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When I speak at these Nike clinics, I have a couple of perspectives on them. First, the lineup of speakers is very impressive, so I always take the approach that I should prepare and give it the best shot that I can so coaches will feel it was worthwhile to come listen to me for 90 minutes. ! hope that there will be something in here that you can take out that will stimulate your thinking and help you improve your team.
Second, I think more than anything, the focus should not be so much on schemes, on plays, or on coverages, so much as it ought to be on how to win football games. Typically, clinic speakers are asked to talk about schemes, but normally I haven't done that. I feel if I talked about a specific area of the game, it will perhaps exclude a segment of coaches who might benefit by being in here.
A secondary coach may not want to hear a lecture on drive-blocking techniques, or if you are an offensive coach and the speaker is going to talk about his defense, you may not want to be in here. But if I talk about winning and how to get the best out of your players, that applies to everybody.
We emphasize within our staff that everybody is a head coach. If not "the" head coach of the team, you are the head coach of the offensive line, you are the head coach of the linebackers, or you are the head coach of the secondary. If you someday want to be the head coach and you approach it that way, you are getting yourself ready by presenting yourself in that way. In that respect, everybody is responsible for winning.
University of Virginia
Everything is we, us, and ours. If you went back into the archives and checked the newspaper accounts of our games, and circled how many times our players said "we," "us," and "ours," as opposed to "me," "mine," or "you," you would see what I mean. We talk to our players that way, and we emphasize that if they talk that way, even as a culture thing initially and they are not really into it yet, it wiU start to become the way they think also.
One of the primary things a head coach (or anyone who wears a title similar to that) is responsible for is to bring people together. One of the principal functions of a person at that level is to be a person that can unite everyone and bring everybody's attitudes together, to get everybody on the same agenda, and to create a collective mentality to what you are doing.
It is obviously very difficult to do that when you have a group of people of different ages and different backgrounds who are also getting input from other sources. Players are only with any of us so many hours each day, and there is input coming in from other directions. How do you make sure that the message that prevails, the one most prominent in their thinking, is the one you are giving them?
Whether you are the head coach trying to unite 60 or 70 players, or if you are the position coach trying to unite those guys within your group, if you hold the title of authority and leadership, the principal thing we are alt trying to do is to unite them and build more power within that group.
We talk incessantly on our team about "we," We spend a lot of time in the off-season talking
"us," and "ours." When a guy scores, we all score. to our players about the development of team When a guy gets a penalty, we all get the penalty. power. Most people think the off-season program
more scheme-wise. I have received a number of requests to discuss our 3-4 defense.
We are a 3-4 defensive football team. With the increase in the visibility of the 3-4 defense, principally as it comes out of the NFL with the Patriots, Steelers, Dallas, and others using it, I am getting more and more requests to discuss it. Therefore, I thought I would put together something related to the defense and talk about that particular aspect of our team.
I have been involved with the defense since 1989 when I was with the New York Giants, and at New England, and with the Jets, and we have run it at Virginia since I have been there. It provides us, on a weekly basis, the flexibility to play against all the different wide-open and spread offenses without having to go to a substituted package. With four linebackers instead of three, we have that much more "on-our-feet" players and that much more flexibility to adjust to the many wide-open formations that we face, without necessarily being dictated to go to subdefenses for march-up purposes.
I know that you face a lot of spread offenses, and that is a major reason why we do it. Obviously, as we add the criteria of what we are trying to recruit or what you get on your team, and we build size into those criteria, that makes the pool smaller and smaller. So, if we need three big bodies instead of four big bodies to play, it increases the pool of talent that is available to us. There are more runand-hit-type players than there are great big, strong, heavy players. The run-and-hit players are those who have the type of mobility that we are looking for, so that is another factor. It also aids our special teams if we have more stand-up run-and-hit guys on our roster.
The only thing that counts is keeping points off the board, and that is at the foundation of our defensive philosophy. Our philosophy is pretty much in alignment with the defensive philosophy that they run at New England. Obviously, they have the opportunity to become more sophisticated in their schemes, but the whole philosophy is based on the question of how we are going to keep the points
is associated with body power, and it is, but we emphasize to our players that this is a critical stage for our team. Every January, the team has to be put back together again. It comes back to us as a new entity, and we have to create the new team.
There is not a great deal of carryover. There is carryover of our culture, but there is not a carryover of the solidarity of this team. Personalities change. Players come on the team, players go off the team, and roles change. We have to put the team back together again, and that begins in the off-season program.
During that time, a lot of players work with each other who do not work with each other during the course of the season. They are on different sides of the ball, they take different classes, they dress on different sides of the locker room, and now all of a sudden they are on the same platform together. That is the development of team power, and this is the one thing that coaches can control. Players will bottom out at certain physical levels, and we can only control that to a certain degree, but we can all control how we unite the team to develop the highest level of team power that we can.
So these are the things that are really intriguing to me that you do not always hear on the lecture circuit. Whenever I hear a coach talk about the organization of his team or about how he turned his team around or how they practice, or the development of a team attitude, those are the things I am really excited about.
Everybody has a different approach. When I read the Coach of the Year Clinics Football Manual, there will be five or six pages of a coach's lecture, and in it maybe two paragraphs that I will highlight because it deals with his approach to the game, and I can use it to help our team. That is what I prefer to do in my clinic talks, despite requests to discuss something, of a scheme nature. Frankly, whether anybody else gets anything out of it or not, it is good for me to hear myself talk about the things we think are so important to creating the team and to create winning ways.
This year, I thought I would try to adhere a bit more to what I was asked to do, so let us talk a little
down, and on having the flexibility to play the kind of game we need to play each week.
That is what competition is all about. It is finding a way to win against the match-up that you have The defense gives us the flexibility to do that and mostly the mentality gives us the flexibility to do that. It is to keep points off the board, be flexible enough to play the kind of game that is necessary to give us the best chance to win, and take away the best things the opponent do and try to make them beat you with something else. That is at the heart of what we are trying to do with it.
The linebackers are the key guys in the defense, and that is what I will center my scheme talk on here today. These are big, physical, fast, aggressive, run-and-hit players. The kind of linebackers that sometimes people blink their eyes at and think that he must be a defensive end, those people play linebacker for us.
Our inside linebackers are about 6'3" and weigh 230 or so, and OUf outside people are in the 6'4" range and weigh around 250 pounds. We do have an anomaly at one inside linebacker position. We have a 6'0",232- pound person who just knows where the ball is going. We accommodate how we play based on his skills.
I am going to start off this presentation with our inside linebackers. I coach both the inside and outside linebackers, so that is a good place for me to start. That is how we have always done it. The coach who has the inside people also has the outside linebackers. I know some teams split them up, but there is such coordination that is involved that by just being in the same meeting room, they understand how they overlap in their jobs, whether it is on run fits, coverage reads and passing off receivers in their zones, combo coverages, or manto-man. We just think itis a better fit
We tell our inside linebackers that we have two outside linebackers, so what you need to do is play in the bubble. We are talking right now about the run game, and his primary job is to play in the bubble and tobeatblocks.
Really, sometimes we are categorized as a twogap team. I would not quite say it that way, although
that is the principal technique that we teach. What I say is that we are a beat-blocks team. We think the heart of playing good defense in keeping the score down and taking away what the other team does best. As an individual player and as a unit, you have to be able to beat blocks as opposed to running away from blocks.
By that, I mean we just do not believe that a sound defense is based on constantly scheming everything up. That includes always being on the edge, running away from blockers, or tr-yingtoget into creases.
We saw a very good example of this a few years ago. We were getting ready to play West Virginia in a bowl game. West Virginia was playing a Miami team that over two drafts had eight players picked in the first two rounds, so they were very talented defensively. I remember that West Virginia ran for 422 yards. They have since proven to all of us that they are a terrific running team. But in watching the tape, what was apparent was their zone-blocking scheme, all they were really doing was taking the defensive player who was on their edge and pushing him out of the way. So the player was on the edge, the blocker moved one way, and the defender moved that way, and they just pushed them past the running lane. They never really had to remove them from the line of scrimmage. They never had to knock them backwards. They just pushed them to the Side and created creases for the backs.
We talk all the time to our players about "having no creases." If you asked any of our front seven defensive players about our defense, I think they would answer very quickly that they allow no creases. Do not give the offense seams to push the ball into. That is what runners are looking for. It is like water finding cracks in your basement. They will find those creases if they are any good. So our defense is a no-crease defense.
The way you prevent the creases is you beat blocks. You do not run away from them. You cannot constantly be on the edge of the blocker. At some point, whether it is a blitzing linebacker, an up-thefield runner, or a two-gap defender, you have to take
right there. If nothing else is going to happen during the course of the day, we know right there at that time that many line blocks have been taken on. Nobody ever gets hurt, there are no plies, nobody falls on anvbodv's knee from the side, and nobody twists an ankle. In seven years, we have never gotten anyone hurt in the drill. But we have gotten a lot of high contact, and if nothing else, it establishes an attitude of toughness and contact andwe saywe are a contact team.
There are certain positions on both offense and defense that have the opportunity to create a level of toughness on your team. Wide receivers on offense can make some awesome, exciting plays. It is usually that running back with a certain level of toughness who breaks tackle, who takes on defenders and knocks them down. We have all seen them. They inspire everybody on the offense and everybody else who is watching. That is the nature of this game.
When you have a runner like that on your offense, the way to explain it is that they are not only carrying the ball; they are carrying the flag for the team. They can set the attitude for the team. This is the type of player you want running the ball. He can do a lot for your team.
On defense, usually your linebackers can carry the team. Maybe you have a big-hitter at safety, a Bob Sanders type of player, but on most teams it is the linebackers who make those kinds of playsthose run-and-hit, very physical, high effort, high contact type of players. They have the best opportunity to do that. They can carry the flag and set the personality for the team like the running back can on offense.
All right, I have put this film clip together because I think it would be easier for you to see it than for me to be drawing diagrams up for you.
"Speed reader" Run
This is at the core foundation of what we are doing. We want the inside linebackers at a minimum
him on and you have to beat him. In other words, there is a point, as we like to play football, where you have to kick his ass. You have to stay in front of him,takehim on, and beat him.
That gives an individual player a lot of confidence. It adds toughness to the team, and it adds toughness to the player. We believe the tougher the team is, the better the team is. So we put a big priority on finding toughness in the players we recruit. We believe you are what you recruit. You are your model. If you want to have a tough team, recruit tough guys. If you want to have a tall team, recruit tall guys.
We have a saying about the kind of toughness we want,andwe call it "face in the fan" toughness. If creates a kind of visual for the players. Some players are verygoodcontact players, but it is all on the shoulder. There is a point where you must be willing to stick it in there if you are tough. We do not recruit guys deficient in physical ability, but with some of the guys we recruit, we can see one of the principal things they will bring to our team is that they are going to make the team tougher.
That is where our defense starts. Whether they are a defensive tackle, a nose tackle, a defensive end, or a linebacker and principally inside linebackers, they have to be willing to take guys on, and they have tobeat blocks.
We have a practice period every day that I will recommend to you that we call "two spot." We call it this because it is happening at two spots on the field. We do it every day in the spring, every day in camp, and every Tuesday during the season. It only lasts three minutes. It is early in the practice, and it comes in between two periods that are kind of highvelocity warm-up periods. In it, all the offensive linemen!ine up on the goal line. All of the linemen, tight ends, and defensive front seven get a partner and lineup across from each other. We just do down the line-Bang! Bang! Bang! OK. You come off, and I take you on-right down the line. We go to the end, and then we turn around and come back. It is just coming off the ball, sticking your face in there offensively~ taking blocks on, and beating the block
of three-and-a-half yards off the ball, but we vary that from week to week, based upon the nature of the team we are playing. Against certain styles of offense, where we are going to run more to the outside or have more fast reads, we could get back as deep as four-and-a-half or five yards.
We want them to bend at the knees, drop their butt down, let their arms hang in front of them, and have some weight up on the balls of their feet. We are more interested in eliminating bad stances than we are in creating stances that come off the assembly line where every player looks the same. What we are interested in is for them to have bodyweight distribution that will allow them to move with clean footwork. However, if the player feels comfortable, I do not emphasize what the stance must be, but I know what it cannot be.
In this system, our reads are initially into the backfield. We see a designated back. If itisanl formation, until there is a reason to change it, our read would be the fullback. We are reading direction, simply right or left. With regard to our fit system, as a key point in trying to keep it simple, we say, "Head your key. Do not play plays."
There is going to be an overlap to that. It cannot be just that simple and lines drawn between it, but the point is that we cannot give linebackers separate fits for each of the 15 or16 running plays they could see. We just tell them to read the key and react accordingly.
We have four fits for the inside linebackers. If the key comes toward you, but inside the offensive tackle, it is a direct read. If it comes toward you but outside the offensive tackle, it is a fast read. If the key goes away from you but his angle is inside the offensive tackle, it is what we call a backside fill, which is a downhill read so there is no crease. If the key goes away from us and outside the offensive tackle to the other side of the formation, it is a fast read. Everything for an inside linebacker is just one of those four things
To me, it is direct or fast. Away from me, it is backside fill or fast. If it is frontside fast, it is fast to the ball. We want to get fit in the openingtogettothe ball.
If it is fast away from me, then I am going to replace the linebacker to the other side who went fast.
In the next category, speed-reader refers to that. You coaches have heard teachers talking about taking a speed-reading course. The faster you can read, the faster you react, and then we want to run. Whether it is run in a short area, or downhill in the bubble to the guard, or run fast to the outside, we want to run. I want to see their feet moving. If we are playing properly, we do not shuffle, and we do not slide; we run. We want to generate speed. We want to generate energy. If we are coming downhill, we want to combine our natural strength and explosion with the speed that we can generate before taking on people who are 50 or 60 pounds heavier than we are.
They come off the ball, and we are coming downhill. I told you we are a beat-blocks team, so we are coming down with the mentality that we are going to stuff them on the line of scrimmage, so there are no creases. We are running downhill. We are running fast. We are running for the backside fill.
The defense is built on that foundation. We want a good comfortable stance, and we key from the backfield to the line of scrimmage. The closer you get to the line of scrimmage, it is more a proportionate shift on the key from the backfield to the line of scrimmage
So we are looking and reading keys. Is the man to me or away from me? Is he inside the tackle of outside the tackle? That gives us our initial direction. We are seeing over the head of the guard. The guard should be in our vision. We are not oblivious to him. There is not a shelf there. We can see the guard,we pick him up in our vision, but we are keying primarily to the back. As the play evolves, if it was an 80-20 percentage before the ball gets snapped, it becomes almost the opposite the closer we get to the line of scrimmage.
Why? Because these offensive guys have projectors, too. They know we want to run downhill, they know we want to hit creases, and they work on blocking schemes all week. They are trying to block us. We need to give all of our
create a downhill, in-the-bubble, beat-the-guard'sblock, type of read? Or is he outside the tackle, which will create a fast read? He wants to get to the ball and use a fast read replacement here.
Sometimes, as you can see here, the angle of the back is initially outside right away, and sometimes it is a bit of an unclear read. Sometimes against stretch plays or the outside zone play that is so prevalent, we will tell our players that week that we want our frontside linebacker to play them all like inside read.
Anybody who has coached it knows that the read on the runner here is that he will start outside and aim for this crease. If it is there, he will take it, but if it closes or the defense runs, he will bring it back inside before the backside linebacker can fast read over. If we face that situation against some teams, we might just make it simple for our linebackers and tell them that it is toward you this week, and everything is a direct read.
In this particular case, the frontside linebacker is taking it all as a direct read. He is up in the bubble, and what we are trying to do is build a wall. If we start with five people on the line of scrimmage, the three down guys and the two outside linebackers, as we see on the pre-snap, we have two guys four yards off the ball, which makes holes in the defense. That is, we have bubbles over the guards.
We are going to fill that soft spot with direct or backside fill, fast or fast replace, based on where the ball goes, but we are going to get downhill into those areas. We say that we are going to build a wall after the snap. He is up in there trying to build a wall in this area.
When we get change of formation and see inside linebackers change their alignments, it is really as much for pass fits as it is for run fits. Whether you are the Mike or the Jack, you have to fit to runs the same way.
In this defense, we clearly have a numbers advantage on the split-end side because we have three and they have two. What we have, then, is a situation where we can tell our linebackers where
attention to the blocker if we are going to kick his ass, and this is a beat-block system.
I explain it to linebackers by saying that we have two levels on our defense. We have linebacker level, and we have another level with the backs behind us. On the offense, they have the linemen level, and they have the backs behind them. It is a natural tendency for linebackers to become fixated on the football, but blockers are there and are designed to block them and keep them from getting to the ball. It is easy to get distracted by watching the ball, but at a certain point, we have to give our full concentration to the blocker.
I tell them the guards do not come off initially looking at you, and then at a certain point they look past you to the safety. It stands to reason then, if the guard is giving you his full, total concentration, you had better give him your full, total concentration.
This is especially true since he is starting off a more imposing physical guy than you are. He is 300 pounds, and you are 250 pounds. So as we get closer to the line of scrimmage, we have to give an increasing amount of concentration and focus on the blocker himself so we can properly fit on the block, and so we can properly employ the techniques of block protection, and so we can beat the block.
That is how you play good defense. You beat blocks, you close creases, and there is no place to run. Our players believe that all running backs look the same when there is no hole. That is our mentality. We are trying to move, and we are trying to run.
Keys are important. We key from the backfield up to the line of scrimmage. The proportion of vision and concentration changes the closer we get.
I am going to show some film clips now. If you have any questions that will help clarify things, raise your hand, or just call it out. (Film)
Here, you can see both inside linebackers are about four yards off the ball. They have good depth, and they look good in their stances. We film each play from sideline and end lone. You see the angle of the key. Is he to me or away from me? It is to #58 and away from #54. Is he inside the tackle, which will
the ball is going togoonarunningplay.lf itis arun, it will go to the tight-end side, so we can give our linebackers an anticipation.
Here, we see #20 taking a wide angle, so we want the coordination of the two linebackers (Diagram #1). One player is going to go fast, so the other guy is coming over to secure the bubble. If this were an inside run, the frontside man would be down into the seam building a wall, and the backside guy would seal the backside cutback, so if the ball went here and then cutback into here, he would be responsible for that cutback.
Diagram #1. Build a Wall
We tell our players on fast reads, if there is a big opening and you see the crease from your side of the line, then there is a real good chance the runner on the other side of the line of scrimmage is seeing the same crease. 00 not hesitate. Get up in the crease. You do not see running backs get the ball and start to shuffle, so you cannot shuffle. We must hit the same crease that he is hitting. He is taking the ball and running to the crease. If we do not run for the crease too, he will get there before we do. Runners do not shuffle, and linebackers do not shuffle.
Here, you see our opponent running a simple toss play. Game plan-wise, all toss plays are all fast reads. That is pretty self-explanatory.
You can see we are getting two downhill, insidethe-bubble reads on this play. The softness in the defense that we see before the snap will close. We are going to run downhill and build a wall and have no creases.
I want to explain how this look fits into the twogap idea. When we say two-gap responsibility for a defensive lineman ora linebacker, we really have to explain that to our players, and oftentimes to coaches. Sometimes, they think that means that everything is face up. Especially for the linebackers, what it means is you are responsible for two gaps.
If the blocker comes directly off, as they infrequently do, it is usually associated with a very inside angle by the back, an A-gap or maybe a tight B-gapangle.lfthe blocker is off straight, then we are downhill straight. We are face up, we are square on the block, we are locked-out, and we are pushing back. We can now play either one of the two gaps, wherever the ball enters: A or B.
Diagram #2. Two-Gap Responsibility
If the blocker comes off at a very defined angle, which is the way they usually do, then we want to understand the angle. We just talk about the angles as being tlat, and it is flat on the normal zone scheme play. The guard steps out, puts his hand on the defensive end, and looks at the inside linebacker.
He is flat. He is responsible for the inside linebacker when we run downhill, but his angle coming off the ball is a flat angle, which is what we see here. When he does that, we are going to contact him with our trontside pad. We are going to try to take him and stick his hip right onto the hip of the offensive tackle.
In other words, we are going to seal the B-gap crease with the guard's body. That is one of the two gaps that the fronts ide linebacker has responsibility for. If the runner sees that, which is
Diagram #3. Fit Drill
What we are emphasizing is that you must get to the cone, you get across the line, you keep on coming, you find the contact with that puller who is coming around, and you knock him back.
I want to talk about the flat angle by the guard.
There are some teams that adhere to strict zone principles. They are going to step open, come off flat, eyeball the linebacker, and then fit to the linebacker when he runs downhill.
Some of them get the message. They see these linebackers are running downhill, and they are pressing their guard onto the tackle, and there is no crease. They do not have time to do that. They decide to come off at a higher angle and turn what was previously a zone scheme into a straight man scheme. In other words, they are telling the guard if he is going to have to block this linebacker sooner or later, when he flat angles it, he is actually blocking him later.
They feel that if they have to do it sooner or later, then they will just go ahead and do it sooner. They will try to come off the ball high and hard and not let them run downhill. They try to knock them out of there, and hope that their tackle can handle the defensive end. It changes the angle for our linebacker, and it changes his technique.
Next, our linebacker engages with his inside pad.
He has his body in the B gap now, and he pushes the guard into the A gap. Some teams tried to do this, but others stayed with the zone principles because they did not feel they could handle our defensive ends. That is a decision that offenses have to make.
We start spring practice the latter part of March, and you are welcome to visit with us. As I said at the beginning, we like football coaches, we like coaching football, and we like to see coaches around when we are coaching. Thanks a lot.
clearly not very inviting for him to go in there, and comes back into the frontside A gap, then we should have our body leveraged into the frontside A gap. The frontside linebacker is really responsible for preventing the ball from entering the defense in either the Bgap or the A gap. On this particular play, I think he does a pretty good job.
He is downhill, he read the angle of the guard, he read it as a frontside direct, he read the guard's angle as being flat, he contacted with the frontside pad, and he ran downhill. I see his feet moving. He is trying to push the blocker back.
Good. Get downhill. Run. Seal the crease. Build a wall. Kick his ass. It is not just all about fitting on blocks. We always emphasize that you have to win, and you cannot just fit. You have to be more physical than the blockers.
Just to emphasize the running aspect of it, sometimes in our warm-up drills we do some things with our linebackers that emphasize the need to really run. It is amazing how many players are cruising when they think they are running as hard as they can. I will set two cones on the line of scrimmage about the width of the offensive tackles, and put a guard between them with a bag (Diagram #3). I have a person back behind him to be the fullback key, and have a linebacker up in front of him at normal depth. We will turn the back in one direction or the other and run outside to give us a fast read.
All we are practicing, or emphasizing, with the inside linebackers is when that guy starts out that way, you just see him with the speed-reader idea, and you get going. You run as fast as you can to get to that cone. That is on the line of scrimmage, and you keep trying to get across the line of scrimmage. You know that somebody is coming for you.
Offensive coaches are not oblivious to fast reads either. They are not going to allow us to play "Kill the man with the ball." We certainly know that.
Whether we have to take this guy on up in the bubble, or whether we have to take him on out there, we are going to have to take somebody on and beat a block in order to make plays.
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