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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eagle Free Blitz:
Eagle Strong Blitz:
Hawk Mike Cross:
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.