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by Mike Stoops :: University of Arizona excerpt from 2011 Nike Coach of the Year Football Manual by Earl Browning available at www.coacheschoice.com
Thank you very much, I want to give you something to think about in simplifying what you do. I want to give you some ideas I think are important to having some success. i was fortunate to be around many great people growing up. My father was a football coach and I grew up going to football clinics. There are four Stoops brothers in college coaching today. Mark is the defensive coordinator at Florida State University, Bob is the head coach at the University of Oklahoma, I am the head coach at the University of Arizona, and Rob Stoops is now coaching at Youngstown State University. Rob is our oldest brother. We grew up watching tape with my father. He was quite successful in this profession. I hope I can pass on some things that will help you in your program. I do not want to talk a lot of philosophy. I know you get that from many head coaches. They want to talk about structure and motivation, I am different from them. Our style is hands-on with the offense and defense. My expertise is on the defensive side of the ball. Good high school coaches become great college coaches because you have to coach so much in high school on both sides of the ball. I want to give you some basic thought about how we build our team. I want to give you some of the ingredients that are important to building a winning program. When I took the job at Arizona, we had some problems. I had to instill certain characteristics, values, and discipline into our program so we could become a winner. Football is one of the hardest areas to make wholesale changes because there are so many players involved. We had to recruit quality football players that fit into our system. ELEMENTS FOR SUCCESS • Great defense • Turnover margin • Red zone offense • Special teams
For you to have a successful team, it is important to have a good defense. Being good on defense gives you an opportunity to win. I believe having a balanced football team is important. However, I believe the entire team's attitude and durability to play with the best teams has to come from within the structure of your defense. Arizona has always played good defense. It goes back to the old adage, which says, "Offense sells tickets, and defense wins championships." When you look at the University of Oregon, they were good offensively but the thing that made them a great team was their defense. If you watch the evolution of Oregon in the past couple of years, it has been their ability to play good defense. They have one of the fastest defenses in the country. Their defense gives them an opportunity to go to the next level. The turnover margin is something that we talk about all the time. This year, we ended up fourth in the RAG 10. Statistically, we were third in total defense arid total offense. We were eighth In turnover margin. That was different and the lowest ranking we have had in the last four years. We do not read much into statistics. However, turnover margin is a telling statistic when it comes to evaluating your season. It is critical and something we must address with our team.
Last year, we had six turnovers in the red zone. They were lost opportunities and momentum changers. Those mistakes are difficult from which to recover. You have the chance to go in, get points, and end up with nothing. That is a good statistic at which to look. The previous year we finished first in the PAC 10 in that statistic, and we finished second in the league. The PAC 10 has never been as competitive for teams one through 10 as it is now. The competition in the league has never been better. Special teams are more important than ever before. The special teams can decide the game in a closely competitive contest. We scored with 26 seconds to go against Arizona State University and missed the extra point to win the game. We went into overtime and lost the game on a missed extra point in the second overtime period. You must stress those areas within your program. You have to be able to punt and return the ball. All those areas become invaluable when you are in tight football games. We have to do a better job on special teams, and we will direct our attention to those things in the spring. In those four statistics, we were third in total defense and in the bottom half of the league in the other categories. Those are not good statistics, and that tells us why we finished where we did in the PAC 10. We have to improve in those areas, and the keys to doing it starts with leadership.
HOW DO YOU ACCOMPLISH THESE THINGS? • Leadership (seniors) • Play hard every snap; average play 4 to 7 seconds • Preparation: Do your job. • Team first: Don't be selfish; maintain positive energy.
The leadership on your team comes from your seniors, hopefully the best players on your team. A good team with good leadership can win 7 or 8 games. A good team with great leadership can win 9 or 10 games. That stat is critical when you look at your overall team. You look to your seniors for leadership. You look at your seniors and try to see if there is a correlation for the past couple of years. Trying to build leadership is something we talk about continuously over the course of the year. It takes no talent to play hard. Each play is 4 to 7 seconds in length. That is not a tremendous amount of time. In our back seven players, we do not substitute many times with them. However, in the front four, we play seven to eight players each game. We build the linebackers and defense to play hard and the front four get enough rest that they should play hard every snap. We grade every play for effort. Getting a team running to the ball and giving maximum effort is paramount to your success as a football team. The preparation you put into the game is tremendously important. The preparation of your team is the key any time you step on the field. We have the same preparation for each game, and we want to show great respect for each opponent we play. We want to be prepared to play the best team in the league or the worst team in the league. The balance in the league means you must be prepared every time you step on the field. The last thing is putting the team first. Football is the ultimate team sport. You have stars, and you want them to have individual goals, but that cannot overshadow the importance of putting the team first. Those are some brief philosophical points that I think are important to being successful and certainly to being good on defense. If your players are accountability for those areas, you have a chance to be a good team, When I was a player, we played many spread teams. Today, want to talk about how we play a three- or four-wide
formation team, Our approach has not changed much as to the way we play a 2x2 set or a 3x1 set. In those sets, the quarterback is in the shotgun 70 percent of the time. Oregon and Arizona State are in the shotgun almost 100 percent of the time. Few teams in our league align in a conventional set, and most of them are in the spread formations. Stanford University and the University of Southern California are predominantly under the center. When we teach defense, we start with the three- and four-wide formations and work our way into the more conventional sets. We build everything we talk about on numbers. We teach from a 2x2 or a 3x1 formation. Because of the zone read concept in football today, it is important to have the extra defender on the quarterback. At Arizona, we structure our defense to gap control with the nickel, Mike linebacker, or Will linebacker based on where the running back sets. In the first example, the back sets away from the nickel back (Diagram #1). After we set the front, the nickel widens outside the B gap and splits the difference between the slot receiver and the offensive tackle. He reads through the B gap for the zone play.
If they run the zone play, the nickel back fills the B gap to the backside. The Mike is the A-gap player to the ballside. The Will linebacker becomes the extra defender on the quarterback if he pulls the ball. If there were a tight end to that side, the Will linebacker moves out over the tight end, and nothing else would change. If they brought the back to the other side, the Will linebacker plays the A gap to the backside. The Mike linebacker takes the B gap to the playside, and the nickel back is the extra player on the quarterback if he pulls the ball.
When we call a double palms defense, the corners read the #2 receivers (Diagram #2). They take their alignment off the #1 receiver, but they read the #2 receiver. They are at a depth of six yards off the wide receiver with an inside leverage position. They read the release of the #2 receiver. On a vertical release, anything past five yards turns the corner's coverage into quarter coverage with the safety to his side. If the receiver releases off the line and at five yards goes to the flat, the corner jumps the flat route, and the safety plays over the top of the corner. The safeties alignment is at 10 yards on the outside eye of the #2 receiver into the wide field. If he is into the boundary, he plays at 10 yards on the inside eye of the #2 receiver. It is a basic two-read concept on the release on the #2 receiver. If the offense runs the smash route, the corner plays the hitch, He tries to buy time for the safety to get over to the 7 route (flag route) by the #2 receiver. He plays midway between the corner route and the hitch by the wide receiver. The safety reads the seven route by the #2 receiver, gets over the top of the corner, and takes the #2 receiver going long into the sidelines. This is a double palms call, so the backside of the defense plays the same type of coverage When the corner reads the outside move by the #2 receiver, he tries to buy the safety time to get over the top of the wide receiver. He holds on the wide receiver and disrupts his release going vertical before he lumps the slot coming to the flat. The rule for the corner is he has the wide receiver gong vertical unless the slot receiver runs an out breaking pattern at five or less yards, If the slot runs vertical, the corner stays on the wide receiver. People like to try to cross the receivers with the slot going up the field and the wide receiver breaking to the post behind the slot. When the corner and safety are on two different levels, the corner takes the wide receiver going to the post, and the safety stays on the scissors route of the slot receiver up the field. If the back sets into the wideside of the field, we play the nose to the back and the 3 technique away from him. If they run the inside zone, the Mike linebacker fills the B gap to the playside. The Will linebacker aligns in a mid-alignment on the slot receiver and offensive tackle. He stays wide. lf the offense run the zone read, he does not need to fill the A gap to the backside of the play immediately. He lets the A gap work to him as the play develops. The nickel back playing to the field plays the quarterback on the zone option, if he pulls the ball. We do not want to bring the Will linebacker back inside because the bubble screen is a part of the zone read play. He has to stay in position to support and attack the bubble to his side. That is the first thing the offense wants to see. They want to know if you are respecting the bubble screen. That is the reason for the strong safety's alignment on the slot receiver to his side. We play the nickel back, Mike linebacker, corner, and strong safety on the three possible receivers to their side. On the backside, the Will linebacker, corner, and free safety play the slot and wide receiver. To the field, we play four
defenders over three receivers, and to the boundary, we play three defenders over two receivers. It is a match- up concept based on the release of the slot or #2 receiver (Diagram #3).
The running back in the backfield is the #3 receiver. The Mike linebacker has coverage on an inside release by the #3 receiver. If the running back releases to the flat, the #3 receiver can never outflank the nickel. As soon as the running back gets outside of the slot receiver, the nickel plays the running back, and the Mike linebacker expands to the slot receiver.
The thing I do not like is the fact the front is into the boundary. That puts the nickel having to cover the A gap from the wide field. That becomes a difficult task to ask him to play the A gap with the wide field to his outside. Play-action schemes put him in a bad situation. If the offense aligns with 10 personnel (zero tight ends/one back), we want the nose into the field (Diagram #4). That puts the nickel one gap closer to his responsible for action away from him. That allows the nickel to stay wide to give help to the outside. He has to stare through the B gap because that is his gap on run flow away. If you have to bring him all the way to the A gap, he is no help in coverage to the wideside of the field. That alignment leaves too much ground to cover without severely cutting his alignment to the inside.
In our adjustments, the overhang defender to the side of the running back is the extra defender on the quarterback. He has to take the quarterback if he pulls the ball on the zone option. The Will linebacker or nickel is the overhang player. The overhand defender plays the quarterback, and the other two defenders play the A gaps and B gaps. In a straight dropback pass, the Mike linebacker. takes his drop off the #3 receiver. If the #3 receiver goes away, the Mike linebacker sets in the curl to that side. The nickel splits the difference between the slot receiver and the offensive tackle. The strong safety aligns on the slot receiver. The corner takes an inside alignment on the wide receiver. We are 4-on-3 strong and 3-on-2 weak. If the pattern is a shallow cross coming underneath the coverage, we make an adjustment (Diagram #5). The Will linebacker reads from the slot receiver to the running back or the inside receiver in a trips formation. If the slot receiver runs under the Will linebacker going inside, he releases him to the Mike linebacker. If the running back goes to the outside, the Will linebacker takes that coverage.
We go from covering four to the strongside to cover 4 to the weakside. The Mike linebacker reacts off the pattern of the #3 receiver. If he goes strong or weak, he looks from #3 to the #2 receiver, If #3 goes out, #2 is probably coming in. It #3 blocks, the Mike linebacker zones off, looking for the crossing routes. With the trips formation, we can get a 3x1 or a 3x2, which is the empty set (Diagram #6). It does not matter if the personnel group is 10 or 11. To the trips side of the formation, we eliminate the wide receiver to that side by locking the corner in 1-on�1 man coverage. The Mike linebacker, nickel, and strong safety play the same coverage as they did in the base coverage. If we play a pistol set in the backfield, we treat that as a home set. A home set is an I formation alignment to us.
If the offense aligns in the trips set to the wide field and puts the running back in a "minus position" to the boundary, we kick the linebackers over to the field (Diagram #7). The nose aligns into the field in a 1 technique on the fieldside guard, and the 3-technique tackle is into the boundary. The Mike linebacker moves outside and aligns inside the #3 receiver. He plays the nickel's responsibility on flow away on the zone play. He is the B-gap player with the ball going away. The Will linebacker becomes the A-gap player to the boundary side of the alignment. The extra player on the quarterback becomes the free safety moving down from his alignment.
The free safety reads the offensive tackle to his side. If the tackle blocks down or scoops to the inside, he plays the zone option play. If the tackle pass-sets, he looks for the #3 receiver strong coming up the field on a vertical route. If
the #3 receiver releases outside or comes shallow across the field, he zones off and helps the corner to his side. If the #3 receiver is trying to get deep, it is a mismatch unless we have a dime package in the game. The free safety is more of a free runner to this formation. He has to be the support with the running back set to his side, but gives help on a vertical from #3 trying to get down the middle. If the running back aligns into the trips formation, we call that a "plus position" (Diagram #8). In this alignment, the free safety becomes a gap control defender. The Will linebacker has the B gap to the trips side of the formation. The Mike linebacker does not have a gap to control. He is the extra player on the quarterback, if he runs the zone option. With this adjustment, the corner to the single-receiver side is playing man coverage on the wide receiver, In any trips formation, the corner playing the single receiver is on the island most of the time.
The corner away from the trips has very little over the top help his way unless we game plan it. Against Arizona State, they did not run the zone read too much. The free safety played deeper and looked to help the Mike linebacker on the #3 receiver going vertical if he went to the outside, the free safety worked over the top of the corner to his side. Against Oregon, it was a different alignment for him. Oregon is a big zone option team. The free safety has to cheat toward the line to handle the quarterback coming out that way with the ball. The Mike linebacker on the trips set has to play the alignment the nickel plays on the 2x2 formation. He aligns splitting the difference between the #3 receiver and the offensive tackle. With the run flow away from him, he fills in the B gap. If he has quarterback option his way, he is the extra defender on the quarterback. The nickel back to the trips side plays the #2 receiver like the corner played the #1 receiver in a 2x2 formation. If the #3 receiver breaks to the outside, he jams the #2 receiver going up the field and sits on the #3 receiver coming to him. The strong safety plays over the top of the nickel back just as he did in quarter coverage. The safeties drop and try to find work in their area of the field. When we play teams that are primary zone read and passing teams, we play five and six defensive backs. In the PAC 10, teams align in the empty set and motion back into a 2x2 set or a 3x1 formation, They want the defensive back to adjust and to think. They use a number of return motion schemes and flipping the back from a plus
to a minus side of the quarterback. They feel they can get a miscommunication in the secondary and break someone open in the deep zone. We do the same thing. We very seldom see plays where there is not some kind of movement. It is either a shift or some type of motion. We do not align in a stationary front anymore. The game has become so multiple, and players are moving every play. There are very few plays where the offense just lines up and snaps the ball. We play several man concepts in our defensive scheme, When playing teams with a four-wide receiver package, we play with six defensive backs. That allows us to play a number of ways in the man schemes. We can bracket receivers on either side. We can bring six defenders into the box and play gap control with the four down linemen and two linebackers. We can match the four wide receivers with a free safety or with a four-under, two-deep scheme. When we play six defensive backs, we generally take the Mike linebacker off the field.
We play two-man coverage with two different leverages (Diagram #9). It is part of our third-down package. If we want to force the ball to the outside, we align with inside leverage and force all the receivers to the outside. When we use this coverage, we must be aware of the splits of the receivers. If the receiver starts to tighten his split, he is trying to get inside. We consider a split tight when the receiver gets inside the hash mark. We play this type of adjustment in a third down and medium yardage. We want to stop the quick slant to the inside. If we have a third-and-long situation, we want to force the ball the other way. We want the receiver to break to the inside and into our coverage. We play a two-deep zone behind this coverage. We bracket receivers when they cut their splits down. If we stand a chance to get a pick off the man coverage, we bracket the coverage. The two defensive backs zone off the receiver and take the receivers the way they break. If the receivers split, the inside defender takes the inside receiver, and the outside receiver takes the outside receiver. If the receivers cross, the defenders switch their men. My time is getting close, and it is almost happy hour. You have done a great job of hanging in here. I appreciate speaking and share ideas with you. I know there is a lot of great football played in this area. I have great appreciation for what you coaches do. I know you are strong men of faith and character, and teaching is what we do. We have a great influence on young men that participate in our programs. Teach them the right things, and keep it simple. That way, they can understand and play aggressively. The game of football has become a game of movement at the college level, and I am sure it is working that way in the high school level. It is not 22 players in a shoebox anymore The teams spread out, and so does the game. Thank you