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Monday, June 29, 2009 Repost: Preview of Nick Saban's !

aba"a defense

#Ed. Note: This was originally posted last season as part of an Alabama - Clemson "coaching preview." I tho ght that now! in the doldr ms before the season! the portion dedicated to Nic" #aban co ld be reposted.$

Nick Saban: Still Billys Boy

Saban %as been coac%in& defense ' and coac%in& it (uite we!! ' for decades) *ut t%ere is no (uestion t%at t%e definin& period of %is coac%in& career was +99+,+99-, w%en %e was *i!! *e!ic%ick.s defensive coordinator wit% t%e /!eve!and *rowns) Just knowin& t%at te!!s you a &reat dea! about Saban.s defense: %e 0pri"ari!y1 uses t%e 2,-3 %e.s very a&&ressive, especia!!y on passin& downs3 %e wants to stop t%e run on first and second down3 %e.s not afraid to "i4 up sc%e"es, covera&es, b!it5es, and !ooks of a!! kinds3 and, "ost i"portant!y, %e is intense and attentive to detai!, w%ic% is t%e %a!!"ark of any &reat defensive coac%) 6et's a!!ow Saban to e4p!ain %is defensive p%i!osop%y in %is own words) 7ro" one of %is 6S8 defensive p!aybooks: 9#:ur$ p%i!osop%y on first and second down is to stop t%e run and p!ay &ood 5one pass defense) ;e wi!! occasiona!!y p!ay "an,to,"an and b!it5 in t%is situation) :n t%ird down, we wi!! pri"ari!y p!ay "an,to,"an and "i4,in so"e 5one and b!it5es) ;e wi!! rus% four or "ore p!ayers versus t%e pass about ninety,percent of t%e ti"e) 9<n a!! situations, we wi!! defend t%e inside or "idd!e of t%e fie!d first ' defend inside to outside) &ainst t%e run, we wi!! not a!!ow t%e ba!! to be run inside) ;e want to force t%e ba!! outside) &ainst t%e pass, we wi!! not a!!ow t%e ba!! to be t%rown deep down t%e "idd!e or inside) ;e want to force t%e ba!! to be t%rown s%ort and=or outside) 9> 7ina!!y, our ?ob is to take t%e ba!! away fro" t%e opponents. offense and score or set up &ood fie!d position for our offense) ;e "ust knock t%e ba!! !oose, force "istakes, and cause turnovers) @urnovers and "akin& bi& p!ays win &a"es) ;e wi!! be a!ert and a&&ressive and take advanta&e of every opportunity to co"e up wit% t%e ba!! ) ) ) ) @%e trade"ark of our defense wi!! be effort, tou&%ness, and no "enta! "istakes re&ardin& score or situation in any &a"e)A

None of t%is is revo!utionary and "uc% of it is coac%,patois 0t%ere is anot%er section in %is p!aybook w%ere every position is re(uired to put in 9super %u"an effortA or e!se t%ey are dee"ed to %ave fai!ed1, but it.s a &ood p!ace to start) Most &ood defenses be&in wit% t%e pre"ise t%at, to be successfu!, t%ey "ust stop t%e run on first and second down to force known passin& situations on 2rd down) 0;%ic% is one reason w%y *i!! ;a!s% ' in words far too often un%eeded ' advocated doin& "uc% of your dropback passin& on first down)1 <ndeed, t%e book on *ob Stoops.s defense is known to everyone: first and second down e4pect an ei&%t,"an front and on t%ird down you wi!! see so"e kind of base or nicke! personne! 5one,b!it5) No "ystery t%ere) fina! brief prefatory note is t%at w%i!e Saban bases out of a 2,-, %e (uite co""on!y %as one of %is !inebackers put t%eir %and down and !ine up as wou!d a -,2 defensive end) So !et.s &et a bit "ore specific) 7irst <.!! discuss w%at is "aybe Saban.s "ost co""on defense, /over + Robber) Second, w%en Saban does use 5ones on known passin& situations %e !ikes t%e over!oad b!it5 and t%e co""on 2,2 5one b!it5 be%ind it, so <.!! s%ow a basic e4a"p!e of w%at t%is "i&%t !ook !ike) nd fina!!y, <.!! discuss a coup!e covera&e tec%ni(ues t%at Saban !ikes to use) Cover $ %&obber' /over + is "aybe t%e "ost co""on defense in t%e SB/) 0@%ou&% 9/over 2A is c!ose if you !u"p to&et%er a!! its variants)1 *ase /over + is (uite si"p!e: t%e 9+A refers to a deep safety w%o a!i&ns down t%e "idd!e, w%i!e a!! t%e offense.s ski!! &uys are covered "an to "an) @%is doesn.t necessari!y "ean it is bu"p and run ' it cou!d be !oose covera&e ' but it often is bu"p and run) @%e defense needs a &reat centerfie!der back at 7ree Safety w%o can stop t%e deep ba!! and cover side!ine to side!ine) @%e nice t%in& about t%is defense is it is si"p!e and, once !ocked in five &uys in "an and a free safety, you can do w%atever you want wit% t%e ot%er five) nd, "aybe "ost i"portant!y, wit% ?ust one free, safety deep, t%e defense can &et in a !ot of ei&%t,"an fronts) :n passin& downs, t%e defense can find ways to creative!y b!it5 five &uys, %ave a deep safety, and a!! t%e w%i!e sti!! account for a!! five of t%e offense.s receivers) @%e defense cannot rea!!y outnu"ber t%e pass protectors, but it can sti!! co!!apse t%e pocket) @%at.s base /over +) /over + 9RobberA works t%e sa"e, e4cept t%ere are on!y four rus%ers and, a!on& wit% t%e deep "idd!e safety, anot%er defender co"es down to an inter"ediate !eve! to read t%e C*.s eyes and 9robA any pass routes over t%e "idd!e, !ike cur!s, in routes, and crossin& routes) 9RobberA is t%e "ost popu!ar ter" for t%is tec%ni(ue but Saban.s is 9Rat)A 0< was a!ways partia! to Do"er S"it%.s ter", 9f!oaters,A w%ic% is t%e "ost descriptive)1 @%ere.s not%in& "a&ic about t%is covera&e3 every N76 tea" and "ost */S co!!e&e tea"s use it) <ndeed, despite a!! t%e b!uster about t%e <ndianapo!is /o!ts bein& a 9/over 2 tea",A on first and second down you see !ots of /over + and /over + robber fro" t%e", e4cept t%ey use t%eir stron& safety, *ob Sanders, as t%e 9f!oater)A @%e key is for t%e f!oater to be ab!e to read run, screen, or pass, and to use %is eyes to &et to t%e receiver and t%e ba!!) <t.s particu!ar!y effective nowadays wit% t%e increased use of spread for"ations w%ic% "ost offenses use to open up passin& !anes over t%e "idd!e) 7!oaters or rat p!ayers can stop t%ese inside passes and "ake &a"e,c%an&in& interceptions) *e!ow are so"e dia&ra"s, and < e4pect to see Saban use t%is covera&e a !ot t%is season) 0 s a fina! note, /over + Robber is usefu! a&ainst spread offense tea"s wit% "obi!e C*.s because t%e f!oater.s ?ob beco"es to not on!y read t%e C*.s eyes on passin& downs but a!so to watc% %i" for scra"b!es and to si"p!y "irror t%e %i" on run p!ays !ike t%e option and t%e 5one read)1

(ase )one (lit* < won.t say too "uc% because <.ve written e4tensive!y on pass protection and t%e 5one,b!it5 %ere) *ut Saban wi!! &o to t%e 5one,b!it5 in so"e passin& situations and a!so w%en %e fee!s !ike %e can use t%e b!it5 in a way to attack an e4pected run and sti!! p!ay 5one be%ind it) 7or e4a"p!e, if a tea" !ikes to run off tack!e to t%e @B side on a particu!ar down and distance, %e "i&%t ca!! a b!it5 t%at attacks t%at area and t%e 5one b!it5 !ets %i" sti!! p!ay sound covera&e be%ind it) nd !ike "ost "odern defenses, Saban.s "ost co""on covera&e be%ind a 5one,b!it5 is a 2,2 or t%ree,deep and t%ree,inter"ediate defense wit% five rus%ers) /over two be%ind a 5one b!it5 is often dan&erous because of t%e added uncovered deep sea"s, but "ost defenses fee! co"fortab!e wit% t%e 2,2) *e!ow is a &ood e4a"p!e of an over!oad 5one,b!it5 Saban uses to t%e open side of a one,back for"ation)

@%e t%in& to re"e"ber is t%at for years, w%en a tea" b!it5ed it was p!ayin& eit%er /over + or /over 0 "an 0or si"p!y !eft %o!es in its 5one1, and (uarterbacks were coac%ed to t%row t%e ba!! w%ere t%e b!it5er %ad co"e fro") Nowadays, t%ere.s a co""on perception t%at a 5one,b!it5 works because a defensive !ine"en &ets in t%e t%rowin& !ane ' no) ;%at t%e droppin& defensive end in t%e dia&ra" above does is a!!ow t%e defense as a whole to stay in 5one covera&e, and furt%er notice w%o is coverin& t%e area w%ere t%e b!it5ers ca"e fro": t%e stron& safety, w%o is usua!!y an effective pass defender, certain!y "oreso t%an a defensive end) @%at is %ow 5one,b!it5es cause confusion) +ther Techni, es - Cornerbac" -everage and .attern &eading 7ina!!y, !et.s discuss so"e covera&e tec%ni(ues) @%e first is t%at Saban !ikes to %ave %is cornerbacks ad?ust t%eir 9!evera&eA on a receiver based on t%e receiver.s sp!it fro" t%e tack!e and side!ine) @%e t%eory is t%at if

t%e wide receiver %as cut %is sp!it down %e %as done one of two t%in&s: 0a1 &iven %i"se!f "ore roo" to run an out breakin& route, or 0b1 c%eated in to run a crossin& or deep in,breakin& route) So if t%e receiver c%eats %is sp!it in, Saban %as %is cornerbacks a!i&n outside t%e receiver to defend t%e out,breakin& route, because if %e runs t%e in,breakin& route t%e corner %as %e!p fro" t%e !inebackers and safeties) Si"i!ar!y, if t%e receiver !ines up very wide 0botto" of t%e nu"bers, !et.s say1, %e %as &iven %i"se!f roo" to run an in,breakin& route !ike a s!ant) So t%e cornerback wi!! a!i&n inside t%e receiver to take t%at route away and on t%e be!ief t%at an out,cut fro" t%at wide wi!! be very difficu!t for t%e (uarterback) @o coac% t%is Saban uses a 9dividerA !ine w%ere t%ey be!ieve t%e receiver.s tendencies c%an&e to ref!ect one of t%e above two strate&ies) Nevert%e!ess, t%e defensive back sti!! "ust defend t%e route t%e receiver actua!!y runs and "aintain proper tec%ni(ue, but t%is is an i"portant startin& point) More si&nificant, %owever, is t%at Saban %eavi!y coac%es up 9pattern readin&A wit%in %is 5one drops) @%e two 5one,droppin& sc%oo!s of t%ou&%t are to teac% 9spot,dropsA or 9pattern,readin&)A :ne can overe"p%asi5e t%e distinction, but &enera!!y spot,droppin& is easier to teac% and was t%e traditiona! approac%) 7or e4a"p!e, if your outside !inebacker is responsib!e for t%e weak,f!at, %e wi!! take %is read steps and, upon readin& pass, wi!! drop to a spot and t%en react to t%e C*.s eyes) bi& advanta&e wit% spot,droppin& is si"p!y t%at it is easy to teac% to, say, a run,stuffin& inside !inebacker w%o spends "ost of %is ti"e on run &a"e pursuit and s%eddin& b!ocks) *ut t%e weakness is t%at we!! coac%ed receivers ' w%o %ave enou&% ti"e ' can beco"e e4ce!!ent at sett!in& in t%e 95one %o!esA between defenders) nd, wit% &ood receivers and &ood C*s, offenses %ave beco"e "ore and "ore adept and findin& and e4p!oitin& t%ese 5one %o!es)

Pattern,readin&, on t%e ot%er %and, is "uc% !ike a "atc%up,5one in basketba!!) Eefenders are responsib!e for 5ones but t%ey basica!!y p!ay "an on t%e receivers w%o co"e into t%eir 5ones) Moreover, pattern,read tea"s be&in by i""ediate!y coac%in& t%eir defenders on %ow to reco&ni5e popu!ar pass co"binations 0and indeed, t%e very concept of pass,co"binations t%e"se!ves1, and eac% week 5ero in on t%e F,+F "ost co""on pass concepts t%ey wi!! see fro" t%at opponent) ;%en done correct!y, pattern,readin& defenders know e4act!y %ow to cover receivers in t%eir 5ones and sea"!ess!y 0in a (uite !itera! sense1 pass t%e receivers onto ot%er defenders as t%ey run t%eir routes) :ne t%in& t%at distin&uis%es Saban is t%at %e uses pattern,readin& in a!"ost a!! of %is covera&es, inc!udin& t%e traditiona! /over 2, w%ereas "any coac%es on!y !et certain defenders pattern read or on!y use it wit% certain defenses !ike /over -) Sounds a !ot !ike *e!ic%ick, noG