By Jeff McDonald, Linebackers Coach
The off-season gives us the opportunity to review the season while in a non sleep- deprived, and/or heavily-caffeinated state where we can think more clearly.
By coming up with a self-scout plan, you can continue to evolve the defensive scheme to counter offensive schemes you encountered during the season as well as continue to put your defensive players in the best possible position to succeed.
There are three major areas to focus on during off-season defensive self scouting. First, look at big plays against your defense. We are talking runs over 15 yards and passes over 20 yards. Second, look at the success rate of your specific defenses, whether it be base defenses or pressure defenses. Finally, evaluating your defensive calls during the season for any possible tendencies or tells. Let’s look at these three areas separately.
Big Plays in the Run Game
Track the big run plays and look for any similarities in them. Remember, during the season the opponents look at these plays as well. Is there a certain run play a number of teams used with success against your defense? Maybe a play that varied slightly to fit that team’s offensive scheme. Do these plays include motions and shifts that could that be causing your players to be confused and less aggressive?
Is it a technique issue or a scheme issue? Sometimes we get so hung up on techniques when your student-athletes for whatever reason cannot perform those techniques. If it is a technique issue, then you have your answer. Make it simpler and let the defensive players play fast. If it is a scheme issue where the offense is outnumbering you at the point of attack, then as a defensive staff you need to adjust and come up with a way to better “fit” these run plays. Your linebacker coach and defensive line coach both need to be on the same page with this. Plan to use whatever spring practices you are allowed to cover these “trouble run” plays.
Big Plays in the Pass Game
In the pass game, is it a certain route combination vs. a certain coverage (e.g., wheel route vs. cover 2 or 3 look) causing issues? Are they using motions and shifts to dictate a certain coverage? As we mentioned above, ask yourself if it is a technique issue or a scheme issue?
Decide as a staff and work to correct the problem. Find the best way to cover these routes in your different coverages. Add it to your teaching progression for those coverages. Make it a point to let your defensive “back seven” know that these are problem routes they have to be prepared to defend from day one of teaching the coverage.
Success Rate of Base and Pressure Defenses.
Come up with a standard that you believe is considered a “win” for the defense – maybe a less than 3 yards gain. Then look at your base defenses vs. every play during the season. Count each play as a win or loss. Calculate the success rate for each. Now take your pressures and do the same thing.
There might be a certain call you rely on that is providing a poor success rate. Conversely, there might be a pressure or base look that you do not call often that is providing you with a higher success rate than you thought. Remember to use this as a reference and not as a standard. This means not throwing out a defense just because it has a low success rate. See the big picture in terms of the number of times called and the number of on the field situations involved.
Also, look at the success rates for your calls in the different field zones and on third down – short, medium and long. If you have a system like HUDL to cutup your plays from the season, look at the different defensive calls to see how offenses are attacking your base and pressure defenses. Sort them from the biggest gain against that defense or pressure to the least gain. This will help the areas of concern jump out even more.
Self Scouting Your Calls
Using your call sheets from the season, look at what you are calling by situation. This could be down and distance, field zone, on third downs, possession and10, or after a play of 15 or more yards.
If you are too predictable, the opposing offenses might be seeing the same thing. Start to devise complementary calls off your most used looks to make it harder for offensive coordinators and QBs to be sure of the look they are getting.
If possible, watch cutups of your defense vs. the top formations you see throughout the year. If doubles (1 back, TE and FL to one side and two split receivers to the other side) is the biggest set you see, watch through cutups of just those formations. Are you giving them any varied looks or the same look every time?
Use Spring Visits or Clinics to Answer Self Scout Questions
Once you finish the “self scouting” of your defense, some things will stand out to you and your staff. If you are not sure on exactly how to handle some of these situations or are not happy with your current solutions, use clinics and/or spring visits to local colleges to help. One of the things that make this profession so great is the willingness of coaches at all levels to share ideas and thoughts. Arm yourselves with questions from your self-scouting and see how others handle those same situations and plays.
A defensive system has to be one that evolves each off-season to all the offensive schemes and gadgets that come about each year. Although it is a lot of work to “break down” everyone of your games from the season and do the statistical work that is necessary, it will improve your scheme and better prepare your defense and players for the offensive attack that will come next season.
Jeff McDonald just completed his fourth season at Wesleyan University in 2012 and serves as the Linebackers Coach, Special Teams Coordinator and Recruiting Coordinator for the football program. During his coaching career, McDonald has spent time at the NCAA Division I, II and III levels as well as the high school level in his home state of Florida. A 1995 graduate of the University of South Florida, he started his coaching career at Ridgewood High School in New Port Richey, FL before heading to Quincy University in Illinois. From there McDonald spent time coaching at the University of New Hampshire, Yale University, Towson University and Central Connecticut before taking his current position at Wesleyan.