Monday, May 31, 2010

Defensive Fundamentals: Training the Eyes

In my post about "Pattern Reading vs Spot Dropping" I briefly talked about the importance of training a defenders eyes.

When making any type of "reads" in football, it all boils down to the eyes. There needs to be methodology to where a players eyes are supposed to be looking and how they respond to what they see. The more clear we can be with the progression of a players eyes, their ability to diagnose a situation, and trigger the appropriate response; the better we can all be at coaching defense.
Determining a progression for the eyes to follow coupled with a set of movements (responses) is the key to effective defensive football. All positions on defense can involve this principal. In this post, I will look at different positions and describe possible eye movements and progressions.

Why the Eyes?

The #1 mistake on defense is a player having his eyes in the wrong place. No matter how well a player is taught to shed blocks, break and intercept passes, or form tackle, it can all be for nothing if the players eyes are in the wrong place. The various techniques we teach to our players are intended to be used during a particular situation. Few techniques (like back pedal steps) are used on every play. The majority of these techniques are situational. What good is squeezing a down block on a pass play? Or dropping to the flat on a run play? Neither of these techniques would be good because they are inappropriate for the situation.

What tells a player the appropriate technique for a particular situation? Some type of visual cue. Players execute their techniques more effectively when they begin to make the connection of a visual cue with the desired technique to execute at a faster rate. The single most important point to training the eyes, is it will allow a player to execute their various techniques in the appropriate situations at a fast rate. This type of mental/physical conditioning process is what allows players to play fast, and the key to consistent execution come game time.

In this post, I will look at 3 different positions and describe possible eye movements and progressions.

1. Middle Field Coverage-Free Safety

Run: Alley Player Inside Out
Pass: Middle 1/3

I have discussed part of this technique already, but I will begin here with initial pre-snap eye keys. Player should align in the middle of the field and then get his eyes on the center or most visible offensive linemen. At the snap the FS should get into a backpedal and read the center for run/pass.

Eyes on Run Plays : If the linemen attacks aggressively forward, the safety should immediately get his eyes in the backfield to diagnose the direction of the run flow. Upon identifying the flow, he should Plant, point, and drive towards the ball carrier on an inside out path. On his pursuit he should keep his eyes on the ball carriers inside hip and maintain vision on a path that has the ball carrier inside and in front of him.

Eyes on Pass Plays: When the linemen key works backward (indicating a pass) The FS should maintain his backpedal and immediately get his eyes on the QB's non-throwing arm. He is looking for the long-arm of the QB. Upon Reading the long-arm the FS must intercept the pass with his eyes. This means he needs to locate the place on the field he needs to break to in order to make a play at the pass. Upon locating this position he should take a straight line to this spot. While in pursuit he should swivel his eye's from his aiming point back to the ball.

---- This is a simple progression of eyes that will keep the Safety in proper position. Must busts that the free safety makes will be one of two things. A. The player did not have his eyes on the proper place. B. A misread will prevent the player from executing the proper technique.

2. Press-Man-- Corner

After aligning properly inside, the corner will put his eyes on the inside hip of the WR. The corner is a dedicate pass player and will only play the run if #1 he FEELS the WR trying to block him (a good WR will run him off, so I don't plan for this too often) or he hears his FS or coach yell "Run, Run." Baring those non visual exceptions the corner will have eyes on the inside hip initially. He has 4 different techniques to execute in man coverage.

- Release

The release phase begins with initial steps by the WR. During this phase the corner will use slide steps to move vertically and replace steps to move laterally. These steps are used to keep in the proper inside relationship with the WR. The corner is keying the hip because it is a true read for him. The WR's feet, chest, and head are all more misleading than the inside hip. What he is looking for from the hip, is for it to commit. When the hip commits the corner is now in the jam phase. When the hip commits it turns and breaks a 45 Degree barrier. Upon reading a commitment of the hip, the corner gets his eyes on the near number (pec) of the WR and jams it with his off hand while opening his hips. The opening of the hips and off-hand jam are designed to keep the corner on top of the WR.

For example, we will assume the WR releases outside. Once the initial jam is done, the corner must assess his position on the WR. Can he see the near number of the WR or not? If he can, he is in-phase, and his eyes will focus on the WR's eyes with his peripheral vision on the V of the WR's neck. If the WR's eyes turn to look for the ball, the corner turns to play the ball as well. If his eyes and V of the neck turn back, then the ball is under-thrown. The corner needs to basketball block the WR from coming to the ball while making a play on it himself.

If the corner cannot see the near number after the jam phase, then he is out of phase. His eyes will not leave the WR until the whistle. He will key the WR hands. If the hand move to catch the ball, then the corner will wait for a "1000-1" count then rake the WR's hands.

----------- Mistakes like opening the hips the wrong way, wrong hand on the jam, getting beat off the line, and allowing an easy catch are all problems that start with the eyes. Corners get beat inside on slants when their eyes migrate up to the WR's chest. Many catches are made when a corner is out-of phase with a WR and then peeks back to find the ball. These techniques are not very effective if the eyes are undisciplined.

3. Defensive end in a loose 5 technique

C-Gap Player
Technique: Squeeze on down-blocks, does not get reached, Spills the ball on pulling plays, Outside contain on pass.

After he aligns outside the offensive tackle the end will key the feet of the offensive linemen. He is trying to identify which foot the linemen will step with.

If the linemen steps with his inside foot, he is trying to down or scoop block another defender. Upon reading this the d-end should step laterally with his inside foot and squeeze the down-block. While squeezing down the line his eyes should peak down the line for any pulling lineman. If a pull is coming he must attack the inside shoulder of the linemen with his outside arm. If he does not see a puller, he gets his eyes on the backfield, he will take the running back on any read option.

If the linemen steps with his outside foot the end will step with his outside foot. He continue to read the feet for the second step. Is the lineman's feet working backward, toward, or around you. These cues will alert the end to what type of block he is facing. If the feet are working backward it is a pass block, this tells the end to get up-field and rush the passer. If the feet work toward him, he is getting a drive block, he must stay low and hold his ground. Now his eyes flash to the backfield to locate the ball carrier. He will remain in his C-Gap until the ball commits away from it. Finally, if the feet are working to get around him, he is facing a reach block. He must work his hips around the blocker and hold his gap integrity.

--------------Again eyes here are crucial. Defensive ends who run up-field on down-blocks are a major problem for 4 man fronts. This problem opens up huge running lanes for counters and options. This problem is a lack of focus with the eyes. When I see this on film, the d-end usually has his eyes on the backfield and can't see the down-block. Another error is a slow-pass rush. This is a problem that coaches who over-emphasize the need to attack the linemen. Some ends will be so focused on attacking the linemen that they take to long to recognize that it is a pass play. By the time he knows it the QB has had time to settle in the pocket and begin his throwing motion.


These are just 3 quick examples. Every position and technique in defensive football begins with reads. The key to good reads are the eyes. If you focus on the eyes of your players you will see a dramatic improvement. The eyes are the link that we have from reads to techniques. The better we are at coaching this process and emphasizing it to our players, the better our team's overall performances will be.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Zone Coverage Technique-Reading the QB

In pure zone coverage techniques that involve reading the QB, there are benefits and drawbacks. to it. The benefit is the ability to see the ball and ultimately take advantage of poor throws. The drawbacks are the precense of windows the QB can hit, given the lack of sight on the WR's. I have gone into detail on this on a previous post. However, even the biggest proponents of pattern reading have certain coverages that involve players that read the QB. First, any coverage that involves corners that bail at the snap, do best to involve some type of QB read to gauge the type of pass (3 vs 5 step). Any Middle Field Coverage, involves a FS that stays in his zone in the middle of the field while he reads the QB for an indication to break.

Another drawback to reading the QB in pure zone techniques is the QB's ability to look off a defender and then throw the ball the other way. For example, in cover 3 the FS drops down the middle of the field reading the QB. The most difficult play for this player to cover is the 4 verticals (double seam). QB's are taught to look one way and give a pump fake to get the FS to break before throwing the ball to the other WR, that the FS can't recover on. This creates a problem. On one hand, you cannot tell the FS to break when he sees the ball leaves the QB's hand, this will be too slow more often than not. On the other hand, you can't give advice like "don't fall for the first fake" or the like. The worst thing you can do to a FS in MOF coverage is slow down his breaks. The effectiveness of the coverage relys upon the FS's ability to break on the ball well.

Is there another solution? Yes! The key is in finding a reliable key to read on the QB that indicates a throw is about to occur. This key needs to be present only when the QB is going to throw and not part of the pump fake. Reading the QB's eyes is not reliable in cover 3 for the FS, because he can be looked-off. Reading the ball is no good, because A, the pump fake can get you and B, waiting until the ball leaves his hand will be too slow.

The solution is to read the QB's non-throwing arm. Teaching the FS (or any other pure zone dropper) to read the long-arm is an effective technique. The FS should break when he sees the QB's arm go long (or lengthen). The typical QB does not pump-fake with his off arm extended. The only active arm in a pump fake is the throwing arm (unless the QB pump-fakes with both hands on the ball, still there is no long arm in this type of fake). The long-arm is the motion a QB makes when his off hand creates separation from his body. This separation happens in the beginning stages of a QB's throwing motion. Have you ever tried throwing the ball with your off hand stuck on your body? Try it sometime, it is pretty difficult. Have you ever tried pump-faking with your off arm extended, its possible but it will throw off your throwing rhythm. Most QB's do not have the adequate time nor patience to develop this type of pump fake.

Another benefit of reading the long-arm is the indication of where the ball is going. The further the off-arm is from pointing at you, the further you have to break, this lets the player somewhat know what angle he needs to break on the ball at. He does not have to wait to see the ball in the air to know what angle the ball will be going.

Some QB's show a clear extension of the arm. Look at Carson Palmer below:

Others might not be as obvious, but will still show an extension of the arm when beginning the throwing motion, even Peyton Manning:

Try this out and practice this with your players. I have integrated this into our cover three technique and seen tremendous results. QB's can no longer look us off and we have a breaking key that allows us to get in motion before the ball leaves the QB's hand. This read can be equally effective with underneath droppers and corners.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Defending the Slot-T Part II: The Trap

I covered the 200 series as the time when the players should read backs. However, the most popular series of the slot-t is the 3oo series

The most popular play in the series is the trap. The 300 series begins with a trap motion, followed by two sweep motions. The base play is the TRAP.

Slot-T coaches love the trap. The idea of doubling down and kicking a player out is like music to their ears. The trap will be the first play they try to establish. This play is quick hitting, if done right the play will happen so fast, you might not even see the hand-off in real time.


The slot t uses alignments to their advantage. On the trap the alignment can be very obvious.

You must teach your d-tackles to read the alignment of the guards in relation to the center. In the picture above the left guard widens out to widen the 3-technique out. The right guard tightens his split and moves a foot back. This alignment makes the trap much easier to execute. This alignment makes the trapping of three a simple process. The nose cannot interfer with the guard pulling and the three (by alignment) will not be able to prevent the guard from trapping him effectively because of the spacing the offensive line created.

The first step to stopping this play is to recognize the alignments. The second step is to teach proper technique to the linemen. In this front the nose is in a position to stop this play.

If those nose can feel the down block and spin back into the play he can stop the play cold.

Under Front- Simple Nose Technique

The under front (also called weak eagle) is an excellent front to defend the run, pass, and to put general pressure on the offense. In high school and especially lower level athletics, it becomes a major problem finding people to fit our schemes year in an year out.

I am confident that no matter what, I can fit players into my under-front defense. In the worst case scenario I can get the defensive front going if I can find ONE solid linebacker and a shade nose that can draw a double team.


The nose aligns to the strong side with an end in a 5 and a linebacker in a 9. On the weak side there is a 3-technique and and a loose 5. The key to making this defense go is finding a decent linebacker and a nose that can draw a double team.

Many people got away from the eagle front because it was difficult to find a nose to draw the double team. This is reasonable, because the defense will collapse if the nose cannot draw a double team. The double team that the nose needs to draw is from the center and the strong side guard. If these two players can be tied up to blocking the nose, then the defense is in a good position. This is beneficial for 3 reasons:

1. The backers are free to pursue the ball and only need to worry about the fullback blocking them.

2. The 3-technique is usually put 1 on 1 with the weak side guard.

3. If the 3-technique is double teamed, then the weak side end is usually cut loose.

The nose must force this block! If the nose can successfully do this, the game will be much easier.
How does the nose force this double team?

#1 He can be such a force athletically that he requires a double team
#2 He can be used in such a way that the offense must double team him.


Finding such a player to athletically draw a double team is difficult. A good nose must be able to prevent the center from reaching him as well as the strong side guard. If either player can reach him, then the defense will be in bad shape because this will allow one of the linemen to come free to block a linebacker.

General shade nose technique is ideal, however, it is difficult for the nominal athlete to prevent a linemen from reaching him in this technique. Since he must react after the offense he is vulnerable to being caught out of position.

In low talent years this problem can become big! So the solution is to tweak the technique so that different types of athletes can play nose, and force double teams. To faciliate this, a stunt technique is utilized by the shade nose.

The technique involves the nose at the snap of the ball attacking at an aiming point at the butt of the strong side guard. This technique involves enough lateral movement to make it hard for the center to reach him, and at the same time enough vertical movement to make it hard for the strong side guard to reach him. This technique allows the nose to play the run either way.

If the guard tries to come off on the linebacker and relys on the center to block the nose there should be problems for the offense. The #1 reason is the nose will be in a position to play down the line inside-out on running plays.

If the nose can prevent the center from reaching him, then he should be free to attack down the line play-side. All gaps should be covered. On any strong side release like this, the 3-tech will also be single teamed. If one can create a favorable match-up between the backside guard and 3 technique then the defense will be in a great position.

If the play is designed to go weak and the center tries to come off on the weak side backer, then the defense should still be in good shape. Since the nose is attacking the guards butt, he should not be reached. This allows him to ricochet off the guard and pursue the ball down the line inside-out to the weak side.

Because it is hard to reach the nose with the center or guard, the offense will generally need to double team him. By drawing the double team the nose will keep the linebackers free from the linemen and put the 3-technique in a one on one situation.


The beauty of this technique is many body types fit it. A quick end, inside linebacker and even a running back can all play a shade nose. If you have players going both ways, you can use a nose by committee. Coaching the nose in this technique is simple as well. The coaching points are:

1. Force a double team
2. Don't let the guard or center reach you.
3. After the initial attack, pursue the ball down the LOS.

If a nose fails to draw a team, make the play, and allows the backer to be blocked by the OL, then he has made a mistake. This is something easy for any nose to pick up. He should know whether he was double teamed or not. If he wasn't then he should make the play.


The aggressive stunting shade nose is a front that can be run when talent is not abundant. This technique will force a double team an cut the linebackers loose. Even with injuries a typical team should be able to find a couple players to fill this role.