The first defense we will discuss on the site is the 4-4 defense. It’s a defensive scheme that I’ve been involved with for 7 of my 9 years on the sidelines (as of 2013). Coincidence or not, every season I’ve been in the playoffs (3 of 9, all three with different schools) has been in the 4-4 defense.
This is the defense we currently run at Cornerstone, and is a variation of the defense we ran while I was in high school and at UHS during my first coaching stint under Hugh Dehnert. The G defense has some roots in the Buddy Ryan 46, and the 4-4 that Bud Foster runs up at Va Tech.
Our base front and coverage is “G cover 3.” In G, our line (weak to strong) will be a 5, 1, 3, 6i (7). Our LB are (weak to strong) 4×1, 20, 30, 4×1. Our CB’s are 5i (inside leverage, 5 off the man) and our FS is 10 yards off over the pass strength OG. This season, we’re going to make our strength call to the field, instead of the run strength. However, our B/T/S/M travel together as do our E/N/R/W.
Our aiming points on the DL are simple, we aim for the shoulder we’re lined up across. Our DL are taught the wrist/rip technique used at Clemson. Our DL have simple assignments, which is to play their run fit first- thus securing the gap. Once they read pass they can become pass rushers. At our level we’re more concerned with stopping the run.
For our LBs, I use the drills and techniques from former Miami LB coach Vernon Hargreaves. I believe his drills for both LB play and tackling are second to none, and can easily be adapted to small-school equipment and players.
For LBs, first we will discuss run responsibilities. The Sam is responsible for the D-gap, and he’s the outside force player on runs to him, and the CBR (counter-boot-reverse) player on runs away. On option he gets the pitchman. Our Mike’s first 2 steps are in the strong a-gap, and he’ll scrape A to D. On option he’s responsible for dive to QB. Our Will take his read steps into the b-gap, and he’s responsible B to D on a run towards him, he scrapes to replace the Mike away. On option he has dive to QB. Our Rover is a hybrid LB/Safety (much like Va Tech’s scheme). The Rover is our CBR player on runs away, force player on runs that flow to him. On option he has pitchman.
On pass drops, our OLB (Sam and Rover) will hit the flats about 5-7 yards off the LOS, and our ILB (Mike and Will) play a hook/curl drop which is 8-10 deep and a 45 degree drop.
For our DB’s, we use the drills and techniques taught by Coach Nick Rapone, formerly of Temple and Coach Beckton at UCF. Our DBs will be pattern reading, unlike our LB who will drop to a spot on the field. Meaning, if we’re seeing a base I like in the image above, our CBs have the #1 threat or WR on their side of the center. If our backside CB gets a slant, why is he going to play at 5 off, pedal to 8, and then continue to drop or sit when a 3 and slant just went past him? If he has no 2nd threat, he should jump the slant and make the play. On the 2-threat side, the Sam will hit the flat regardless, our FS will be responsible for #2 first, if he runs a short/outside route the FS will assume #1 is deep and help over the top or will be looking for a backside post once #1 stays short as well. The CB that’s watching #1 will jump short routes or pedal back for deep routes.
Our CBs play inside leverage to take away the quick slant, with our mindset being that it’s easier to catch a slant than a fade/corner. On runs towards them, they are the outside force player, and on runs away we follow the 21 man rule, meaning, keep all 21 men in front of you. This player becomes our last line of defense because our FS is used as the alley player.
In the G defense, our FS has a different task than most free safeties. For instance, he plays the strong side instead of the weak. He is our alley or stove pipe player. The FS is often the 2nd leading tackler on the team after the Mike (last year he was second after our 3-technique). He has to be an athlete that can hit and run. He runs to the ball on toss, iso, and option. The FS will communicate the play to the CBs (they don’t enter the huddle) and will check to different coverages for the back 7. He has to be the player that can run the defense once the offense takes the field.
In calling this defense, I allow the FS to change fronts/coverages based on what he sees. If I call G 3 and we get 2×2, he must check to Slide cover 2. If I call Slide 2 and we get a 3×1 set, he must check to cover 3 and adjust the defense. The FS will make the Mafia 1 call against 32 and 22 personnel packages as well. He is the coach on the field even more so than the Mike because he has the leverage of seeing everything in front of him.
What are some variations we run when we get or want to give different looks? Tite 3 is a variation that puts our 3-tech in a 2i (inside shoulder of the guard), thus gap-exchanging with the Mike.
Another variation is a “heavy” call which puts the OLB on the line of scrimmage in short yardage, red zone, and bubble-heavy situations. In “heavy 3” our weak-end (5 tech) will always crash the weak b-gap instead of attacking the c-gap.
Another short-yardage check is “Mafia” which moves our FS down to 6 yards, puts our Sam LB on the LOS, and has our CBs playing press coverage. In Mafia our Mike always blitzes the strong b-gap.
Lastly, when we see 3×2 or 2×2 sets we check to Slide 2/4. In slide 2, we continue to pattern read, where as in slide 4 we play our set drops.