Coaching Football Defense – Keep It Simple Stupid
Football coaches today constantly discuss the growing complexities of defensive football. You hear it all the time on ESPN and when you hear offensive football coaches speak at football clinics. But here is the bottom line, some of best defenses, at any level, have been those that keep it simple. I think this applies especially at the high school level.
Discipline and Technique is Key
As a football coach, I’ve noticed a growing trend. The best athletes need to play on defense. Now, that’s not to say he can’t have a role on offense if he is the most electric player in your program. However, playing the best athletes on defense is crucial. But that’s not why we coach, and it’s only 1/10 of the battle. You need to coach these players, so they are disciplined and technically sound on every single play. You need these defensive players to have ownership of your scheme to a certain extent so they believe in it, so they have a true passion for it.
I should say this, when I say most athletic football players, I don’t always mean the kid with the best 40 time or who benches the most. Being athletic is a mental state of mind. It’s the ability to process information faster, to understand a system and to excel. The big question is, how can we, as football coaches, enable the best of our football players to do just that?
Simple Football Defense
I believe in systems that are very simple. I’m not talking about terminology or which coverage is best. Cover 4 is a complicated coverage, but it can be very simple for an 18 year old if you coach it up. Coaching it up is the key aspect here. Coaching football understanding is pivotal. Your defensive football system needs to be taught simply.
Simple Football Defensive Fronts
In Illinois, some of the best defensive football teams in the state are athletic and disciplined. They also primarily only have two, MAYBE three fronts. All three of these fronts, be them the 4-3 Over front, or the 4-3 Under, or the 3-4, or 4-2-5, whatever the case is, their second and third front has highly recyclable skills to the base front. This is similar to my post on recycling blocking schemes for offense. So let’s say you run the 4-3 Over front and you want a 4-3 Under variation for heavy running situations. In both defenses, you should always be using the same skills. Maybe your defensive ends need to always spill Teaching a 4-3 Over front as your base defense and then using the classic 3-4 or 50 Okie defense where everyone is head up is a waste because the skills of your defensive linemen and linebackers are completely different.
Simple Football Defensive Coverages
While coaching a simple defensive front is important, it’s the coverage that is critical to skills like spilling. I know some teams that hardly ever zone blitz because it would change how their edge players would act, because in some coverages their players would now need to box out rather than spill the kickout. The coverage sets the front’s technique.
Besides interacting with the front 7, a common base defense coverage family is critical for the defensive secondary as well. Coaching your kids to play the cover 4 coverage all the time may make sense for you. A coverage that relates to that is Quarter Quarter Half. At the same time, maybe 2 read is your adjustment for teams that throw the bubble. Remember, it’s how you teach it that is important. Maybe you don’t need to tell your kids you’re playing what we defensive football coaches consider a different coverage. Maybe whenever they see a back in the backfield, cover 4 uses a “sky” call, which is quarter quarter half to us, but to them the only difference really is that the weakside safety is taking the flat.
Why Coach Defense Like This?
Yes, you will run into a smart coach or a smart quarterback every once in a while who can take advantage of some of the aspects of your defense. Having a few, and I mean a few, checks can usually cover every scenario. While you may run into that Division I QB every once in a while who causes you fits, you still will likely be in a great spot and that kid is still only 18, just like your kids. If you’re playing against a good coach who tries to take advantage of your simplicity and has an answer for all your checks, just remember their kids probably haven’t spent enough time to be perfect at all those adjustments themselves.
Overall, I feel you will be in a good spot for most games. Teams who spend their time focusing on a few simple schemes and really hammering down the technique and discipline required to execute them well will win enough games to get into the playoffs unless the talent versus their opponent’s talent is vastly superior.