By: Cody Crawford
Recruiting Coordinator/Defensive Line
Allegheny College, PA
At Allegheny College our “wide front” has been a nice change up within our defensive system. We start all of our fronts in our defense working off of tight and split.
Simply put we can either be an over front or an under front and change what we set the front to. From there we can deploy the front in multiple ways and still give the same presentation to the offense. Heading into the 2019 season we wanted to install wide to take the stress off the overhang players. The same reason we decided to install this front is the same reason you see a lot of teams going to the 3 down mint/tite fronts as their base. Clog all the interior gaps and force the ball to bounce. Make no mistake about it, we jump into this front to stop the run. By having this in our defense we were able to be multiple even by giving a simplistic look.
WHAT IS WIDE?
What we call wide you may hear some other people call crush or squeeze.
The base alignment for the front is both ends align in heavy 5 techniques and both tackles align in heavy 3 techniques. Hence the name wide referring to the two 3 techniques instead of your traditional 3 and 2i or Shade.
The most important thing that needs to be understood for the defensive lineman is that they are not moving to their gaps. They are cancelling their gaps post contact. We are more about cancelling gaps instead of controlling gaps in our defense. That means if we’re saying the End is responsible for the B gap that does not mean he has to be in the B gap. He just has to make sure the ball doesn’t run through there.
How we deploy our personnel is as follows:
Our two outside guys upfront are our Stud (S) and End (E).
Our two interior guys are our Tackle (T) and Nose (N).
The Tackle and Stud always go to the call side and the Nose and End always go away from the call side.
At the second level we play with a Rover (R), who is really a hybrid LB/Safety, he will always line up to the field.
Our inside LB’s are the Mike (M) and Backer (B).
Mike will align to the field and Backer will align to the boundary. So our backers are always aligned from field to boundary Rover, Mike, Backer.
In our secondary we play our Corners left and right, this way it keeps the technique consistent for them.
We align our Free Safety (FS) to the field and our Strong Safety ($) to the boundary.
WIDE FRONT STRENGTHS
As with anything you run there are going to be pros and cons. The advantages of playing a wide front are defending RPOs. By cancelling the interior gaps you are allowing the overhangs to not have to align so tight to the box. This allows them to take away pre-snap reads for the quarterback and allow them to “hang” in the windows because they don’t have a box fit.
Another huge strength is it works against the Offensive Line’s fundamentals. By aligning so tight we are able to take away angles from the OL particularly in zone schemes. On top of that, by aligning with no A gap defender you are forcing the center to show his cards post snap.
WIDE FRONT WEAKNESS
Behind the front we will play MOD quarters so the quick passing game will be a popular choice for the offense.
Hitch and out routes will most likely be utilized because they put the CBs in a 1-on-1 open-field tackling situation. The fits are different than your more traditional run fits since we’re taking away all interior gaps with the 4 down guys. This forces everyone to be on the same page at the 2nd and 3rd levels which requires communication and practice. The fit responsibilities are more formation based so the ability for players to recognize formations is critical.
DEFENSIVE LINE TECHNIQUES
We do our best to keep things simple at Allegheny. As a Division III program our guys are off campus for three months in the summer so we don’t have the time higher level programs do. We do want to insure we give our players the necessary tools for what we are asking them to do.
In our wide front we teach the D linemen to react to only two different blocks:
Block To or Block Away. That’s it.
If they get block to them their technique is to strike and shed to their inside gap.
If block is away from them then all they do is strike and squeeze.
They are react attack players in this front. This means they want to mirror the OL’s first step. Think of it as a 2 gap technique. Their target is the near breast plate but the main emphasis is just getting their hands inside with a block at them. It’s so important that we align in heavy techniques. If we are too wide then we will not be able to get hands on with a block away which we must do. We want to finish with our hands above our eyes and our hips back. Hands, hips, and then feet. We really only stick to two separate escape moves. Rip or punch through.
The drill above demonstrates how we react to a Block To us. We will start in a fitted position and then progress to coming out of a 3 point.
The player here needs to play with lower pad level and that will help keep his hips back. He does a good job of finishing with his hands above his eyes and running his feet through the contact.
It is good to do this drill with a ball carrier as well. A big coaching point is you want to create false daylight as the D lineman. You don’t want to disengage too soon. You want to let the ball carrier get within about a yard of the OL’s heels and then shed to the inside. This is why we stress the pace of your movement. Starting off they want to get off the block too soon.
The next progression of the drill is to react with a block away. I will usually start out with them knowing which way the block is going and then tell the OL which way to go without them knowing. We will also eventually get to pods as well. On the down block we want to get hands on. With block away from us we still need to cancel our inside gap. We make sure our players have an understanding that just because you’re not in the gap doesn’t mean you can’t cancel it. We want to force the man we’re lined up on to get shoulder to shoulder with the next OL inside
You see in this first clip the player wants to keep his inside foot up. This will keep his shoulders square.
Good job of hands on and squeezing the block. Again, making sure our inside foot is up.
Better here with our feet. Don’t want to lean on the OL. Keep our hands extended
TEACHING THE FITS
Since we are taking care of both A & B gaps with the 4 down guys we teach 3 different run support techniques with all other players on the field.
They are Force, Fill, and Spill. These are the techniques with Run To.
The players know what technique they are to play based off what type of flank they have to their side (Pro, Twin, etc.).
If #2 is removed then we know the safeties are out of the fit. That makes our outside backers (Rover and Backer) the force players in the fit. That leaves the Mike to be the spill player and since he is essentially left gapless he can hang and ball fit. The base rules for who is force are if it is a twin or pro set the OLB will be the force. Any Nub or Open set the Safety will be the force. Against Nub set we can cloud it as well making the Corner the force. Below is a look at the fits against a Doubles set (10p 2x2)
The rules for the overhangs are simple. If run is to them they are the force player and must make the ball bend or bubble. If run is away from them they become the cutback player and must stay behind the ball. We teach the Mike to be patient. Pop your feet and let the ball carrier declare. We teach it from outside in. The force is the first guy in fit, fill the second guy, and the spill is the third guy. Since the safety is out of the fit with 2 receivers removed we technically won’t have a fill player. Versus any insertion we want a vice on the blocker with the force outside shoulder and the spill on the inside shoulder.
2 BACK RUN FITS
Our philosophy with our fits is we want to be +1 in the run game. That means we want to have one more hat than they do in the box. We count every player who is aligned in the box excluding the QB. So any receiver that is split from the core we do not count.
Going back to the fit techniques the players know they will either be a force, fill, or spill player with run at them. The force player is always going to be whoever the overhang is or the widest guy in the fit. This could be a LB, Corner, or Safety. His job is to leverage all blocks and send the ball back or force it to bubble. We’d rather have the ball bounce to the sideline than have our force player create an alley because he doesn’t condense the block. The fill player fits between the force and spill. He leverages all blocks coming at him knowing he has help to the inside and is not responsible for force.
The spill player takes on any insertion (pull, iso) with his outside shoulder. He wants to make the ball bounce to our fill and force players.
You can see in the diagram below how a typical zone play out of 12/21 personnel should fit.
If the play were to go the other way then the corner would be the force, the $ would fill and the Backer would be the spill player if we were in a cloud coverage.
We make a 3x1 check to this formation so we are playing a triangle concept on #2/3 and MOD on #1. We need the End to the field to strike the tackle instead of sticking inside. We still manage to get what we want here. Force the ball carrier to bounce, the backers are able to scrape over the top and make the play.
In this clip the 3 tech to the play side is able to make the play from getting his hands inside. You see it makes it hard on the OL with our tight alignments. Need the Mike to get his eyes on the H as his key read and the Rover should trigger when the QB opens up away from him.
Same play here just different backfield. Better job by the Mike here working over the top. We end up getting 3 guys blocking 2 to the play side
2 X 2 RUN FITS
Against 2x2 sets the same rules still apply. If 2 receivers are removed from the core then the safety knows he’s out of the fit. If the TE is in the core then the safety knows he will be the 2nd guy in the fit from the outside in making him the fill player. Again, our approach is to make sure we are always +1 in the fit anytime we’re in this front. By cancelling the interior gaps that allows our backers to ball fit. They don’t necessarily have a gap and we don’t teach it that way. If one of the DL gets cut off and the A gap is open, the Mike has to be ready to fill that. All in all it allows the 2nd level players more free range to be athletes and make plays
End to the boundary does a nice job striking and forcing the ball to bubble. The BSDE is able to see an opportunity to make a play in the backfield. Even if he misses the tackle the ball carrier is running into an unlocked backer which is exactly why we want.
Not the technique we are teaching with the End and Tackle to the field but the quickness of the end puts him in position to make the play. Mike needs to be more patient here.
Since #2 is not removed to the field the Safety is in the fit as the fill player fitting inside the Rover and Mike. The End forces a pull read here for the QB. This allowed the Mike to gap exchange and scrape over the top. What we get is 3 guys converging on the ball.
3 X 1 RUN FITS
We play a few different coverages to 3x1 but what you’ll see here is what many refer to as special/stubbie/mini to the 3 receiver side and an invert cloud scheme to the boundary. That puts our Boundary Safety in the fit. He’ll be the force player with run to him and cutback with run away. The Free Safety is out of the fit because he is a pass first defender so he is a bonus. The Boundary Safety will take the outside shoulder of the QB if he were to pull with the crashing End pushing the ball out. All the same rules still apply maintaining a t +1 format.
Great job by the play side End with his first step and getting his hands inside. The 3 tech to the play side stands the guard up forcing the center’s help.
End here sees an opportunity to make a play and takes his shot. If the QB pulls the Mike is there and if the RB hits it front side he would have to bounce it.
This is where having this as a change up helps. The tackle is probably expecting the End to be a C gap defender and overreaches. This allow the End to get vertical and make the play.
The wide front is a great way to get the ball going horizontal and allow your second level players to play in space and make plays. Although, it can look like a normal defensive structure, what we do post snap can keep the offense guessing and lead to hesitation. There are many different ways you can alter this defensive structure and we here at Allegheny have gotten these ideas from a few different program and coaches who have had tremendous success utilizing this structure.
I want to extend a huge thank you to FB Coaches Forum for giving me an opportunity to share some of our ideas at Allegheny. The resources out there are endless and I will always have an appreciation for people to take the time to share their ideas and teach. These platforms are what makes the coaching profession the greatest there is!