Evolution of a Defensive Philosophy: To Have Fun, You Must Stop the Run

Bob Babich Head Coach North Dakota State University Fargo, N.D.

would like to thank the AFCA for giving me the opportunity to speak at the national clinic. It truly is an honor and a privilege. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank our staff for all their hard work and loyalty. Our staff consists of Casey Bradley, Bruce Saum, Andy Rondeau, Glenn Caruso, Johnny Cox, Todd Wash, Brent Vigen and graduate assistants Scott Hazelton and Shawn Baumgartner. Finally, I would like to thank our players. It is because of their work ethic, talent and attitude that we have had the success we have. Today we are going to talk about our base defensive techniques, alignments and philosophies. The philosophies are a collection of our association with many different coaches. By no means do we think we have all the answers at North Dakota State University, but….. Four years ago, I was fortunate enough to be named head coach at NDSU. I was familiar with the rich tradition at NDSU: Eight national championships and great coaches such as Ron Erhardt, Jim Wacker, Don Morton, Earle Solomonson and Rocky Hager. In order to carry on the tradition, there were a couple of things we had to accomplish. 1. Recruit: Good players make good coaches and win football games. a. Facilities: With the facilities that were in place, we felt we should be able to recruit good players. b. Tradition: The rich tradition at NDSU would add to our ability to recruit good players. 2. Play good defense. Evolution of a Defensive Philosophy Four years ago when we came together as a staff, we not only wanted to develop a philosophy for the coaches but also devise one that the players would believe in. We understood as a coaching staff that the players are the guys who will have to execute the scheme that is implemented. So with the players in mind, we went to work and this is what we came up with. We decided that we wanted to be an eight-man front defensive team. Some ask, why an eight-man front? Here are the reasons that helped in our decision making process. Familiarity: Our staff was very comfortable with the concepts of the eight-man front. Simplicity: Because our schemes are


not very complicated, our players can play in an aggressive manner. We firmly believe that if players do not have to think, then they can just line up and play aggressively with 100 percent effort. a. Fundamentals: With the players having a firm understanding of the schemes we implemented, we as a coaching staff could dedicate more practice time on the teaching of fundamentals. b. Takeaways: Were an emphasis of our defensive staff from Day 1. With the aggressive nature the eight-man front provides, we felt that there was a natural tie to takeaways. We have been very fortunate to be successful in this area. 1997: 35 Takeaways (No. 1 in nation in turnover margin) 1998: 31 Takeaways 1999: 31 Takeaways 2000: 24 Takeaways The takeaways that we have had up to this point have directly translated to the number of wins we have had in our four years. Easy Adjustments: We have found that the adjustments from the eight-man front versus all formations were simple and sound. These simple adjustments were consistent with our base philosophy of allowing our players to play with great effort while not having to think about a complicated scheme. We believe that our players feel very comfortable with any of our base adjustments versus any formations. Stop the Run: Our No. 1 priority in our defensive philosophy is to stop the run. We are firmly committed to the thought that if we prevent a team from being successful running the football, we keep them from scoring, controlling the time of possession and have an excellent opportunity to win the game. In our four years here at NDSU, we have been involved in many games where a team has had success passing the ball against us, but we were able to win the game. On the other hand, if a team had success running the ball, we either struggled to win the game or lost the game. As the head football coach I made a conscious decision that our offense would have a power run game. The reason for this was not only to create toughness on the offensive side of the ball, but we felt it would help our defense understand what it takes to stop the run. Going against each other in spring football and two-a-days has been a winning edge, helping our defense learn what it takes to stop the run.

• Proceedings • 78th AFCA Convention • 2001 •

Here are stats for our four years in rush defense, scoring defense and our record. Year YPG Scoring Record 1997 97.8 13.6 9-3 1998 * 180.9 25.1 7-4 1999 105.8 16.7 9-2 2000 78.6 14.5 12-2 Now that we have finished talking about our philosophy, we are going to give a general overview of our eight-man front defense. First, we will discuss the base fundamentals and then we will go over the base fronts including the alignments and responsibilities of each position. Finally, we will cover the variations that we use to adjust our eight-man front defense. Focus on Fundamentals Each day, we have individual work periods allowing coaches to concentrate on the fundamentals within their position group. Proper Stance & Alignment: Each player is responsible for understanding the fundamentals of their particular position. Getting in the correct stance and aligned properly is critical to the unit’s success. Key and React: Once aligned and tendencies are recognized, each player needs to focus in on their keys and react to what they see. Repetition of these very specific keys and reactions are vital. It must become second nature. Although it may get monotonous, this is one area we will always find time for within the structure of our practice. Defeat the Block (Technique): A common trait among great defensive players is their ability to use their hands and feet. A player can improve in this area each and every day. Leverage (Pursuit): If there is one common word heard around our defensive practices, it’s leverage. A player can do everything correctly up to this point, but if he doesn’t maintain proper leverage, it can all go for naught. If all 11 players run with proper leverage to the ball, the opportunity for a big offensive play to occur is less likely. Tackling: We spend a great deal of time teaching our players the correct way to tackle. It’s a fundamental that is taken for granted. If for no other reason, the safety of each player should be your top priority. Base Fronts Tight Eagle: Stopping the run is our first and foremost goal. Our base defense of

Tight Eagle gives us the flexibility to align to all sets without making too many adjustments, while keeping the integrity of the defense. With a Tight Eagle huddle call, we place the eagle side or three technique side to the tight end. Personnel Defensive Line: The $tud ($) or rush end is our most athletic of our defensive linemen. He must be physical enough to line up head up on a tight end (6 Technique) and at the same time be our most effective pass rusher. The tackle (T), 3 technique or eagle side tackle and our nose (N), 1 technique are our interior defensive linemen and must be able to handle the variety of blocks from double teams to zone schemes. The end (E), 5 technique, is our other rush end and is similar to our $tud position. Inside Linebackers: The Sam (S) linebacker will travel with the eagle or call side and will align directly over the 3 technique, 30 alignment. Since he is aligned to a three-man surface, he is generally our quickest linebacker. The Will (W) also aligns in a 30 alignment, away from the 3 technique. He will see more isolation plays; therefore, he is the most physical of the two inside linebackers. Alley Players: The strong safety (SS) and the quick (Q) in our scheme are mirrored positions. They align 3 X 3 from the end man on the line of scrimmage. The strong safety travels with the eagle side, while the quick aligns opposite the eagle side. They both must be physical in taking on the fullbacks, yet have the speed to cover wide receivers man to man. Note: If we face a one-back set, we check "Gone," moving the nose to a 2i, the End to a 6 and the Quick to a 3 X 3 alignment. Defensive Backs: The free safety (FS) is a major component to our eight-man front and is counted on as a primary run supporter. His alignment, based on coverage strength, is ten yards deep over C gap. He is like a Sam linebacker who can also

Diagram 2: Tight Eagle (Ace Set)

cover. Our corners (C) are involved in secondary run support and are fill-where-needed types of players. Position $tud ($) Tackle (T) Nose (N) End (E) Alignment Responsibility Defensive Line 6 Technique C Gap 3 Technique B Gap 1 Technique A Gap 5 Technique C Gap Inside Linebackers 30 30 Alley Players 3X3 3X3

Sam (S) Will (W)

A Gap B Gap

Quick (Q) (SS

Contain Contain


Defensive Backs 10 yds, C Gap D Gap 8-10 yds, 1 yd inside Sec. Run Support

Split Eagle: One change up to Tight Eagle is Split Eagle. It positions our players in better leverage alignments and has been very successful against a number of run schemes. Gaps of responsibilities remain the same with variations coming from alignments. Personnel Split Eagle does present some alignment variations. The $tud will now be on a two-man surface playing an angled 5. The Sam and Will are still A and B gap players respectively, but the Sam is now on a two-man surface with Will playing on a three-man surface. Our quick will come up and play a 1 X 1 alignment on a tight end, becoming a drop end. The defensive backs remain consistent with alignments. Note: In Split Eagle, no “Gone” check. Position $tud ($) Alignment Responsibility Defensive Line Angled 5 Technique C Gap

Diagram 1: Tight Eagle (Pro Set)

• Proceedings • 78th AFCA Convention • 2001 •

Diagram 3: Split Eagle (Pro Set)

I: Tackle aligned on the inside shoulder of offensive tackle.

Diagram 10: Tight Eagle Crash

Diagram 6: Tight Eagle I

Diagram 4: Split Eagle (Ace Set)
Movements and Slants Movement: One player movement by defensive lineman. Fire In: Movement by $tud into gap of responsibility.

Quick: Dog by the quick, attacking at a contain angle. Quick remains the support player.

Diagram 11: Tight Eagle Quick

Diagram 7: Tight Eagle Fire In
Tackle (T) Nose (N) End (E) 3 Technique 1 Technique 5 Technique Inside Linebackers 30 30 Alley Players 9 Technique 3X3 B Gap A Gap C Gap Strike: Dog by the strong safety, attacking flat down the line of scrimmage. Free safety becomes support player. Tag: Movement by tackle into gap of responsibility. Read Contain

Sam (S) Will (W)

A Gap B Gap

Diagram 12: Tight Eagle Strike

Quick (Q) SS

Diagram 8: Tight Eagle Tag

Defensive Backs FS 10 yards, C Gap D Gap Corners (C) 8-10 yds, 1 yd inside Sec. Run Support Variations to the Eight-Man Front Alignments Our goal each and every week is to line up in our base fronts and play that the majority of the time. Realistically, we will need to have change up calls that will put our players in better position versus certain run plays. Alignment: A call positioning a defensive lineman in a technique variation. Shade: Nose guard on the inside shoulder of the offensive guard Smoke: Dog by the strong safety, attacking at a contain angle. Strong safety remains the support player. Slant: Multiple player movements by defensive line. Tony Fire In: Multiple movements involving $tud, tackle and nose.

Diagram 13: Tight Eagle Smoke

Diagram 9: Tight Eagle Tony Fire In

Diagram 5: Tight Eagle Shade

Dogs Dog: Defense designed to bring four defensive linemen and one additional player. Crash: Dog by the quick, attacking flat down the line of scrimmage. Will becomes support player.

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• Proceedings • 78th AFCA Convention • 2001 •