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John Burrell sits in his office on a warm afternoon in late July. The Western Connecticut State University coach wishes he could walk over to the clock on the wall and stop the hands from moving. But with a game scheduled for late August that clock just keeps on ticking towards another season. There never seems to be enough time to get ready. And getting ready for Burrell often includes creating something different. A new twist. A wrinkle no one has seen before. An adjustment here. An adjustment there. The team WCSU puts on the field this year won’t be the same team that finished 5-5 last year. Burrell believes coaches must always be learning. Always improving. Always finding different ways to score. And different ways to stop teams from scoring. Even if you have found something that works – change is usually a good thing because you’re more than likely changing for a reason. From 1999 through the 2001 season, Burrell created a defense that few offensive coordinators could figure out – let alone stop. The Cover-1 defense was known as the "Robber Coverage" and it helped the Colonials post a 28-4 record for a .875 winning percentage over that span – the fourth best in Division III college football. The defense featured nine players in the box. Yes, nine players in the box designed to stop a team’s running game before it ever takes a step – without getting beat by play action. The defense put WCSU in step with the best teams in Division 3 college football. But as Burrell sits in his office looking at the clock and putting together plans for the 2007 season, the "Robber Coverage" is stuffed in the drawer. "We don’t use it anymore," says Burrell, who will be entering his sixth season as head coach of the Colonials (57-25). "The only reason we don’t is because two years ago we switched from a 4-3 to a 3-3-5 so we are no longer a two-deep shell in the secondary. We just can’t find any defensive tackles. The 3-3 allows us to play only one instead of two and we have a ton of guys who are athletes that can run who are kind of a cross between a linebacker and a safety and this allows us to get another one of those players on the field." In other words, the "new" defense is a better fit for Burrell’s "new" personnel. But a lot of defensive coordinators still prefer to line up in the 4-3 defense. And Burrell believes the "Robber Coverage" is still a very effective way to slow down even the best running attacks in the country. Building blocks To best understand the "Robber Coverage" is to begin at the beginning. "Like anything else in college football, it’s not something that I came up with all by myself," said Burrell, who before taking over as head coach was WCSU’s defensive coordinator for four years and has been on the staff for 13 years. "It’s something that I really learned the basics of from Don Brown at the University of Massachusetts when he was their defensive coordinator. We went up there for spring practice and a lot of it came from there. But we were already running a version of cover one, but it wasn’t as sound as I
The coverage changes slightly based on the backfield set. who was then the defensive coordinator. "So depending on what happens with the defensive lineman and linebackers. And this is one of the ways we are able to reduce the threat of play action. Safety net "The great thing about this coverage is that it really. He can be really aggressive and you can really . The ideal safeties must be smart. 11th in scoring defense and 12th in total defense." The defense didn’t happen over night or come together in a single season." When the Colonials played the "Robber Coverage" they were ranked No. "They have to identify the backfield sets. "He had a great influence on what we did then and even what we do now." Burrell credits Brown as having a big influence on how WCSU lined up and played defense in those days. make the proper calls. They have to be able to come down and take on kick-out blocks by a fullback or a pulling guard and they have to be able to stop the running game in its tracks. Brown. "We had been doing a version of it for a couple of years and then after we met with the coaches at UMass we picked up a few more things that we really liked and incorporated it into the coverage. the two safeties are the vital cogs in the ability to stop the run. 1 in Division III in takeaways per game. It’s something that evolved over time. So if you have a really good weak side outside linebacker and it’s a team that’s going to run strong a lot." One of the safeties then becomes the force player to the direction of flow and the other safety becomes the cut-back player. He doesn’t have to be the cut-back player like he would in a typical cover-two situation." Burrell said. Last season Brown led UMass to the Division I-AA national championship game after capturing the Atlantic 10 title with an 8-0 record. They made a lot of plays." he said. when it’s played correctly and the players understand it." Burrell says.think this is. Burrell says the two safeties are the key to the coverage’s success. experienced and "well. begins his fourth year as head coach at UMass. And when we played this our safeties were generally second and third in tackles." Burrell said." Burrell says. "A lot of what we did when we changed to a 3-3 we were already doing when we were in a our nickel and dime package. reduces the problem of getting beat by play action. fast always helps. They also are the two guys who against the run have to make the correct reads and get themselves dropped down into the box. We had gotten most of that from him as well. now that linebacker can just run and make a tackle in the backfield. "They are the ones who have to be able to identify what is going on." Burrell says that one of the places that really helps against the run is "by bringing your backside safety down as the cut-back player which allows your outside linebacker away from flow and to not have any run responsibilities. fourth in pass efficiency defense. "But they really have to be physical players.
The low hole player’s first concern is any vertical or inside release by the TE.R. Eligible receivers in his area and Responsibilities. Before each play the defender must know his Calls. is to outnumber the offense at the point of attack. to help each player remember his role." Burrell says that against an I-back set the safeties must key the backfield action after getting a pass read. "Against a balanced attack we will stop the opponent’s ability to run the ball." Split flow and a split backs set are played identically." The corners play pass first and run second. "For Cover 1 to work it is imperative that the linebackers and defensive backs understand how they relate within the overall plan vs. The high hole safety is primarily concerned with taking away the post route. Backfield action will determine the safety’s responsibility. "Cover 1 allows us to get nine defenders in the box in normal situations (first and 10. "The safety aligned to the side of full flow plays the low hole. primary and secondary Keys.E. Coaches can tag the coverage with Bail or Press to change the look and technique of the corners. The low hole is the area from about five yards to 15 yards deep. "Whenever possible we will do this by playing Cover 1. second and seven. expecting inside help. "It is vital that the safeties communicate with each other. run strong. The high hole is the area from 15 to 25 yards deep (centerfield). (our robber coverage)." The easiest way to stop the run. "The inside defenders will spill the ball carrier outside to the safety who must make the play or force the ball carrier back towards pursuit. proper Stance. the coach believes. The safety away from backfield flow plays the high hole." Burrell says. third and four) and obvious running situations while protecting ourselves against the threat of play action passes.S. They will play any inside breaking route outside and over the top. "We believe that when we put the offense in a long-yardage situation we will control the game. The low hole safety can be very aggressive against the run because he doesn’t fear being beaten deep. Once the cutback safety is five yards from the line he will break down and shuffle laterally maintaining inside leverage on the ball carrier. Burrell’s first goal is to eliminate the opponent’s main weapon. run weak and pass. the safety becomes the ninth man in the box after checking for play action. On flow away.K." The basics Going into any game." he said. "He will defeat a lead blocker at or behind the line keeping his outside arm and leg free." he said. Alignments and adjustments. We use the acronym C. out of our basic 4-3 two deep look.A. The middle linebacker ." he said. Coaches predetermine that the rover will play the low hole and the free will play the high hole.turn him loose. He has to be able to play over any shallow cross and under the dig. His aiming point is the inside hip of the offensive tackle. When a run comes to the safety he must attack the line of scrimmage immediately.
" he said. 2 strong. "Our banjo technique calls for Mike and Will to key the back aligned behind the QB once they have received a pass read from their primary key. three WR) the Rover leaves to cover No. Strong or Weak) the safeties and linebackers will make a couple simple adjustments to make Cover 1 more effective against running plays and play action passes. The linebackers will make a "trio" call and play this technique vs. The safeties will make either a "psycho" or "whacko" call designating that the back is offset strong or weak. pass." The safety away from the call will keep his normal alignment and run responsibilities. Twins. no TE. This inverted safety is responsible for covering the offset back man to man. "He will anticipate a run to his side and because he is already in the box he has a much shorter distance to travel to support against the run. If the back releases away from the linebacker then he drops into the low hole. "When we face 20 personnel (two RB. Against most opponents an offset back is most likely to release on a route so we label him the most dangerous back (MDB). Versus full flow. He is automatically designated as the high hole defender vs. "The Free moves to a typical high hole alignment over the center. The release of the RB determines Mike’s & Will’s pass responsibility." Trio is a blend of combo and banjo techniques involving all three backers. Mike covers the back if he releases strong and Will has him vs. the linebacker to that side and Mike will cover the backs and the LB away from flow will play the low hole. Offset back adjustments When the offense aligns in a backfield set where one of the backs is offset from the midline (Odd." Burrell said. "We can play Cover 1 against all one-back formations by designating the Rover as the single back adjuster. "The safety to the offset back will cheat his alignment down to 7 yards from the line of scrimmage. Mike or Will has the first back out to his side or the second back out away from him. "Rover will cover the extra wide receiver and Free is . a weak release. Against split flow. They must key flow to determine their back." Burrell says. Any run action fake should occur away from this safety thus reducing his tendency to attack the LOS. Sam and Will cover the backs and Mike becomes the low hole player." Other adjustments The corners will make a "cowboy" call and align on the same side of the field vs. This adjustment allows us to keep seven players in the box while the offense only has six potential blockers. Even. "When Mike and Will hear "Psycho" or "Whacko" they respond with a "Banjo" call. We designate this back as the remaining back (RB)." Burrell explains. Versus full flow. Mike covers the back releasing strong and Will takes the back releasing weak.(Mike) and the weak side outside linebacker (Will) are responsible for covering the backs if they release. pass. Against split flow.
"If a high school program is committed to running a 4-3 defense it can work. A lot more high schools are now running a spread offense.responsible for the high hole." he said. They achieve this by dominating the line of scrimmage. but there are teams that still run the Wing-T and your first commitment on defense is stopping the run." Coaches that implement this coverage will find the safeties making loads of tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage without losing sleep over being beaten deep by a post route off play action. But if you’re a 4-3 team. "We used it for several years with great success. B) We will show one front and stem into another pre-snap. being excellent tacklers and attacking the ball relentlessly. "The only reason we dropped it is because now with our front we have a three-deep look in the secondary and the coverage is really designed for use with a twodeep look in the secondary. In this look we are very similar to Man Free coverage except that we retain a low hole player. this will allow you to get nine in the box and really outnumber the opponent and stop the run." Burrell said. Sam still has man technique on the TE and Mike and Will play banjo technique against the RB. "If I were to implement this in a high school program for the first time I would make sure my safeties were seniors and quick learners and physical players." he said." Burrell said." There are concerns and red flags though that high school coaches should consider before making the switch. "This coverage is really designed to take away the run against a team using more of a pro-set . A lot of teams in high schools are running 4-4s or a 5-3 of some sort so they can get eight in the box to stop the run." High School confidential Burrell believes the defense can be played successfully at the high school level. This can be a great high school coverage. We will usually check out of Cover 1 if there is no natural TE (10 personnel) to avoid a mismatch between our backer and a speedy receiver." Chalk talk Burrell says his strategy is to "play unselfishly as a unit to develop great team defense. C) The linebackers will move their alignments up and back or show blitz. it takes some time to get the safeties prepared to make the right reads and making the right calls. "This concept is achieved using three tactics: A) The secondary will show a two-deep shell whenever practical." The former Middlebury College standout at running back says one thing that has changed recently involves the number of teams using one-back and three or four wideouts. "I don’t see why not. We also want to disguise our intentions as much as possible while confusing the offense. "In high school you have a lot of players that go both ways and for this coverage to be successful.
GLOSSARY When designing his Cover 1 defense." The goal of the chess match is to have more tacklers in the box than blockers – and that’s what this coverage accomplishes.R.K. A – 6 yards off the No." And how did offensive coordinators try to beat this defense? "The coverage is really a modification of the old quarters coverage and the way teams want to beat the quarters is with play action. a basic I Pro set: CORNERBACKS C – No pre-snap calls. "Coaches are still going to come at this coverage with play action. but not as many as there used to be. E – Concerned only with No. Alignments and adjustments. Western Connecticut State University Coach John Burrell used the acronym C. Let’s look at each position’s function in Burrell’s Cover 1 (The Robber Coverage) vs. R – Run to: secondary support. SAFETIES C – "Left/right" call declaring strength. "Sky" call indicating run support. to help each player remember his role. There are still plenty of teams out there doing that.A. Pass: Man on No.E. K – End Man on the LOS (EML) for run/pass read. primary and secondary Keys. You would certainly have to modify this defense if you were getting a steady diet of one-back and three or four wides.with two backs. 1 WR to his side with outside leverage. Eligible receivers in his area and Responsibilities. .S. And this can be played against a one-back team." Burrell said. "They’ve got seven blockers and not only do we have eight in the box we are getting a ninth in the box on the back side. but it becomes a single high safety coverage at that point because our rover would leave and be in man-to-man against the extra wide receiver. Before each play the defender must know his Calls. but it’s really got built into it the ability to take that threat away. S – Outside foot forward so he can get eyes inside to see his key. 1. proper Stance. 1 WR. Run away: insurance." Checkmate.
Mike (Middle Linebacker) Calls. E – Both running backs. Run away: free player. Pass: man on TE. Run away: cutback. Pass: "Combo" technique. . Will (Weak side Outside Linebacker) Calls. run.A – 10 yards off LOS. Stance and Keys are determined by the front call. Flow vs. He can cover the TE aggressively knowing he has help behind him. 2 yards outside EML. Alignment. E – Both running backs. R – Run to: fill and spill. Weight on balls of feet. Stance and Keys are determined by the front call. E – TE. pass. K – Offensive tackle for run/pass read. Pass: "Combo" technique. E – #2 to #1. Run away: free player. Sam can attack any open seam to make a play in the backfield. #2 receiver vs. square to LOS. R – Run to: fill & spill. Stance and Keys are determined by the front call. LINEBACKERS Sam (Strong side Outside Linebacker) Calls. Against run away from him. Alignment. R – Run to: primary support. S – Balanced stance. Pass: depends on backfield set and action. Alignment. R – Run: gap assignment.