ pursuit angles. Our basic rule in pursu- backer and corner to the weak side. The cor-
ing to the football is to close to the near ner’s base alignments are at seven yards
shoulder of the ball carrier while not follow- and head up. The free safety and rover align
ing your own colored jersey. at a depth of 10-12 yards deep (depending
Each defense we call will have one of on coverage) and are given a landmark of
the four End Run Force schemes: aligning two yards inside or outside the hash
1. Sky Support: Free safety or rover is depending on ball placement and formation.
“force” player. Our base coverage is simply called
2. Cloud Support: Corner is the “force” “zone.” In Zone, each safety has the option of
player. making one of three calls; Sky, Sink, or Corner Progression: Sky
3. Bronco Support: Linebacker is the Funnel. In order to make the proper call, the Alignment: Seven yards deep and
“force” player. safeties are given rules in which they use to head-up.
4. Easy Support: End is the “force” player. control their side of the formation. The safe- Footwork: Back peddle to inside-post
Diagram 2 (Sky Support), Diagram 3 ty’s call to each side will depend on the num- position.
(Cloud Support) and Diagram 4 (Bronco ber of receivers to their side, the receiver(s) Reads/Keys: Ball to No. 1.
Support) demonstrate how our defensive alignment, or the receiver(s) splits. In num- Assignment: Man-to-man concept on all
backs and linebackers support the end run. bering offensive personnel, we count from deep routes (take off, post, post- corner) of
Zone Coverage (Base) outside in to the ball. No. 1. Intermediate routes of No. 1 (curl, dig,
Diagram 2: Sky Support The following rules are given to our crossers) corner becomes halves player.
safeties to use in Zone:
1. Sky call given on the strong side by Free/Rover Progression: Sky
free safety when the No. 2 receiver is in the Alignment: Ten yards deep; two yards
“C” area (tight end position) and there is a flexibility off hash.
normal split of No. 1 receiver. Sky call is Footwork: Flat-foot shuffle.
given by rover on weak side when there is Reads/Keys: Ball to No. 2.
a normal split of No. 1 receiver. Assignment: Free safety on strong
2. Sink call given by free and rover when side. Read No. 2. Vertical release play No.
there are two receivers outside “C” area. 2. Flat release No. 2, play curl to post. Drag
Diagram 3: Cloud Support 3. Funnel call given by the free safety release of No. 2, route recognition.
and rover if the No. 1 receiver takes a short Rover on weak side. Read No. 2. verti-
split or motions to a tight split for releasing cal release play No. 2. No vertical release,
purposes or for blocking purposes. curl/flat drop relating off No. 2.
In each coverage Sky, Sink and Funnel,
the coverage name not only tells the sec- Linebacker Drops: Sky
ondary and linebackers their pass responsibil- Sam: Curl/flat drop.
ity but also dictates the run support scheme to Mike: Hook/stretch to curl (all three
each side. Even though there are strengths receivers outside).
and weaknesses of each coverage, we feel Will: Hook/curl drop.
the coverage called based off these rules give
our players the best coverage to be most suc- Sink Coverage
Diagram 4: Bronco Support
cessful both against the run and pass based Sink coverage is a coordinated coverage
off offensive alignments and formations. ran against a two wide receiver set. This type
of read coverage can turn into either true
Sky Coverage quarters or a Cover 2 concept based off the
Sky Coverage is a quarters-based cov- release of the No. 2 receiver. The primary
erage where the primary support of the run support of the run is handled by the corner
is handled by the safety (Sky support). The (Cloud support), but is a wide force concept.
corners in Sky are pass defenders first and With a three over two look on the outside,
have the role of secondary support versus Sink offers a safe and sound answer to both
the run. Sky is a run-based coverage which the run and pass. The safety and corner’s
Zone coverage is the backbone of our aggressively allows your safeties to get responsibility versus the pass can change
defensive coverage package. Our base involved in the running game. When our with the release of the No. 2 receiver.
zone coverage is a very flexible package in safeties support the run in Sky, it enables Diagram 6 demonstrates Sink pass drops
on the strong side with release patterns of coverage. head-up.
No. 2 and Sky pass drops on the weak side. Linebacker Drops: Sink (St. Side) Footwork: Work up to five yards; mirror
Diagram 6: Sink Coverage Sam: Curl/No. 3 flat. No. 1.
Mike: Hook/stretch to curl (all 3 Reads/Keys: Ball to No. 1.
receivers outside). Assignment: Collision No. 1, play the flat.
Will: Hook-Curl/No. 3 flat, unless other
coverage called. Safety Progression: Funnel
Alignment: Twelve yards deep; two
Funnel Coverage yards flexibility off hash.
Funnel is a true Cover 2 coverage where Footwork: Controlled back peddle to
the corner squats the No. 1 receiver playing throttle.
the flat and the safety is a true half-field Reads/Keys: Ball to No. 1.
defender. In our Zone coverage package, Assignment: Halves; eye control No. 1
Funnel is called when there is a short split of to No. 2.
Corner Progression: Sink the No. 1 receiver for releasing or blocking
Alignment: Seven yards deep and purposes. The primary support against the Linebacker Drops: Funnel
head-up. run in Funnel is handled by the corner (Cloud Sam: Curl
Footwork: Lateral Shuffle. support). In Diagram 7, Funnel pass drops Mike: Hook
Reads/Keys: Ball to No. 2. are illustrated on each side of the formation. Will: Hook/Curl unless other coverage
Assignment: Read No. 2 for technique. called.
Diagram 7: Funnel Coverage
Vertical release of No. 2, play No. 1 like In closing, Zone coverage gives us the
quarters. Flat release of No. 2, settle with built-in flexibility to run multiple coverages
depth like Cover 2. to one side of a formation based off of
offensive sets and splits. Because of vari-
Safety Progression: Sink ous offensive personnel and formations,
Alignment: Twelve yards deep; two we feel that the options of Sky, Sink, and
yards flexibility off hash. Funnel in Zone put our players in the best
Footwork: Controlled back peddle to coverage to be successful both against the
throttle. run and the pass. Again, I would like to
Reads/Keys: Ball to No. 2. thank the AFCAfor this great opportunity to
Assignment: Read No. 2 for technique. share these ideas and that our doors at
Vertical release of No. 2, play No. 2. Flat Corner Progression: Funnel Tennessee Tech are always open to you.
release of No. 2, overlap No. 1 like halves Alignment: Seven yards deep and Best of luck in 2003.

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