Category Archives: Bear/Eagle Fronts

5 Keys to Developing a Defensive System in Football

Last year, I was asked to put together a new defensive system for our football team. We were moving from the Fritz Shurmur Eagle 5 linebacker defense to a more modern 4-3/4-4 defense.

As I was sifting through endless books, playbooks, and clinic materials to compare what all the best and brightest minds in the game of football were doing, I realized that there are five keys to creating a defensive system, and only 2 have anything to do with X’s and O’s.

football defensive systems

Fritz Shurmur’s 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense wasn’t cutting it anymore.

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Defending the I Formation like Pete Carroll’s Seahawks Defense

The Seattle Seahawks dominated many I formation teams this year. Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks defense had a nice little adjustment to pro style formations, like the I formation.

Especially in 21 personnel, 2 backs and 1 tight end, the Seahawks defense matched up well. One way they did that was playing a “heavy” end on the weakside.

Many defenses declare passing strengths instead of declaring it to a tight end and then they set the shade side, or open side, to either the tight end or the split end.

seahawks defense vs pro formation

How Many Teams Play the Over Front vs 21 personnel

The Seahawks do it a little differently. While the Seahawks defense in 2013 set the reduction, or 3 technique side, to the tight end in many situations. The nose and Sam linebacker get set to the split end. The strong safety, who I call the Rover, is set to the 3 technique side.
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Demolishing Weakside Iso with the 4-3 Over Front

Often considered the longtime nemesis of the 4-3 over front is the weakside iso play. Because of the “large” gap between the outside linebacker and the inside linebacker, the play has some success.

The key to defending the weakside iso play with the 4-3 over front is the personnel matchup.

Many coaches, including myself for a while, always set the “Sam” to the tight end, regardless of whether or not they are in the 4-3 over front or under front. The Will played on the “weakside”.

The Will for many is an undersized player. Because of this, when he’s set over an open guard, he’s usually got a matchup problem, especially with a tough guard or fullback. This tends to happen on Weaskside Iso plays.

This article should give you an overview on how to stop the this often gut-wrenching play by thinking of your 4-3 defense a little differently in terms of identifying roles of your players and setting your strength. Continue reading

Tips for Understanding Defensive Line Techniques

I find this as a common question, that really a lot of coaches can’t answer. What are the popular defensive line techniques, and why are they called that?

Well, great question. First of all, let’s find the “genius” (please notice the quotes…) of the system. Continue reading

Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense

This is a guest post by my good friend Joby Turner, who wrote an earlier post for Strong Football on offensive football formations and play calling.

Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense

As you read the title, you may be thinking “What the heck is this defense?” Well, I felt the same way when I took over as the JV Defensive Coordinator at my current school. The first thing I thought was “How old is this crap?” and the second was “Why do we need 5 Linebackers?” When I first started looking at the defense, I wondered what had I gotten myself into. Each position had a different name, and traditional rules of how to play support were different than what I had been coaching as a Miami 4-3 Guy at my previous school. Luckily enough, parts of the Eagle 5 Linebacker defense were similar enough that I didn’t look like a complete idiot the first couple of days of camp.

The defense itself is an older defense run by Fritz Shurmur during his days with the ’85 Rams. He wrote a book on the Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense as well. The Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense, as its name suggests, uses 5 Linebackers, 2 Defensive Linemen, 2 Corners, and 2 Safeties. As a side note, our 2nd safety played LB and Safety as it became a Rover type Position. Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense has the ability to mix in an amalgamation of different defenses all at once and maintain the same individual techniques. At times, the Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense can look like a 3-4, 5-2, 4-4, 5-3, or a 4-3 depending on coverage and offensive formation. This multiplicity and ability to maneuver from front to front without changing personnel is key. With all of the multiple formation teams around today, the Eagle 5 can adapt well without much teaching needed. The versatility of the defense also allows you, the defensive coordinator, the ability to change fronts based upon match ups. Let’s say your nose tackle is very quick, and the offense’s Center is not fleet afoot. What you can do is stick your Nose backer on the Center and create havoc all night long, and you don’t even have to do it every play, so it becomes a guessing game to the Offensive Coordinator and the Center as to when you are going to stick that guy on him. As all OC’s know, that can be a real PITA. Let’s look at each individual position now.

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Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense – Player Names:

Tackles = These are your standard Defensive Tackles you would find in a traditional Miami 4-3 Defense. They need to plug holes and be able to draw a double team. They will either align in 3 techniques on the outside shoulder of the offensive guards or 1 techniques on the inside shoulder of the guard. I recommend having a solid 1 technique as the offense will be attacking the weakside quite a bit.
L and R: This position is a rush DE/LB hybrid. These guys are generally your best pass rusher players. They have force/contain responsibilities, so they need to be able to take on a run block too. They will align outside the last man on the line of scrimmage with their shoulders cocked toward the fullback. At the snap, they are to come across the LOS aiming for a spot where a fullback would be putting his hand if he were in the I Formation. On the way to this spot, the L and R must constrict all outside flow and force the ball back inside. This is probably the 2nd toughest position to play in Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense.

B Backer: The B Backer position is the toughest to play in the whole Eagle 5 Defense. This player needs to be like a modern day SAM backer in an Under front. He better be a thumper, because he will be taking on the TE every play. This player also needs to be able to cover as well. He will be responsible for the flat in most situations.
Mac Backer: The Mac Backer is your traditional Middle Linebacker. He needs to be good at taking on blocks and rerouting all runs to the Nose backer. Like the B, he also needs to be a thumper as he will be taking on all sorts of blocks.

Nose Backer: The Nose Backer should be your most versatile and skilled Linebacker, because he will have many different responsibilities. A comparable position is the Will in an Under or the Weakside Inside Linebacker in an Odd front Defense. He needs to be a tackling machine since most plays will be rerouted to him. He will also be asked to put his hand on the ground and take on the center as a Nose Guard, hence the Nose Backer designation.

Will Backer: The Will backer is a Strong Safety/Weakside LB. In Fritz Shurmur’s 5 Linebacker Defense Defense, he used a Strong Safety, which makes sense in the NFL. For our purposes, we used him as a linebacker like a 4-4 defense would, since we play a ton of run heavy teams. No matter how you decided to play him, the Will Backer needs to be best Coverage Linebacker. He will generally be asked to cover tons of space, and be a good open field tackler. He should make tons of plays, since we will generally be unblocked on any strong side runs or passes.

Free Safety: The Free Safety in the Eagle 5 Defense is the same as any other Free Safety. He needs to be a Centerfielder and your 2nd best tackler. He will clean up a lot of missed assignments and broken tackles.

Corners: Your Corners need to be average cover guys that play pass more often than not. You can get by on lesser athletic kids at this position depending on how often you play Zone as opposed to Man. The Corner’s basic rule is nothing outside of you, and nothing behind you. If they follow that rule, your defense will be in good shape against pretty much anything.

Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense – Fronts:

At my current school, we basically used two fronts, the Hawk and Eagle. We did not use the 3-4 look very often as our personnel this year wasn’t built for it. As you will see in a minute, the Hawk is very similar to the Slide look of the old Miami 4-3 teams, and the Eagle is strikingly similar to the Double Eagle look from most 50 teams. These fronts are both pretty simple, but modern force rules and option responsibilities can get confusing. Luckily, we never played any true triple option teams last year, or we may have been in for some long nights. Now for each individual front.

Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Defense – Hawk Front:

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Hawk Font

Hawk Front

The diagram above is our Hawk front. Please note that in the diagram the “SS” is our Will Backer and I will refer to him as so not to confuse myself. The Hawk Front was our front we used quite a bit. We flip flopped our Backers but not our L’s and R’s or DTs. This cut down on the learning for the backers, and it showed as the players got used to playing their position as the season progressed. It was characterized by 3 and 1 Technique Tackles who were responsible for the Gap they aligned in. The L and R played outside the EMLOS. As mentioned previously, their aiming point is the spot where a ghost FB would be in an I Formation. The Mac Backer would play in a 10 Tech strong and have Strong C Gap or outside half of the Strong A Gap on ISO to him. The Nose Backer would align in a 30 Tech weak and have Strong A Gap on runs away and inside half of Weak B Gap on ISO to. The Will backer would be stacked on the OT if there was no Twins Look weak. On a Twins look weak, he would apex between #2 and the OT to his side. The Will is looking to cleanup all mistakes and be a free hitter on all runs way. On runs to him, he has to make the L or R correct and fill the first opening he sees. The B Backer is aligned head up on the TE not allowing him a free release. If there is no TE, the B Backer assumes a position 3-5 yards stacked behind the L or R to his side. His responsibility is similar to the Will Backer on the opposite side.

The picture below is taken from the Miami 4-3 Defensive Playbook. Note how similar the “Canes Solid” Front is to the Hawk front.

Miami 4-3 Defense - Slide Front

Miami 4-3 Defense - Slide Front

Coverage wise for the Hawk Front, we generally ran Cover 3 as a base coverage, or Cover 1/0 when we blitzed. The two coverages worked well together, and were easy to teach. However, having the B on the LOS when a TE was in the game, and him having Flat responsibilities got real tough for a HS kid to execute. It became tough once the TE released vertical, and #1 ran a shorter route. Also, our L and R’s didn’t do a good enough job forcing the ball back inside to the B, M, and N causing our run fits to be less than perfect. It is critical that the L and R maintain force responsibilities even though traditional thinking of cover 3 makes them not the force player. The L and R must learn how to pinch pulling linemen and fullbacks. This is critical for all the fronts.

Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Defense – Eagle Front:

The second front in Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Linebacker Defense that we ran was the Eagle Front. The Eagle Front is very similar to the Double Eagle or Bear Defense the way we ran it. The Nose Backer is head up on the Center, Tackles are in 3 Techs on the outside shoulder of the guard, and the L and R are still wider than the EMLOS. The Mac and B Backer are generally aligned head up on the Offensive Tackles.

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Front

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Front

We’d play around with where to put our 3rd LB or will backer. In the diagram above, our Will backer would be in the FS position and the SS would be our FS. This would allow us to keep people in the same general spots of the Hawk front and cut down on the learning curve. Gap responsibilities are the ones you are lined up in. The Nose Backer would generally go weakside A Gap unless there was a blitz by the FS or Mac Backer, then he would play Strong A Gap. Coverage wise, we would generally play Cover 3 or Cover 1/0 like we would with the Hawk front. Cover 1 and Cover 0 end up being the same thing depending on receiver placement and potential blitz call. We basically teach them the same. The only real difference is if the FS is blitzing or if the FS must cover someone in a trips look.

Michigan State's 4-3 Cover 4 Defense
Pat Narduzzi has consistently dominated the Big 10 with the 4-3 defense. You can learn about how he runs a 4-3 over cover 4 defense in order to be successful. Simple, but deadly. Narduzzi uses game film and diagrams to teach you the keys to his defense.
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Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle 5 Linebacker Blitzes

One of the real beauties of this defense is how often we blitzed to force the action on defense. It was generally very successful, and the teaching was very minimal. Our system of calling the blitz was very easy. If we wanted any one person to blitz, we would just call Hawk Mac Cover 1. Hawk would be the front, Mac is the blitzing player, and Cover 1 would be the coverage. For the Corners, we used Tornado for the Right Corner, and Lightning for the Left Corner. Ingenious I know. Now let’s say you wanted to bring more than one person on a blitz. If you wanted to bring the two strong side linebackers (M and B) we would call Hawk Strong 0. Strong indicates that the two strong side backers would blitz. Weak worked the opposite way. The Will and Nose Backers would blitz. To get the two middle backers to blitz, would be a Middle Call. We would only six players max, but if we really wanted to get frisky and bring eight, we would just call “911.” That let the players know that everyone but the Corners and FS would be blitzing. We played Cover 3 with no underneath coverage. “911” situations were generally Down and Short to go, or on the Goal line. I will diagram a few of our blitzes below.

Mac Blitz:

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Mac Blitz

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Mac Blitz

Eagle Free Blitz:

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Free Blitz

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Free Blitz

Eagle Strong Blitz:

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Strong Blitz

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Strong Blitz

Eagle Middle:

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Middle Blitz

Hawk Mike Cross:

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Cross Blitz

Fritz Shurmur's 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense - Eagle Cross Blitz

These are just a small sample of the blitzes we ran.I hope you have learned a little bit about the Eagle 5 Defense and an old school way to be multiple, before it was cool to be multiple. If you would like any further information, feel free to check out these links below, as well as my contact information. Have a great day.

Michigan State's 4-3 Cover 4 Defense
Pat Narduzzi has consistently dominated the Big 10 with the 4-3 defense. You can learn about how he runs a 4-3 over cover 4 defense in order to be successful. Simple, but deadly. Narduzzi uses game film and diagrams to teach you the keys to his defense.
Order Now

View Fritz Shurmur’s LA Rams Defensive Playbook!