t is a real honor for me to have this opportunity to speak to you this morning.

The first time I had the opportunity to speak at our national convention was following the 1975 season, almost 24 years ago. We had finished No. 1 in the country on defense and I was asked to speak at the convention that was held that year in Washington D.C. I was so excited to get the chance, as part of our staff, to speak at the AFCA Convention. I have to tell you that today, after all those years, I'm still just as excited and honored to be allowed to talk to you. I'm proud of our association and the progress that we have made over the years in promoting the coaching profession. Grant Teaff has done an excellent job in leading our Association. He was a great coach, he understands our problems and the issues surrounding our game. We could have no one who would be better in articulating these issues in leading our Association. I think it is meaningful that the theme of this year's convention is "Victory with Honor." We should all take personal responsibility in promoting in our profession and our game. Each of you have a tremendous public posture at your respective schools and communities. Many people look at you and form opinions about coaches and the coaching profession. I hope that each of you will keep that in mind in everything that you do and say and that you will always reflect the highest ideals of what coaching is all about. I think this is especially important with the young men who are entrusted to us to develop. I've often said that the truest measure of whether a coach has been successful for that matter, is what his players have become five or ten years down the road, and how they have benefited from being in a particular program. I hope that the young men who have played in our program at Texas A&M will look back on the experience and feel that it was one that was beneficial and helped them to become better people, better citizens, better husbands and better fathers. If so, then my work will not have been in vain. As you all know, football coaching is a very time consuming occupation. We literally give a big part of our lives to our professions. If the only reward is saying that we won "X" number of games each season, then that is a very shallow, empty reward for the amount of time that we spend. I think that if we sin-


cerely spend our careers dedicated to the development of the young people and the betterment of the young people, who are under our leadership, the wins will come as a by-product, but more importantly, we will have a very rewarding experience and can reflect back on our careers with great pride and feelings of satisfaction. I mentioned earlier that it has been approximately 25 years since I first spoke here. As I look back over those years, our game has changed in many ways, but in a lot of ways, it remains the same. Offenses run more formations today than they once did. I can recall about 1973 we were getting ready to play Clemson in our opening game. We were concerned about what formation they were going to run. They had shown the year before to run either a pro set or twins. In two-a-days, we worked against both of those, but in the opening game against us, they ran the pro set the entire ball game. Now, I can tell you, matching up blitzes and defenses to one formation was a lot simpler than it is today. As a result of the multiple offensive formations, defenses have also become a lot more multiple. Many offenses utilize multiple personnel groupings to get into their various formations and defenses, again, have had to do the same thing in reacting to the offenses. From a defensive perspective, other than the formation adjustments, I still see the same defenses I saw 25 years ago. Most teams fall into a 3-4 weak eagle configuration, a 4-3 over/under, or a true 4-4 eight man front. Regardless of the scheme of defense, there are some fundamentals that have remained the same for all these years and they are what really makes a difference between the good defenses and the bad. Some of these coaching points are so simple, yet we see them violated every day. For the next few minutes, I would like to discuss some philosophy of defensive techniques with you. While I cannot say to you that a 3-4, 4-3 or 4-4 will make you a good defense, I can say without a doubt, that if you coach and have your players master the following concepts, you will be very good regardless of your scheme. First, in coaching style, I think you must be a perfectionist. You must have a clear picture or model in your mind what you are trying to get done. Every stance, technique and movement must be thought through. The challenge then is to find the best way

Winning With the A&M 3-4 Defense

R.C. Slocum Head Coach Texas A&M University College Station, Tex.

• Proceedings • 77th AFCA Convention • 2000 •

to teach so as to achieve the desired result. Obviously, this will not always happen quickly, however, there must be steady progress toward the desired outcome. The coach must have a clear picture of what he is trying to accomplish with a player and must be persistent in moving the player in the desired direction. Every play on the field or video, the coach must be correcting or reinforcing the actions and techniques of his players. The coach must be relentless in this part of his job. The object is to perform a desired behavior or action until it becomes a habit. From an overall defensive team standpoint, I would like to point out some basics I think are important. First, I think a starting point is the huddle. Setting the huddle in an orderly, disciplined manner. This sets the tone for a disciplined play. Doing the little things right sets the stage for doing the big things right. I played for a coach in high school by the name of Ted Jeffries, who is in the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Honor, and I can still remember that Coach Jeffries, every Thursday afternoon after practice, had us take our shoes into the fieldhouse and polish our shoes on the buffer, take our shoestrings out and put in new shoestrings and then present them to the coach. The interesting thing about the shoe strings was that we had to put the shoe strings in with both ends coming over the top through the first eyelet. After we had laced the shoes up, before you could leave on Thursday afternoon, ever player had to present his shoes to the coach, polished with new strings and the strings had to be put in exactly right. At that time, to a high school youngster, it was hard to understand why it was so important to put your shoe strings in a particular way. Coach Jeffries told us on many occasions that the shoestrings themselves don't make a lot of difference, but learning to do the little things and being disciplined to do those things exactly right is vitally important to winning. If you learn to put your shoestrings in just right every time, then there is a good chance that you can learn to run a pass pattern to exactly 14, back to 12, or to line up in a shade alignment exactly like your coaches ask every time. Setting the huddle at the start of each play and making each player hustle back into the huddle, I think, is a good way to start off with some discipline. We begin our

defensive practice each day by having the players jump into the huddle, get the call, break the huddle, get out and get set. I think a point of emphasis is getting out of the huddle with intensity and getting lined up. I like to see defensive linemen get down on a knee and be waiting when the offensive man comes out and gets down, he's ready to go. I like for defensive backs to hustle out to their respective alignments and line up with intensity. If there is a shift or change in formation, I hate to see guys walking through those adjustments. You like for your defensive back and linebackers to hustle and show some excitement and getting lined up on their respective guys. In other words, don't be too cool in your adjustments. The next point of emphasis is getting your players to play hard and give effort. That is the one thing that every team is capable of doing and a lot of teams don't do. I hear coaches talk about trying to get better, but when you look at their teams and see how they play, I would say to them, it doesn't matter how good your players are, your team won't be very good until you get your team playing hard. If your players don't play hard, that is coaching and that is on you. Regardless of ability level, you can demand that your players play hard and give you effort. Great defenses chase the run and great secondaries and linebackers break on the pass. I think in watching tapes and video, you should, on every single pass play, slow motion reverse it and look to see if you have every single player on zone coverage breaking on the quarterback's action, chasing the football on the passes. Another point of emphasis is getting on and off the field. I think the way you go on and come off the field, particularly with as many substitutions we now have to make, is extremely important. We like to talk about coming straight off to your sideline. Don't come at the angle because it takes longer, but sprint, get off the field and then you can walk down the sideline to the bench. Don't come jogging off that field in that slow trot and have me over there pulling my hair worrying about whether the ball has been snapped. The organization of your sideline is another area that is very important. We often talk about our game plan and, in reality, what is normally called a game plan is really a preliminary game plan. You study your opponent’s tapes during the week and

see them play against other teams with different personnel from yours, and you formulate a game plan based on what they do in these games and in anticipation of what they will likely do against you. The reality is, on game day, you see first hand what their real plan is against your personnel and your schemes. Coaches really earn their money on game day in adjusting to what their opponent is doing that day, at that time against your team. To effectively carry out these adjustments, you must do a great job with your sideline organization. On our defensive bench, we have the defensive linemen all together, next to the linebackers, then the secondary. When our team is not on the field, I want each of those groups of players, sitting together, paying attention to their coaches who are on the sideline in front of them, making the adjustments and keeping their focus on playing defense. I don't want to allow their minds to wander or become distracted by things that are on the field or in the stands. These things that I have talked about are simple ideas but they must be continuously reinforced in coaching, or you lose them. I think they are vitally important to playing good defense. I would now like to cover some coaching points and defensive fundamentals that I think are very important to various positions on defense. I will list them and will elaborate briefly on each. First of all, before I mention techniques or drills, I would like to comment on my philosophy about drills. The only reason to use any drill is if it is the best way to teach a particular skill that your players need. Each year before the season, you should go through the various positions and write down every specific technique that a player needs to know to be able to play and execute to play that position. Once you have your list of techniques, you should create a drill that helps you effectively teach that technique. I have often seen coaches do drills that I had a very hard time correlating to anything that the player he was coaching would need to do. Don't do drills just to be doing them or because they look pretty. The time that you spend on the practice field is extremely important. You have limited time to get done all the things that you need to get done, so it is critical that you have your drills well-organized and use the most effective drills.

• Proceedings • 77th AFCA Convention • 2000 •

At this time, I would like to talk about some fundamentals that I think are important to playing the game of defense. Defensive Line 1. Stance: Toe heel stagger, down and ready, eyes up. Teach your players to get good stances and to have exact alignments. If you are talking about a crotch alignment, a wide five, loose five, tight shade, those alignments, have a specific way a young man can tell if he is aligned. It may be to put his foot down the middle of the offensive man's crotch, or to put his foot on the outside from the lineman. Whatever alignment you are trying to reach, make it specific in nature and check him every time that he lines up to see that he is doing it exactly right. 2. Hands: Placement, grab cloth. So many times we, in passing, talk to a player about where to place his hands, but play after play we watch him and he doesn't put his hands in the right place. I think every single down, you should coach your players on hand placement. Each play you watch on video, you should check the players you are coaching to see that they have proper hand placement because it is vitally important. Not only is placement important, but using your fingers, which you are allowed to do on defense, in grabbing hold of the offensive linemen is extremely important in trying to escape blocks. 3. Movement Key: Man, ball. You should start every play with a visual movement key. Whether you are keying on the man or keying on the ball, every drill should start with using a visual key, not an audible key. So many times in the off season program or pre-practice routines, defensive coaches start the drills with set, hike, or other audible sounds instead of a visual key. All you are doing is training your guys to jump off sides on an audible cue. 4. Separate: Object of defense is not to play blocks. I don't like to see a lot of one-on-one drills unless the ballcarrier is used because I think the players develop bad habits and get an unrealistic look. You should practice one-on-one with the object of separating off the block and getting to the ballcarrier. 5. Penetrate - React down the line. How many times have you seen the defensive lineman get penetration in the backfield and then round off his turn where he puts himself in a chase position against a 4.4 tailback that he never catches. The

Former Texas A&M All-American Dat Nguyen is one of several Aggie defenders now playing in the NFL.
same guy, if he flattens his path down the line and uses angles, can get back into a position to make the play. This must be drilled. An effective drill that I've used over the years is to lay three bags down about three yards deep in the backfield. Stand behind the defensive lineman with a back lined up opposite you behind the three bags. Have a manager give the defensive line a visual cue with the football. As they come off the line and get penetration across the line, you give the back a direction where he goes right or left, laterally and around the end of the bags. The lineman then must turn flat when they cross the line and go flat down the line and try to cut off the back before he can cross the line of scrimmage. Linebacker 1. Strip Drill: One-on-one, two-on-one. The drill we work on every day with all of our defensive players that has paid great dividends for us is the strip drill. We do it one-on-one where the defender runs behind the offensive player who has the ball tucked away. The defender from behind puts his off arm over the shoulder of the offensive player and takes his own side arm and either punches from behind or clubs from over the top to try to knock the ball out while insuring the tackle with the off arm. The next drill we do is a two-on-one strip drill where two defensive players are facing

an offensive player. The offensive ballcarrier comes straight ahead, the first defender fronts him up with a form tackle straight ahead while the second defender comes in and goes directly to the ball and tries to pull the ball loose. This not only helps our defense create turnovers but we do it all the time in practice and I think it has made our offensive players much more aware of ball security and thus, has helped reduce turnovers from our offensive side. 2. Stance: No hands on knees, no bobbing. One of the things I really hate to see a linebacker do is squat with his hands on his knees. I don't think you can move from that position. Invariably, when a guy gets tired, he tends to rest by putting his hands on his knees and applying his weight downward. From this position, the only way one can move is to raise up, lift the weight and then move. This allows for wasted time. Linebackers on every play should get in a good stance with their weight over the balls of their feet and in a position where they can move without altering their vertical position. I don't know where some guys get their stances, but I see them and they are all hunkered down in an abnormally low stance from which they have to pop straight up as soon as the ball is snapped before they can go anywhere. At other times, you see guys who are so high, they have to drop down before they can move. What you want is the guy to be in a stance where, when the ball is snapped, he is ready to move without any vertical movement of his pad level. 3. Shuffle: Don't cross over. Unless a play is an absolute straight ahead play coming at a linebacker, every step should start with a lateral shuffle. I hate to see a linebacker start forward, get caught up in all the traffic and then try to work outside on an outside running play. Our base alignment is four-and-a-half yards deep. I would like for that linebacker to shuffle laterally at that depth until he is ready to come downhill and take on a blocker or tackle the ballcarrier. 4. Communicate. On every play, I think the linebacker should mentally focus on identification of the strength and the back set. Is it I-backs, weak back, empty, etc? 5. Key Progression: Back, linemen, flow, run or pass. I think linebackers should have a progression on every single play that they use

• Proceedings • 77th AFCA Convention • 2000 •

to get from the huddle to proper reaction to the play. Since we have always been a multiple front team, and the object of defense is to get the ballcarrier, our primary key has always been our backs and we have under-keyed linemen. I think if you put too much emphasis on keying linemen, linebackers can get too tied up in taking on blocks instead of going to make the play based on the path of the ballcarrier. We talk in terms of keying backs and under-keying linemen. We study our key to determine the flow of our play. Is it fast flow or slow flow? Is it inside flow or outside flow? Is the ball on or off the line of scrimmage? Coaching players to think in those terms down after down is a way to develop a consistency of play. 6. Hat in Hands: Grab cloth. I think it is important when linebackers are taking on blockers to take them on square with hat and hands and to use the fingers to grab cloth so that separation may be facilitated. 7. Jugs. How many times have you had a linebacker have the ball hit him right in the hands on the field and he dropped it? How do your linebackers practice, catching the football? For a lot of coaches, the linebacker coach does some ball drills on a daily basis and feels like this is getting the job done. There is no question that this is better than nothing, but the reality is that very few linebacker coaches have an arm sufficient enough to duplicate what we see on Saturday afternoon. A good way to accomplish this is to have the jugs machine set up and each day, take a short period of time to run your linebackers over and catch some high speed balls like the ones the quarterbacks they face will be throwing. 8. Option Techniques: Slow play, Fast play. The game has changed and today we see far less option than we once did. As a result, our techniques in defending the option are not nearly as good. One of the problems is that you may go for several weeks and not see an option at all and then you play a team that is a heavy option team. It is very difficult for you to get the techniques you need perfected in a week’s time. I think it is important that you incorporate some option technique drills throughout the year in your workouts. You should have some in spring training and throughout your practices, you should take a brief

amount of time on a regular basis to keep your option techniques oiled up. For your linebackers taking the quarterback, there is definitely work to be done in learning the effective way to slow play the quarterback by shuffling to the outside, never being on the same plane as the quarterback, and after the ball is pitched, opening flat down the line to take a cutoff angle on the pitch man. A key coaching point on the fast play of the quarterback is to go for his deep shoulder and not the front side shoulder. In this way, there is a chance to disrupt the pitch and secure the quarterback. 9. Shed Drill: Contained. A basic part of playing outside linebacker is to be able to contain plays coming your way. This must be drilled on a regular basis and drilled in the right way. The key coaching points are to keep the inside leg up, get the eyes on the target at the point of contact, lock the arms out and keep the blocker away from the body. Do not put the hands on the top of the back. In other words, don't lock down on the blocker, lock out on the blocker. I see coaches from time to time do this drill, but in the drill they may have one guy who does it right and four who do it wrong; they run through that drill and then it is on to the next drill. All you are doing when you do that is ingraining bad habits. It must be perfected and if a youngster is pushing down on the blocker, you must stop the drill and demonstrate proper technique and demand perfection in doing this drill. If you do that on a regular basis, then you will get better at doing it. The second point on containment is on a play like the zone play away with the boot coming back. How many times do you see the outside linebacker shuffle down, see the boot, and then run a circle again in a trail position where he has no chance of getting containment? The proper technique is to shuffle and when he sees the boot, to retrace the steps and get flat to the outside to a point where he has the ball contained and then to close the gap on the quarterback. It is actually possible to do a good job of helping on the zone away and still get back and contain the quarterback if you contain the right steps. Defensive Backs 1. High Point Drill: Tuck away after interception. Again, here, I would make the same

point about throwing the ball to defensive backs that I made with the linebackers. Very few secondary coaches have arms strong enough to give a good picture of what a defensive back is like to face on game day. I think the Jugs machine should be used on a regular basis with defensive backs so they can get used to catching balls with the velocity that they will see on Saturday. Another point, how many times to do you see a defensive back make an interception, start down the field, and then someone strips the ball? My question is, how often do you work with defensive backs on tucking the ball away? I think that this is something that should be drilled when you go through the jugs machine, also coach the point of ball security after they have caught the ball. 2. In Phase - Out of Phase. We spend a lot of time each day working on releases with our defensive backs against the wide receivers. One of the things we do is put the defensive back in a good coverage position with the receiver at this side, and let them run down the field like that and play the ball when he is in what we call the in phase position, where he is using the sideline, reading the receiver's eyes and then turning to look for the football and squeezing the receiver into the boundary. The next drill we do is called out of phase. In this drill, we line the receiver up with a considerable lead on the defensive back. He has beaten him. We tell them to go and as they start down the field, we throw the football to the receiver and make the defender catch up and play the ball without looking back. In other words, play the ball in the pocket as the receiver puts his hands out to catch it. This may be the most critical drill that you can do with the defensive back because it is inevitable that your defensive backs from time to time, will get beat. As good as receivers are today with speed and accuracy, you can rest assured you are going to have some guys that are beaten. The big thing is, after they are beaten, to run full speed at the receiver and never, never look back. One of the worst mistakes a defensive back can make is to look back after he has been beaten on a route. In that case, he almost always looks back just in time to see the ball go over his head. In most cases on those plays, if he will turn and just focus on the receiver and run full speed, he will have

• Proceedings • 77th AFCA Convention • 2000 •

a chance to recover and get back in position to make the play. 3. Square In. Another common mistake made with the defensive backs is when defending the square in route, the defender wants to look back at the quarterback on the break instead of driving to where the receiver is going, getting into position and then finding the football. This must be coached on a regular basis and the coach must be a perfectionist in demanding that the defender not look back at the quarterback on the break. 4. Angle Tackle: Finish the tackle and square up. It is not enough to get the head across the bow on the angle tackle. I want to see the drill finished up when the defender squares his butt to his goal line and stops the forward progress of the ballcarrier. Finish the drill. 5. Open Field Tackle: Close the gap. One of the big areas of making an onfield tackle is that the defender wants to break down as soon as he sees the ball coming his way. The back makes valuable yards before he is ever contested. The coaching point is that the defender should quickly close the gap as much as possible until he gets into close proximity to the ball carrier, then break down, tackle him high and make the sure tackle. This is not the place for the kill shot. The object here is to get him on the ground. 6. Stalk Block: Close the running lane. When the defensive back is being blocked by the wide receiver on the outside running play, it is important that the defender close the running lane as much as possible. Start back to the line on an inside angle, make the blocker come to you and then front him up and contain the play. 7. Arc Block: Squeeze the running lane. Another common error is made by the strong safety or corner to the tight end side, with the outside running play coming their way. They see the blocker coming and the first instinct is to run straight up the field, or in some cases, gain width in trying to box the play. In a lot of cases, this technique will allow the ball to be contained, but the running lane inside is so wide, that it immediately hits up the field and back to the outside. The running lane must be constricted in this situation. The blocker will come to the defender so the defender should come on a tight angle, squeeze in the running lane and make the blocker come to him.

The Texas A&M defense has consistently ranked as one of the top defensive units in Division I-A. In 1999, the Aggies finished No. 13 nationally in total defense, holding opponents to 300 yards per game.
8. Crack Back Block. Today, a lot of defenses play considerable quarters coverages and, as a result, many offensive teams do a lot of cracking. The key coaching point in defending the crack block is for the player being cracked upon to aggressively drive toward the line of scrimmage, make the crack declare. As the blocker nears, the defender should front him up with hat in hands and aggressively take on the block. By making the crack declare quickly, the corner can get a good read and replace by engaging the blocker, you can prevent the crack and go past. 9. Speed Turn: Post corner. Another bad habit of defensive backs is when they get a post corner route run on them, the first instinct is to look back at the quarterback. The defender, after he is made his speed turn, should look for the receiver and sprint to get back in phase with him before looking back for the ball. I recognize that these are not startling new techniques that I have just discussed with you, but I am convinced that these fundamentals are the essence of coaching. Regardless of the scheme of defense you run, if you will go out and grade your practices daily and every time you watch tapes, evaluate how well you are coaching these techniques, I think you will have a great chance of playing good defense. Coaching the little things and coaching the players to do exactly right on a daily basis will, over time, allow you to be a great fundamentally sound football team. That will have a lot more to do with your success than whether you have a 3-4 or a 4-3. In closing, I would like to remind you of how fortunate we all are to be football coaches. We have great, great jobs. I know from time to time we all have things that don't go our way; we have disappointments that come along, but I would like to call your attention to a man on my staff who has done a great job this year in displaying the kind of courage that all coaches would hope to have. We spend our lifetime talking to young people about being tough, hanging in there, reacting positively to negative situations. Ray Dorr has done just that this year. He has been diagnosed with ALS, but coached throughout this season, was never late for a meeting, never missed a step, did everything with a very positive attitude. He has been a great inspiration to my staff and my team and all of our fans. I hope that all of you guys, as you go through your coaching careers, when you think you have been dealt a bad hand or feel disappointed and think things are not going quite your way, I hope you will remember Ray Dorr at Texas A&M and the courage he has displayed to all of us in battling this dread disease. I've enjoyed being with you and, once again, appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about the game of football.

• Proceedings • 77th AFCA Convention • 2000 •

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