Heat Up Your Nickel Package Jumbo Style
Bill Samko Head Coach Tufts University Medford, Mass.
Dan Bauer Defensive Coordinator
t is a pleasure to contribute to the Summer Manual. Two years ago, when we only won one game, I don’t think anyone wanted to even be around us for fear that it would be contagious. Fortunately, we’ve been able to turn it around. When a program has some success, people think that you might have some special information to share that could be a key factor in winning. In our last 10 games we’ve been able to win nine times. I wish we could tell you that coaching or schemes were the key factor. It helped a little bit, we hope, but the real factor has been players. We’ve got great kids who work extremely hard and truly care about their football life. We’re lucky to have a pretty good talent level, but most importantly, we’ve got great kids. Our size defensively is below-average, our speed level is competitive but our strength level is outstanding. Our players have worked extremely hard in the off-season. We can’t control size, we have limited control over speed, but we believe that we have total control of our strength level. With these factors in mind — limited size and competitive speed — we were looking for something that would help us pressure the quarterback but allow us to stay primarily zone in concept in our coverage package. Many programs have been generous in sharing their ideas and concepts with us. What we came up with is compilations of ideas that we used to fit our personnel. Tommy Gilmore, the defensive coordinator at Dartmouth, Don Brown, the defensive coordinator at UMass, and Chris Magendantz, the defensive coordinator at Northeastern have been just great resources for us. Thank you men. Dan Bauer, our defensive coordinator, John Casey, our defensive line coach and Mike Daly our linebackers coach have done a fantastic job. In half of our games this year, we gave up seven or less points. Dan will give you a little bit of our zone pressure package.
wanted to improve the nickel package without a lot of added learning. Simplicity is key, because we wanted to compliment our stunt package, while keeping adjustments to a minimum. Our players are comfortable with the nickel package because it is easy to learn and understand. They executed with confidence, turning it loose each time a nickel stunt was called. Base Nickel Front & Coverage Our nickel system gives the defensive front one alignment rule. Declaration of this front is based upon the alignment of the nickel back. He will align to the field when the ball is on the hash. The nickel back will align to the formation if the ball is off the hash. Our shades are constant once the nickel back declares. The end to the declaration aligns in a six tech. He will slant into the C gap, gaining ground up field. The tackle to the nickel back aligns in a three shade. The tackle away from the call aligns in a two-I, while the end away aligns in a five shade. Since we do not flip front personnel, our ends and tackles only have two alignments in our nickel package. Unless they are involved in coverage, the defensive linemen will automatically rush the passer on the snap when they hear nickel in the huddle call. Formation adjustments are made by the linebackers and secondary. Once the front is installed, week-to-week adjustments are easy.
Diagram 1: Nickel Front
Dan Bauer, Defensive Coordinator
Adding a few simple zone blitzes to our nickel package improved our ability to pressure the quarterback. Compared to the previous season, we doubled the amount of quarterback pressures and pass breakups. Additionally, our defense almost doubled the number of sacks. The basic philosophy of our nickel system is to be as simple as possible. Considerable time is spent with other components of our defensive package, so we
We primarily use a three-deep coverage scheme, aligning in a shell look. We can roll or invert the coverage to fit our needs. The coverage call tag will indicate where the strong safety aligns and where the coverage will invert. The free safety will align opposite the strong safety and is responsible for the deep middle third of the field. Our safeties will be moving as the ball is snapped. In our base nickel front, and stunts not involving our nickel back, we invert away from the field or formation. Hot Concept & Technique Before last season, our zone blitzes would cause us to void a zone to the side
• AFCA Summer Manual — 1999 •
Diagram 2: Invert Bench or Invert Weak
Diagram 3: Hot Technique No. 2 Vertical
Diagram 6: Nickel Thunder Invert Field Hot
of the blitz. This was fine if the blitz came from the boundary. Giving up the boundary curl/flat zone was not a problem. A problem was blitzing from the field while playing zone coverage. If two or three split receivers showed to the wide side of the field, we checked out of the blitz. To keep a field/formation blitz from being checked, man coverage was used. We are a zone coverage team in principle with the majority of our time practicing zone coverage techniques. Unless we were sending at least six in a blitz, we would rather be in zone coverage. Adding a “hot” tag allowed us to stretch the underneath zones with three defenders. The outside hot players split their vision to the No. 2 receiver. We want these players to wall off the No. 2 receiver, forcing this threat to release outside. If No. 2 releases vertically, we use inside leverage to collision and carry No. 2 to the free safety. After the collision, they will react late to the flat if needed. If the No. 2 receiver releases quickly inside or outside, they look to the outside receiver for a quick throw in the seam. Hanging in the seam as long as possible will force the quarterback to throw outside; this allows us to react to a longer throw into the flat area. Patience is important because we do not want a completion in the seam. Also, if the quarterback cannot go to his hot read, he will take more time to get rid of the ball. This gives our blitz a better chance. We teach our strong safety to cheat from 12-to-10 yards in depth before the ball is snapped to get him closer to the No. 2 receiver. Once the ball is snapped, he creeps to seven-to-eight yards in depth while hanging in the seam. His feet will bounce as he gets his read. The Mike linebacker will split his vision to key the No. 3 receiver. He will gain depth in his pass drop once a quick threat of the No. 3 receiver clears. We coach the Mike to work high to low in his drop. The hot concept was very effective. In fact, we added the hot tag to other zone blitzes with equal success.
Diagram 4: Hot Technique No. 2 Flat
Diagram 7: Nickel Lightning Invert Field Hot
Nickel Blitzes Our nickel blitzes are basic. We send five rushers in these blitzes. The players in the blitz must go like wildmen! They must have an attitude that they will sack the quarterback. There can be no hesitation. We must get pressure on the quarterback because we have only three defenders covering the underneath zones. Field situations are considered when calling our blitzes involving the nickel back. We call nickel storm, thunder, lightning and blizzard from the hash. Our coverage will invert to the field — invert field is the huddle call. A great feature is the simplicity of adjustments. If two or three receivers show to the side of the blitz, the blitz is still on. If two split receivers show away from the invert, our Will linebacker will slide to the No. 2 receiver. We disguise these stunts with the nickel man moving around before the ball is snapped.
Diagram 8: Nickel Blizzard Cop Invert Field Hot
away from the nickel back — invert bench. We know the nickel back will play the field or formation seam. The first blitz, nickel W pop cop, sends the linebackers to the B gaps.
Diagram 9: Nickel W Pop Cop Invert Bench Hot
Diagram 5: Nickel Storm Invert Field Hot
Our other middle blitz is termed nickel cross cop, which is an A gap blitz for the Mike and Will. Though it is an easy stunt to install, timing is critical for its success. It is important that the Mike linebacker hits the opposite A gap first, with the Will linebacker crossing to the other A gap. To avoid having two players in the same gap, the tackle aligns heavier on the guard. cop technique will help the Mike and Will clear before the tackle begins his drop. Cop Technique/Adjustments Cop is added when we involve the
Diagram 8 incorporates a nickel back and Mike linebacker in a blitz. This sends four men to the field side. The cop call will be explained later, but this enables a lineman to take the Mike linebacker’s pass drop. We have two nickel blitzes designed for middle pressure. Both blitzes use an invert
• AFCA Summer Manual — 1999 •
Diagram 10: Nickel Cross Cop Invert Bench Hot
We want our Mike linebacker to cut off that option. If motion occurs to put three receivers stunt side, a “no cop” call will be made. The no cop call does not affect the Will linebacker in W pop cop or cross cop. Once a no cop call is made, the “cop” stays off.
Diagram 13: Nickel Cyclone Mike Fire Cop 3 Claw Hot
Diagram 11: No Cop
Mike linebacker in a zone blitz. To compensate for the middle zone, we will drop a tackle to replace the Mike linebacker’s pass drop. Cop technique is easy to teach. Initially, the tackle will step and engage the guard. In his mind, he should think run first pass second. If pass shows, he will sprint to the hook zone. When the tackle arrives at the hook zone, he will settle looking to collision crossing patterns while keying the quarterback. With stunts involving a cop, we make an adjustment for three receivers to stunt side. The Mike will make a “no cop” call that instructs the tackle to rush instead of dropping. This also takes the Mike linebacker out of the stunt, and he will key the No. 3 receiver This adjustment is important since the No. 3 receiver is in position for a quick reception.
Diagram 12: Nickel Cyclone 3 Claw Hot
Cyclone is a corner blitz in our nickel package. The corner into the boundary will run the blitz. This stunt is called only from
the hash mark. There is a small adjustment for the blitz side end. Without a tight end to his side, he will slant inside to the B gap. With a tight end to his side, he will rush in the C gap. We roll our coverage to the stunt three claw hot. Claw indicates the coverage will roll to the boundary. To spice up this stunt, we can add a Mike linebacker to the blitz. This is called nickel cyclone Mike fire cop. We hope this information will enhance your nickel package. There are many other possibilities you can add to these zone blitzes. I would like to thank the many coaches that have shared their ideas with us. Our nickel blitz package is a compilation of these ideas. It has been a privilege to share our ideas and contribute to the AFCA Summer Manual.
“Smash Mouth” Football, Similar Terms, Should Not Be in a Coach’s Vocabulary
Hard-nosed, maybe, but “smash-mouth” football is not how competent football coaches refer to their game. Football is a contact game, but terms that reflect brutality and violence do not belong in a coach’s vocabulary. Image is one reason to clean up slang terms like smash-mouth that have become popular in the media, but a more compelling reason comes from a legal standpoint. In a courtroom, descriptive terms are used against coaches and the game. Don’t hesitate to ask your fellow coaches, student-athletes and especially the media who cover your team to cooperate and refrain from using overly-descriptive terms that reflect poorly on the game and your profession.
• AFCA Summer Manual — 1999 •