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A way-too-early look at Tom Herman’s Texas defense

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Previewing the multiple 3-4 defense Herman will likely install.

horn entrance

In my previous post, we discussed the defensive alignment numbering system established by Bum Phillips sometime last century. So now everyone knows what it means for a 3 technique to stunt into the A gap, right (also known as a TAG stunt, which stands for tackle a gap)? Good.

We will discuss the TAG stunt in other posts but I figured it couldn’t hurt to introduce it here as it serves as a fundamental component in both run and pass defense for the preferred defense of new Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman — the multiple 3-4.

Wait a minute, isn’t it way too early to preview a defense for 2017? We don’t even have a coordinator yet. Well, Herman has stated that he prefers the multiple 3-4 because it is so difficult to prepare for as an offensive coordinator. BON, today is your lucky day.

Not only did I play linebacker in a multiple 3-4 defense in high school, I ran the defense for much of my coaching career, except for a two-year stint at the end, at which point I tried to run a more modern 4-2-5 look. That defense proved to be too complex for the high school talent I was coaching, which may be what happened to Charlie Strong’s defense last year.

I don’t know what Paul Orlando, Herman’s coordinator at Houston used as far as terminology goes, so I will use my own to describe these concepts. As the Longhorns staff gets settled in and we get more familiar with the coaches, the terminology and concepts should clear up, but it’s never too early to get an idea of what we are in for next year. The good news is I think you will like it.

The bad news, because it is a multiple-front defense, there is a lot of terminology and it can be confusing at first, but this defense is very simple for a player to execute because it is rules based. That means each player has a set of rules which they apply to every play call, and each play call tells each player EXACTLY what he is supposed to do. So before we get into learning about a Boundary 37 Buck Over Tag Stinger Cover 20, we have to get all of those pieces in order one by one. Okay, ready?

Lets start with the position nomenclature I will use for now. Once again, this nomenclature really doesn’t matter. It just allows us to describe each position individually so we can call stunts, set alignment, etc.

The defensive positions are as follows:

Nose (N) — Usually a 0 or 1 (sometimes a 2) technique usually the biggest, strongest DL

Tackle (T) — Hybrid Defensive Tackle/End. Plays both a 3 and a 5 technique.

End (E) — A more agile defensive lineman than the tackle. Usually plays a 5 or 7 technique, but can line up in a 3 technique as well.

Mike (M) — Strong side or middle linebacker. Usually the best run defender of the linebackers.

Will (W) — Weak side linebacker. Still mostly a run defender, but more agile than the Mike.

Rush (R) — Hybrid outside linebacker, similar to the Fox end in Strong’s defense. I like rush because it starts with an R, and keeps from confusion with free safety. Can play a 60 or a 6 technique depending on play call.

Buck (B) — More agile outside linebacker. Better in man coverage than the rush. The buck must be a very good blitzer for passing situations as well.

Free safety (F) — Better cover safety.

Strong safety (S) — More physical of the two safeties. Better blitzer and run defender.

Boundary corner (C) — Best man cover player. Will often be lined up in man to the boundary when blitz packages are utilized.

Field corner (C) — The field corner does not have to be as good in man as the boundary corner because he will almost always have help to his side.

The tackle, rush, mike, strong and strong safety always line up to the strong side (we will discuss how strength is determined later). The end, will, buck, nose, and free safety align to the weak side. The boundary corner always lines up to short side of the field and the field corner lines up to the wide side of the field.

In today’s game where offenses run tempo, you may not be able to switch sides with the corners, and that is okay, but the defensive coordinator will have to take this into account in their play calling if one corner is not adequate in man coverage with no help.

The play call would start with a strength designation. Unlike many defenses where the offense determines the strength, I always determined the defensive strength with a designation.

This designation could be field, boundary, tight, or split. Field means the wide side of the field would be the strength, boundary means the short side. Tight means strength would be to the tight end side (if one is on the field) and split means to the split end side (away from tight end).

The next part of the play call is the tackle’s alignment by number, then the ends alignment by number. For example 55 would mean both the tackle and in are in a 5 technique. 33 means both are in 3 techniques.

This is followed by a nose designation. The nose can line up three ways. If there is no call, the nose lines up in a 1 technique to the high number side. If the call is a balanced call (55 or 33), the nose aligns in a 0 technique.

In an unbalanced call, the nose aligns to the high number side. An eagle call tells the nose to angle their body slightly in towards the center still in a 1 technique. We call this a slanted 1. A G call tells the nose to line up in a 2 technique away from strength.

The base call for this defense would be tight 55 Cover 2. Nothing fancy. In this alignment, the mike and will are in 30 techniques and the buck and rush are in 90 techniques. With a 5 call, the buck/will will line up in a 9 technique if a tight end is present. To avoid this, the defensive coordinator can make a 7 call, which tells the buck to line up in a 90 regardless of the presence of a tight end.

Corners line up head up on the WR and press. They must force the man to the inside as toward the safety and not allow an outside release down the field. They cover the flat.

Free safety and Strong Safety line up 10 - 12 yards deep depending on ability and have deep halve responsibilities. Here is what it looks like:

Now lets talk about run responsibilities. The biggest weakness of this alignment is that the nose must play a solid double-A gap responsibility. As you can see, the A gaps are wide open. This is a technique that can be taught, but if it is not executed correctly, the offense will run right up the middle of the field all day and there will not be much anyone on the defense can do about it. This is amplified by the fact that the guards have a free release to block the linebackers.

Speaking of free release, each lineman is taught to attack the outside shoulder of their lineman. Their primary job is no to let the linemen off the line of scrimmage. This is why the rush plays a 9 against a tight end when there is a 5 technique to his side, to prevent a free release. If there is a 7, the tackle will take this responsibility, making it unnecessary for the rush to play the 9 technique.

The mike and will read the guards and flow to the play, but their primary responsibility is B gap. The tackle and end attack the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles and have C gap responsibility. The buck and rush have D gap, or primary contain. After verifying a run, the safeties run the alley and the cornerbacks have the outside contain, attempting to turn everything back in to the safety. The corners can push the play to the sideline out of bounds if necessary, but they cannot allow the ball carrier to turn up field outside of them.

Cover 2 means the safeties each have a deep half responsibility. The corners press the receivers on the line of scrimmage and drop into the flat (hash marks to the sideline). The buck and rush cover the hook/curl zone defined as between the numbers and the hash marks.

The mike and will have the curl zone defined as the area between the hash marks. While it is technically possible for both the mike and will to be in pass coverage in the curl zone, there will most likely be a stunt call that puts one of them in a blitz or requires one of them (usually the will) to cover for a blitzing teammate.

Now, we have a generic idea of the alignment of the multiple 3-4 defense, how the plays are called and base responsibilities. I do want everyone to understand that out of all my years playing and coaching in this scheme, I cannot think of one time 55 Cover 2 was used in a game. It just has too many vulnerabilities for an offense to exploit, but this is the starting place. Remember the defense is a multiple front, and each different adjustment that can be made has its own little purpose.

Later on this week, we will discuss a few different front seven looks that you can use out of this defense and linebacker rules for run responsibilities.