By Rick Streif, Head Coach
Cathedral High School (IN)
Nine years ago, we were looking for a way to best use our returning talent. We had been a 4-3 Cover 4 team that had played very aggressively with lots of blitz and an attacking style. The size of our school (1200 co-ed) limited the number of defensive linemen and we really did not have the safeties to play true cover 4. We needed a solution and quick!
What we fell into was the 3-3 stack with a Cover 2 shell behind it. The basic idea of our defense came from spending time with Gordon Elliot from Auburn HS in the Seattle, Washington area. With this defense, we have won 6 state championships in 8 years and allowed our players to play fast with few rules.
Our three down linemen line up as follows: Nose – zero alignment and the DEs – 4 alignment – head up on the OT. The Nose responsibility is to slant to a prescribed A gap based on game plan or use a Read Technique. The Read Technique allows the Nose to be zone blocked by the center. The Nose will take the backside A gap in a zone-blocking scheme, but will do everything he can to not allow the Center off to the Mike, thus keeping Mike clean. We have played with different body types at Nose. We have played with big guys who occupy space and smaller, wrestler type kids who slant hard and mandate a double team.
The DE will read the block of the OT aligned in a 4 technique and play his gap accordingly. This will be a gap exchange with the stack LB behind him. In the DE base rules, he will be a C gap player and the stacked LB will be a B gap player. If the OT pulls or blocks down, we will gap exchange with the LB. We have played with smaller, faster players at this position. Ideally, we would love size, but quickness is an attribute we love to have here. Last season, we were 6’2 – 215 and 6’3 – 235.
Mike LB will give the strength call and will make all slant calls. He will gap exchange with the Nose. His alignment will vary based on his abilities. We will stack the Mike at a depth of 4 1/2 yards. He will play A gap with flow to him and C gap with flow away. Mike will look for crossers (pulling linemen) and try to redirect to them. Pass responsibilities are very simple. He has the screen and is a spy on the QB.
Sam and Will LB (stack players) will align in a 50 technique on the outside shoulder of the OT. Their keys will vary based on game plan and will have C gap responsibilities. If they get a run flow to them, they will play C to B gap based on gap exchange with the DE. We take on all blocks with our outside arm in order to spill the run to the D gap alley. If flow goes away, they will shuffle in, check for crossers and play cut back. If they get crossers, they will fit in their B to C gaps.
In our base coverage versus pass, Sam and Will are responsible for being under the #2 receivers. If #2 is a TE we stay in the stack, but if #2 is detached we will widen our LB alignment to allow him to play pass. If we do this, we give the DE a call, which sends the DE to the B Gap, and LB plays C for run.
Our OLB – whom we call Snake and Bear – alignments will vary based on formation. We will start out wide on a #1 receiver but will “prowl” (moving in and out) at a depth of 4 yards until the ball is snapped. The OLB’s key is an uncovered OL, typically the OG. We are looking for a high or low hat. A low hat gives us a run read. From here we key the backfield looking for flow. If we get flow to the OLB, we are contain – taking on blocks with the inside shoulder, turning everything into the D Gap Alley and pursuit. We never get deeper than the LOS, so we do not give up the D gap by being too far upfield. If we get flow away, OLB are CRCB – Counter, Reverse, Cut Back and Boot. We are D to C gap cut back, OLB takes RB out on Boot and is responsible for turning all reverses back into pursuit. OLB slows play to flow away. We do not ask them to be responsible for plays on the other side of the field.
OLB’s pass responsibilities in base are to get under #1 receiver. By prowling, we hope to give the QB the impression that the flat/slant is covered. Our alignment may give the impression that short routes are available, but by taking the proper flat angle to #1, the OLB will have the opportunity to deflect or intercept any flat pattern. They will play flat and are responsible for any wheel routes run by a #2 receiver. The body types for the OLB are cover 3 strong safeties. We have played with 6’0-185 kids who are not big enough to play Sam or Will, but not fast enough to play CB.
…to be continued, part 2 will be posted tomorrow