The 4-3 Under: Think 3-4 personnel and recruiting makes sense

The 4-3 Under: Think 3-4 personnel and recruiting makes sense

Submitted by JeepinBen on December 23rd, 2011 at 11:18 AM

[Ed-S: Festivus Bump!]

In modern football, there are 2 popular base defensive sets. Most teams run either a 3-4 Base or a 4-3 Base.

The quick explanation of these defenses is that the first number (“3” in a 3-4) is your number of Down Linemen (literally people who line up with their hand on the ground in a 3 or 4 point stance on the line of scrimmage) and the second number (“4” in a 3-4) is your number of linebackers (people who line up in a 2 point stance, behind the down linemen).

This diary will discuss the 4-3 Under, its similarities to a 3-4 set, and make sense of our defensive line recruiting. For the purposes of this diary I’m ignoring the secondary. You need corners and safeties. They’re all similarly sized players, get fast ones. The front 7 is where you need guys over a 100lb range and some more major differences show up.

Here’s a base 4-3:

Here's a base 3-4:

Both of these defensive base sets have advantages and disadvantages, and both lend themselves to different styles of players. When it comes to what Michigan is running as a base defense, the 4-3 Under, recruiting starts to make sense if you look at it as a 3-4 defense.

The 4-3 Under:

First, look at the D Line from the middle out. In a 4-3 Under you have a defensive tackle on the Nose, in a 0 or 1 Technique (NT)  (Technique definitions:


You then have 2 players lining up at the 3 tech (DT) and 5 tech (SDE). Then you have 2 players further out on the line, at a 7 tech (WDE) and 9 Tech (SAM). Finally, you have 2 linebackers off the line of scrimmage (MIKE and WILL).

Now, compare these positions to the 3-4 Base. You still have a huge space-eating Nose Tackle (NT) who lines up at the 0 or 1 tech, 2 Defensive Ends over the guards, tackles, or in between (4 tech... hmmm, just a slight shift from the 3 or 5 tech...) and 2 people outside of them near the line of Scrimmage (OLBs). Finally you have 2 linebackers off the line of scrimmage (MIKE and WILL). 

If you look at these two defenses, the only main difference is one of your 3-4 OLBs has his hand on the ground. That’s it! There are minor shifts on the line and other intricacies, but big picture the 4-3 under has personnel requirements very similar to a 3-4.

For the 4-3 Under OR the 3-4 in your front 7 personnel you need:


1.) A Space eating Nose Tackle (or at least one who can stand up to double teams)
2011: Mike Martin
2012 Recruit: Pipkins
2.-3.) 2 players with good size who can go against guards or tackles, defend the run, get penetration and rush the passer. (3-4 DEs or 4-3 Under 3 and 5 Techs)
2011: Heininger and RVB
2012 Recruit: Strobel, Wormley, Godin
4.-5.) 2 players with speed who can set the edge, keep contain, rush the passer, and drop into coverage occasionally (3-4 OLBs or 4-3 Under WDE and SAM. In the 4-3 Under 1 will rush the passer more often, 1 will drop into coverage more often, but both do both)
2011: Craig Roh and Jake Ryan
2012 Recruit: Ojemudia and (I can’t remember which LB projects here)
6.-7.) 2 players who make tackles. Always flow to the ball, can shed blocks, cover, and make plays (MIKE and WILL)
2011: Demens and Morgon/Hawthorne/Herron Combo
2012 Recruit: Ross, Bolden, RJS and Ringer (whoever doesn’t project to SAM)
In pass rush situations, most 3-4 Teams will run their NT off the field for an extra DB, and rush 4 with their 2 DEs and their 2 OLBs. Most 4-3 teams will sub a linebacker for a DB.
Michigan subbed Heininger (not the NT, but Martin is a better pass rusher than a prototype NT) for Avery and put Ryan on the line, just like 3-4 teams do. My guess is this continues next year, we run off a DL and let Ryan put his hand down.
As far as speculation that Michigan is loading up on linebackers, SDE types, and WDE types without taking 2 huge DTs in the class because we might switch to a 3-4 base... we kind of already have a package that uses 3-4 base type personnel. In the 4-3 Under, like a 3-4, you want flexibility in your defense. The following positions are relatively interchangeable in a 4-3 Under, don’t get caught up on DT vs. DE or DE vs LB:
  • 3-Tech DT and SDE (5-Tech)
  • WDE and SAM

Michigan is recruiting the right numbers for the scheme they run. These are 17-year-old guys we’re discussing with recruits. Some will get bigger, some are maxed out. Some of the WDE/SAM types will be better at coverage and will play SAM. We saw Frank Clark and Beyer make this switch this year, one was a LB, one a DE in High School, and they switched at Michigan. Some will be better pass rushers and will drop into coverage less at the WDE.

The “Glut” at SDE doesn’t exist since the 3-Tech DT is a very similar position in the 4-3 Under, so some of these guys will play there. The coaches know what they need to run the 4-3 under, and hopefully this diary provided some insight into the personnel requirements so we can somewhat understand the method to the madness.

(Note competence)

FF101: Day 5

FF101: Day 5

Submitted by Space Coyote on August 31st, 2010 at 1:50 PM

Sorry for the long absence.  Anyway…

Previous Classes

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense), Day 3 (Defense) Day 4 (Offensive Line)

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage), Day 2 (Against tight formations)

FF 101: Day 5 – Receivers


Receivers come in many shapes and many sizes, from 6’6”, 270 pound tight ends to 5’9”, 160 pound slot receivers.  Regardless of size though, one thing is ultimately fundamental to the position: catching the football.  For some this sounds easy, for others who feel like they have hands of stones, even this doesn’t sound easy.  This is complicated by the fact that a receiver is also responsible for running crisp routes, which sometimes include defeating a defensive player at the LOS jamming them, diagnosing the defense, and then catching the football, all the while knowing that there could very well be someone running on a collision course the other way trying to destroy you.

Receivers are typically known as divas, always seeking attention, but then there’s Jason Avant.  Personality isn’t a trait that runs through all these players, some just focus on the fundamentals and go about business.  So let’s attempt to understand these fundamentals rather than simply seeing all the negatives attributed to receivers.


I could write in every single one of these that an efficient stance leads to a purging of false steps.  A false step essentially means taking unnecessary steps before the actual start of the route running.  For a receiver this usually means picking up the front foot and moving it forward or picking up the back foot and moving it backwards.  Neither should happen, as the receiver should be able to push directly off his front foot.  To remove this annoying phenomenon known as false steps, an aggressive stance is desired. 

Feet:  Feet should be staggered, much like a sprinters.  I personally prefer the inside foot to be forward (as do most coaches, though this isn’t necessarily consistent) because it helps in releasing from a jamming defender.   There should be about three feet between the front and back foot, with the majority of the weight on the front foot.  The amount of weight can be described as “pushing the front cleat on the toe through the ground.” 

Knees:  Knees should be bent and ready to explode.

Upperbody:  The upper body should be leaning slightly forward in order to quickly explode out of the stance.

Hands and Arms:  Again, my personal preference, but hands should be up at chest level with arms approximately at 90 degree angles.  The reason I prefer hands up is to help defeat a jamming defender.

Route Running

A lot of people hear about receivers running good routes but don’t really know what exactly that means.  Well, let’s take a look at it to help you understand what exactly is taking place in these “good routes.”

Part of good routes is actually understanding what the defense is running.  At the snap of the ball the receiver also needs to recognize zone or man coverage.  If it’s zone he has to quickly recognize what kind of coverage so he knows where the gaps are in the defense.  All this has to be done on the same page as the QB.  But to properly do any of that, a few other things are important as well.

Drive:  At the snap there should be no false steps from the receiver.  This is described above.  The reason false steps are so detrimental here is for several reasons: 1) It hinders the timing between QB and receiver; 2) It allows the receiver to be jammed easier; 3) It doesn’t allow the receiver to quickly close the distance between himself and the defender.  Closing this gap forces the defender to open his hips away from the backfield, making it hard for him to react to routes the receiver is about to run.  The keys to the drive portion are exploding off the LOS, maintaining a good body lean (so that the receiver can run “normally” in a straight line, yet still break down and run other routes), and closing the distance between himself and the defender.

Route Expression:  Receivers must drive in and out of cuts.  This means they must get up to full speed as soon as possible after making cut and going into a cut.  In order to do this, at the break point a receiver is taught to snap his chest down over his toes and lower his butt.  The receiver should also keep his head and eyes up and focused through the defender to maintain good balance and prevent the defender from jumping the route.  It is also important to keep the arms pumping and within the body's framework.  Receivers often hold the arms out or lower them, which can give easy clues to the defender.

Lastly, and probably the most common of all poor route runners, is fading on routes.  A cut at 90 degrees is a cut at 90 degrees, not slowly changing to 80 degrees.  Don't start fading toward the end zone.  It is essential that receivers do not fade.  I can't say that enough.  You will hear coaches preaching it constantly at every level.


Numbers are assigned to different types of routes.  These numbers are used for play calling and other aspects of the game.  The picture below should which number is what route, odds are toward the boundary, evens are toward the ball.

There are obviously more routes available, such as a wheel route for example, but these are the main ones.



So he’s done all this stuff with running routes, but he still hasn’t caught the football.  Everything that has already been discussed is pointless if he doesn’t catch the football.  So how do you catch a football?  Well it sounds kind of easy when you go out in the back yard and do it with your kid, but there are many things that experienced people don’t even think about. 

There is the obvious: catch the ball with your hands.  But first you need to catch the ball with your eyes, meaning you need to locate the ball.  Then as the ball approaches you are told to catch the “fat” of the ball.  But in a game a receiver isn’t simply standing there waiting for the ball to fall into his hands, he must attack the ball in the air, and absorb it as it hits his hands.  If the ball is above the numbers, press the thumbs and forefingers together forming a triangle.  Below the numbers press your little fingers together, forming a cup for the ball.

How to catch a ball:

How not to catch a ball:


For tight ends it is very similar to the offensive linemen I detailed earlier. 


(Edit: I tried to find a picture of Carson Butler blocking, but for some reason I couldn’t find anything…)


Blocking in space is much different however.  If WRs block it turns ten yard runs into touchdowns.  Michigan was always very well known for teaching their WRs to block down field.  Stressing this is vital to the success of any offense.  It really isn’t as much about skill as it is about desire.  There is some keys to blocking in space however, so we will still discuss them.

The first is that a receiver shouldn’t break down to block until he is about 2-3 yards from the defender.  Once this distance has been established, it is important that the receiver break down so that he can mirror the defender.  He then should strike the defender in the breast plate with his palms while fitting his fingers under the defender’s armpits.  The goal is to have the receiver’s helmet below the defenders to gain leverage and then drive the defender.  Because these aren’t typically offensive linemen blocking, usually the receiver’s are taught to use the defenders momentum to the blocker’s advantage.  This means if the defender fights one way, fight pressure with pressure and force him to overrun the play.

You'll find a lot of good WR blocking in this awesome Tyrone Wheatley Tribute from Wolverine Historian. (EDIT: Can't really see much blocking from WR in this video. Sorry)

EDIT: Good WR blocking on this Brandon Minor from the game that introduced Minor Rage to the world and Penn St.


So playing receiver isn’t as easy as playing catch with your kid.  I’m not saying it’s the hardest position on the field, but it’s far from easy.  There are a lot of things that need to be recognized very quickly and there are fundamentals that need to be done very precisely.  On top of this, focus needs to be consistent, as does desire, whether the ball is coming his way or not. 


Just be happy it’s not you crossing the middle of the field with your QB setting you up to get your block knocked off.

FF101: Day 4

FF101: Day 4

Submitted by Space Coyote on August 24th, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Previous Classes

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense), Day 3 (Defense)

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage), Day 2 (Against tight formations)

FF101: Day 4 – Offensive Linemen


Offensive linemen are the men that do the most and get the least credit.  Not many kids grow up dreaming of some day being a starting left guard, and it’s sad that that’s the case.  Offensive line is the most underrated position in all of football, both in terms of the recognition they get and in terms of enjoyment due to a stellar combination of physical and intellectual responsibilities.  There is the obvious when it comes to offensive linemen: they stand several inches away from another hulk of muscle and run into them like two rams.

(Sorry for the advertisement beforehand, but the narration of this is oddly appropriate for offensive linemen as well).


However, the intellectual part of the game cannot be lost with offensive linemen.  Defensive fronts constantly change, blitzers show and back off from all possible angles, and as an offensive lineman you now have to prevent the defense from doing what it’s trying to do while successfully allowing your team to do what it is attempting to do.  It truly is one of the most overlooked positions in football, but its purpose and necessity for the success of a team cannot be ignored.


When I first started coaching I went to an offensive linemen class put on by the former offensive line coach of the Buffalo Bills during their great super bowl runs of the early 1990s.  Afterward I was able to strike up conversation with the man and he actually walked me through many more intricacies of the offensive line one on one.  I later got to actually coach with him.  I owe much of my knowledge of the offensive line to this man as I had never played it before.  I also owe him my Alan Ameche Story (shameless plug here), which is one of my favorites, that I told randomly a while back.

Anyway, long story short, he was teaching me how to properly get in the 3-point-stance.  The best way to coach is to be able to do it yourself.  So we are going over it again and again and I finally get the stance right after a while and he asks me “Are you comfortable.”  In response, I, being new to coaching and this being a man that knows his stuff, shyly reply “Yes.”  He slaps me across the back of the head and yells “You’re a gosh damn liar!”  I was in shock and a little nervous.  Honestly, I did not know what to say or do.  Finally he continued, “But everyone is, they all say yeah.  But if we were so comfortable standing like that then we would walk around like that and have conversations standing like that.  It’s not comfortable.  It’s extremely uncomfortable!  It’s your ass wanting so badly to get out of that stance that makes it so great!”  And so I give you the 3-point-stance.

3-Point Stance: The 3-point-stance is the most common pre-snap stance of offensive linemen, though it may not be for much longer as more pass heavy teams begin to favor a 2-point-stance.  Regardless, we will first cover the 3-point-stance.  (Important note: This is a very different 3-point-stance than for fullbacks, defensive linemen, etc.)

Legs:  Flexed at the knees, somewhat like doing a squat.

Feet: Feet need to be about shoulder width apart, maybe a little more if he’s a bigger fellow.  It is important to note that he should not stand too duck footed (toes pointed out).  It will feel much more natural to stand with his toes pointed out with his feet spread apart as they are, but it will lead to a lack of balance and power.  His toes should be pointed essentially forward.  Therefore, it is common to tell people just learning the stance to kick out their heels, and that should help.  Other than that, if an offensive lineman is a position other than center, his feet should be slightly staggered with his outside foot being planted somewhere between the instep and heel.  He should not go beyond the heel as this will lead to being off balance.  The weight should be placed firmly on the soles of his feet.  His forward foot should be flat (you don’t get much power playing from your toes) and the heel of his back foot should only be about a quarter of an inch (about 2/3 of a cm for you metric people out there) off the ground.

Feet and footwork are of the utmost importance for offensive linemen, it is important that that is not overlooked when teaching.

Hands: The first hand I’ll talk about is the down hand.  Typically the down hand is the hand away from the ball (this usually leads to better balance for being able to both pass and run block).  To start, it should be dropped essentially straight down from the shoulder just inside your knee.  There should not be much weight on this hand.  The down hand is simply used as a guide.  A common emphasis when coaching is that the offensive lineman should be able to swipe the grass in front of him without falling forward, backwards, or to the side regardless of the direction the hand is swiped.  The offensive lineman should be able to pick it up and set it back down without any shifting of balance.  The weight should be on the soles of his feet.  In the old-days (at least my dad tells me) the knuckles of the offensive linemen used to give away run or pass because of the amount of weight put on the hand.  This tip off should not exist. 

As for the off hand, anywhere from the wrist to elbow should be rested calmly on the inside of the thigh.  Weight should not be applied to this hand as it is necessary to use this hand to quickly attack defensive linemen.

Other: Back should be straight to slightly arched back, head should be up.  Make sure the butt isn’t too high as this will lead to poor balance.  It is also important that offensive linemen do not tip off the play with their eyes, head direction, feet direction, or lean.

(I don't know who that guy is, but he has good form)

2-Point-Stance:  Very common in today’s pass oriented offenses.  What is lost from leverage is made up for by being able to quickly go to a pass blocking stance.  The knees and feet do not change much from the 3-point-stance.  The big difference is the back is more upright and the head a little higher.  Hands or wrists should be rested on inside of thighs.

Blocking Schemes/Types:

As most of us are aware, there are two different types of blocking schemes: Base and zone blocking.  The distinction will be made below, along with some other blocking types.

Zone Blocking:

In a zone blocking scheme the offensive linemen block a space rather than an actual man.  This can have extremely good results, as defensive linemen stunts and what not are somewhat negated.  This can also have negative connotations when you’re Texas, you don’t have a good power run game, and Nick Saban puts his DTs heads up on the guards with the linebackers stacked.  It can also hurt when you’re playing USC in the Rose Bowl without developing a successful counter play to slow the defensive flow to the ball.  Anyway, the two types of blocking in this scheme depend on if the offensive lineman is covered (a defensive man is lined up directly over top of the offensive lineman) or uncovered (no defensive linemen directly in front of him).  When a offensive lineman is covered (or the defensive player is shaded away from the play side) the lineman blocks directly to the second level (LB level).  When the offensive lineman is uncovered (and there is a defensive player in the gap toward the play side) then the offensive lineman reach blocks.

Reach: (Also a base block) When an offensive lineman attempts to reach the outside shoulder of a defensive player, and thus blocks him back inside.

Base Blocking:

In base blocking the offensive line reads the defensive front and communicates appropriate blocking schemes to successfully run the called play.  Important note: If there is a split down the middle of the diagram and two blocking types on this diagram on each side, this means that these two blocking styles do not work on the same play).

Double/Combo: The difference is that a double takes the man that is blocked and drives him into the LB, whereas the combo is initially a double, but then one blocker releases to the LB.  The man that releases is determined by the direction the LB takes.  If the LB runs inside, the inside player (guard in this case) releases to the LB, and vice versa.

Down: When an offensive lineman heads directly to the second level and blocks the linebacker inside.  

Drive:  A drive block is when any blocker takes the defensive player over top of him and drives him the either out of the hole or simply backwards, away from the play (This can be seen in the diagram for Trap/Cover).

Trap/Cover:  A trap play sucks the defensive tackle into the back field by sending the two offensive linemen nearest him toward the LB.  This typically baits the DT into thinking they messed up, when suddenly a trap blocker (typically the opposite side guard) pulls tight to the line of scrimmage (as tight as he can) and kicks the DT out of the hole.  For this to work however, the defensive man over top of the trapping guard must be covered so that he doesn’t also explode into the backfield.  Thus, the center typically covers for the trapping guard.  A cover block typically also happens for any pulling plays.

Step/Cross: These two blocking combinations are very similar.  Both involve the outside blocker to, in essence, cover block for the (in a way) pulling inside blocker.  On the step, the pulling blocker pulls up toward the linebacker, blocking him back inside.  On the cross, it is identical to a trap, however, the player being trapped is now the end with the outside man (typically a TE or Tackle) covering for the puller.

Fold: Rather than trap the DT, sometimes it is preferred for the guard to be a lead blocker for the TB.  This usually happens in single back type plays.  What happens is the C cover blocks for the G, pushing his man as far out of the hole as possible.  The guard then slides right off the centers butt and shoots up toward the second level, essentially becoming a lead blocker (and get your mind out of the gutter, I know it sounds dirty, but come on, this is football!).

Pull and Reach/Lead:  Pull is when the guard “Pulls”, or swoops around the offensive line and blocks someone on the outside.  A pull and reach is when the play side guard pulls around and does a reach block on the end.  A pull and lead is when either guard pulls (in this case the far guard) and blocks the first off colored jersey (defensive player) he sees (typically on the inside).

Pull and Kick:  Much like a trap block, this happens when the guard pulls and kicks out the end, creating a seem right off his butt (ha ha, dirty joke here).


So now you have learned the stance of an offensive lineman and the basic blocks.  In the future, on the next cycle, we will look at what to specifically call some of these combo and double blocks.  We will also look at chop blocking and more what you are looking for in the people that play each offensive line spot.  Hopefully even further in the future we can start to look at specific blocking schemes against particular fronts. 

Up next we will be looking at the receivers, which includes wide outs, slots, and tight ends.  Hope you are enjoying the courses and I’ll see you next time.  

FF101: Day 3

FF101: Day 3

Submitted by Space Coyote on August 18th, 2010 at 5:17 PM


Previous Classes

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense)

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage), Day 2 (Against tight formations)


Football Fundamentals Vol. 3 – Defense

Perhaps even more basic than the previous class, but necessary nonetheless.  I would also like to thank everyone who has given their input.  I may or may not switch the terminology I use, but if you make an appropriate case I will definitely consider it.  Thanks for all the input.  And again, I will try to answer questions either by editing the class (diary), in which case I will inform you with a reply, by the reply itself, or in future classes.


Today in class I will discuss some of the basic ideas for defense.  We will look at the mindset of defensive players, briefly at some of the positions, some very basic base formations against basic balanced alignments, several basic coverages, and finally some basic blitzes.  Basically, this is going to be very basic.  The bass in the songs of Ace of Bass is very basic.  Base bitches, bass (sic).


Remember when I said the killing comes later.  It’s later.  But this isn’t just like road rage GTA-style killing.  This is calculated, intelligent, Dexter type killing.  Defense is brutality, force, voracity, pressure, hitting, destroying.  You don’t slowly drug the other team into a comatose-type sedation as you do on offense, you violently strangle them, you bluntly beat them with a hammer the size of 6’2” 256 pound boulders, the whole while starring them in the eye.  Defense instills fear, but ok, you all get that.  That’s what typically defines defense, but it’s only part of the truth.

The other part is purely reactionary and calculated intelligence.  You play odds makers and hope, - no, not hope - know you’re going to come out on top.  You blitz the A-Gaps, you press the corners, you switch to a 3-3-5 against Purdue (ok, bad example).  Defense is, by necessity, reactionary.  You can only dictate so much.  No defense plays not to lose, or to bend but not break, that is a myth.  Every defense plays to shut down the offense, some better than others though.  The goal is to mitigate the offense as much as possible, the shut them down to the best of your abilities, and sometimes that just results in “bend, don’t break.”  The goal is to impose your will without going beyond your abilities.  Make it is instinctual as possible, allow quick reaction, and force the offense out of their game plan.


Positions are grouped into three.  In the future I will delve further into each group to further explain responsibilities.

Defensive Line: Defensive End (DE, E);  Defensive Tackle (DT)

Defensive Tackle: Defensive Tackle (DT); Nose Tackle (NT); Defensive Guard (DG); Nose Guard (NG)

Line Backer: Outside Linebacker (OLB); Middle Linebacker (MLB, Mike, M)

                Outside Linebacker (OLB): Strongside OLB (SLB, Sam, S); Weakside OLB (WLB,                 Will, W, (sometimes referred to as Jack or J in 4 LB set);

Defensive Backs: Cornerback (CB, C); Safety

                Cornerback: Corner (C); Nickel Back (NB, N);

                Safety:Free Safety (FS, F); Strong Safety (SS, $); Spur ($), Bandit (B)


Note: In Day 1 I was asked the difference between NT, DT, NG, and DG.  I was going to discuss it during the defensive line unit class, but I’ll start here.  Basically, defensive tackle is any interior lineman.  However, in the past, when many teams ran 5-3 defenses and the such, there was more to the distinction.  Defensive tackle was typically that interior lineman that lined up over the tackles, defensive guards over the guards, and Nose over the nose of the ball.  As defenses began putting fewer people on the line of scrimmage, convention lead to DT being the most common.  Today, usually a team still has a Nose (NT) and a DT.  The DT will typically line up around the 3-tech, maybe a 5-tech, while the nose will be in a zero or 1-tech.  I can get into it more in future classes.

Basic Base Alignments

I will get into more nickel, dime, over, under, etc. alignments in the future, along with 46 defense and the such.  Today I will just cover base defenses (the most commonly run basic (meaning: No blitzes) defensive alignment for a given team against a base offense).  At some point I hope to show the most typical alignment for each defensive alignment against particular offensive formations, but that's for a whole different course.

3-3-5 Defense – Refers to a defense with 3 down lineman, 3 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs.  Can also be interpreted as a 3-5-3.

4-2-5 Defense – Refers to a defense with 4 down lineman, 2 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs.

3-4 Defense – Refers to a defense with 3 down lineman, 4 linebackers, and 4 defensive backs. This is where the Jack terminology could come into play.  Rather than having two MLB, the weakside MLB would now be Will, and Will would be Jack (this is the same for the 4-4 defense, for now I'll refer to them as shown below though)

4-3 Defense – Refers to a defense with 4 down lineman, 3 linebackers, and 4 defensive backs. 

4-4 Defense – Refers to a defense with 4 down lineman, 4 linebackers, and 3 defensive backs. 

Basic Coverages

Most of you will recognize these simply from video games, but these are the most basic of coverages.  Essentially, in these basics coverages, what the “Cover” stands for is the number of players going into a deep zone.

Cover 0 – Everyone is lined up in man.  This means that there will most likely be some sort of “bracket coeverage” on either the outside or inside receivers.  This is where two players cover one guy, usually with one guy high (or in front of the offensive player) and one guy low (toward the quarterback).

Cover 1 – The free safety plays center field.

Cover 2-Man Under – The safeties cover what is called “halves”.  The corners cover “flats” which is the areas essentially near the line of scrimmage, away outside of the offensive line.  This is of the man under variety, though zone can be just as, if not more, common.

Cover 2 - Zone - The safeties still drop into deep halves, however, now the corners and linebackers are playing in a zone as well, covering the flats, the curl (the zone type covered by the two OLBs) and the "hole" (which is, in a way, the hole that naturally appears between the two safeties and is covered by the MLB).  You will see curl and zone coverages more in the future.

Cover 3 – The deep zones are now called “thirds.” The FS is again in center field, and the corners take the two outside thirds.  The strong safety sneaks up into one short zone/flat, and the opposite outside linebacker takes the opposite side.

Cover 4 – The safeties and corners are in deep zones called “quarters.”  In fact, sometimes this coverage is simply called quarters. 

In future classes (probably beyond FF101) we will look at the advantages/disadvantages of particular coverages.  For now, I leave you with learning defensive coverages (via Smart Football, via Ron Jenkins)


Basic Blitzes

There are a ton of blitzes in a complete blitz package.  Today we will only look at some basic ones and give a nice naming convention as well.  Terminology may again be different than others, but I feel this terminology will help readers easily remember types of blitzes.

Note: I’m only diagramming the blitzers and appropriate down linemen.  This is because the other players can be running a varying coverages as seen above.

If just the linebackers name is called, he blitzes the open gap directly in front of him.

Next, a couple terms:

Strong – The blitzer(s) go to the first open gap (where no defensive linemen is positioned prior to snap) toward the strong side (usually toward tight end, always toward Sam)

Weak – The blitzer(s) go to the first open gap toward the weak side (usually away from tight end, always toward Will)

We'll start off with single player blitzes:

Sam Strong

Mike Weak

There would also be a Will blitz, and a SS blitz (which I call a money blitz because the SS is sometimes diagrammed as $.  For ease, we'll just stick with SS blitz.  I've also heard it called sting/stung).  

Note: There are also calls for linebacker blitzes in gaps filled by a lineman (the lineman stunt out of the gap).  Those will be discussed later.  Now, some terms for two man blitzes:

Pinch – The two blitzers go to the first open gap toward other blitzer.

Open – The two blitzers go to the first open gap away from the other blitzer.

SAW (Sam and Will) Pinch

MASh (Mike and Sam) Strong

WAM (Will and Mike) Weak

MASS (Mike and SS) Open

And now Nick Saban’s favorite zone blitz:

Zone Fire

Note: Some people don't like the MASh/MASS combo because they sound so much alike, but usually the defense is communicated via hand signals from the sideline.  I prefer to have all my defensive players look toward the sideline to read the play rather than huddle, but if a defensive huddle is necessary, it is vital the captain of the defense can clearly distinguish these two to his team.

Two other 2-man-blitz types (these made more sense at one time, and WARNING: I haven’t heard them used before from many others so they aren’t really universal, but to be fair, they aren’t really that common of blitzes):

American – Sam and SS.  This is because the SS is often seen as $ in diagrams.  American money is “strong money”

Canadian – Will and SS.  Opposite of above.

When I discuss the defensive linemen group I will talk more about their technique during these blitzes. 


So that’s so very basic defensive stuff.  Take all that, don’t just memorize it, learn it, and then think about having that have to be second nature while you react to moving parts on offense and 300 pound people trying to not let you do what you’re diagramed to do.  Yeah, playing defense is far from easy.  Now imagine playing offensive line with all these blitzes coming at you.  Imagine playing QB and having to diagnose all these blitzes and coverages.  This is what makes the game so much more difficult than it appeared in FF101 – Day 2.  There is a lot to learn for some of you, and we still have a long ways to go.  I hope your still enjoying yourself.

 Next up we will be looking at some offensive position groups.  I will probably start spreading these out a little more now as things get more complex and we discuss things closer to what would be called “intricacies.”  Again, if any coaches out there want to help answer questions, feel free.  If anyone has any questions for me or another coach, please ask.  Either they will be answered as a reply, edited into the class (diary) – in which case I will let you know – or will be discussed in future classes.

Also, I did my diagrams with a gray background instead of white, let me know if you like that better, worse, or about the same (bet you didn’t know you were getting your eyes checked during class, it’s like the second grade all over again).

FF101: Day 2

FF101: Day 2

Submitted by Space Coyote on August 17th, 2010 at 2:33 AM

Previous Classes

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1, Day 2


FF 101: Day 2 – Offense

Major Edit: I modified some of the formation names for more simplicity and universality. Let me know if any more questions arise.

Author’s Note: If you played football, whether in real life or video games, you may already know a lot of this.  Hopefully this won’t turn you off from the course too quickly.


This day in class we will look at the mindset and philosophy it takes to be successful on offense.  After that I will discuss deeper in depth the positions, the breakdown of their positional units, and some further terminology to help you get acclimated with formations and play calling.  We will end with a few simple examples.


“We have an offensive concept, an overall season plan, and strong beliefs about techniques and strategy.  But we also copy what others have done successfully and adjust our plan from week to week.” – Joe Paterno. 

Offense is very different than defense – obviously.  On defense you rely on eliminating space with the help of the boundaries, you react, you pay for errors and try to hide weaknesses, and you stymie the unexpected (by the way, all generalizations are false, including this one, but you get the idea).  On offense you attack, you strike, you surprise, you thrive in space and exploit errors and deficiencies.  There are things that the two have in common though such as speed, adaptability, opportunity, utilizing strengths, having balance, and execution.  Execution: probably the most important aspect of football.  This is the mindset of offensive football, an approach in which you play to win, win, win, humiliate through finesse and raw toughness and everything in between.   Offense is a different species, and there are many different breeds of said specie.  The goal is always the same though, to degrade and exasperate the opponent and to score touchdowns.  The killing comes later.


Obviously philosophies defer greatly.  Philosophies depend on offensive talent and personnel as well as defensive talent and personnel.   Some things remain fairly constant across philosophies though.  Finish every play, every route, every run, every block.  When you’re a receiver don’t take plays off, stretch the ball horizontally and vertically.  As a running back, help out your quarterback by blocking and running well and help out your lineman by being patient and explosive.  As a lineman, get to your spots and block through defenders.  No matter the case, execute the game plan and the offense should succeed.


Positions can be broken up into three groups, with small subgroups included.


Offensive Line:Offensive Tackle (T), Offensive Guard (G), Center (C)

Backfield:Quarterback (QB), Running Back (RB). 

                Running Back: Tailback (TB), Fullback (FB), Halfback (HB), Wing (W/WB)

Receivers: Wide Receiver (WR), Tight End (TE)

                Wide Receiver: Wide Receiver (WR), Split End (SE), Slot (SR), Wing (W), Flanker (Fl)

                Tight End: Tight End (TE), H-Back (HB/H)


So most of you knew most of this and all I probably did was confuse you more.  Anyway, to clarify, a split end is a lot like tight end playing wide receiver, and a h-back is a lot like tight end that isn’t on the line of scrimmage (LOS), a wing, or wing back, is either the third RB in the back field, the third receiver in a single back, single TE formation, or the forth receiver in a single back, four receiver set.  Flanker is like a wide receiver, typically off the line.  I will get more into their specific functions, attitudes, and goals when I break down their individual units.  

For now, I will introduce some terminology that is common in football play calling and position play calling.


1: Quarterback

2: Wingback (at times considered Z receiver (see below))

3: The Fullback

4: The Tailback


This comes into account when calling plays, such as a 34 Trap (‘3’ means the fullback running to the ‘4’ hole.  The weakside guard does a trap block) or 47 Sweep (‘4’ stands for Tailback running a sweep to the ‘7’ hole) for example.



X: The WR that is on the LOS.  This usually means this is the split out that is away from strength (typically denoted as the side with the TE).

Y: This is typically your TE, or the last man on the LOS toward the strength side.

Z: Typically your flanker, or the receiver that is off of the LOS.  This can be toward strength or away, near the offensive linemen or far from them.

W: This receiver usually subs in for one of the RBs on 4 receiver sets.  Also considered different nomenclature for the Z-receiver on occasion.


Eligible Receivers

I was asked a question about eligible receivers which I will attempt to explain here and supplement a little below.  On every play there are 5 eligible receivers (6 if you count the QB for plays such as throw backs).  At least seven players must be on the line of scrimmage.  More can be on the line of scrimmage but it decreases your number of eligible receivers.

The eligible receivers consist of anyone lined up off the LOS and the two players furthest outside that are lined up on the LOS.  Technically then, if 6 guys were lined up on the LOS to the right of the center, and none were on the LOS to his left, the center would actually be an eligible receiver because he is the last person to the outside on the LOS.

Most problems occur from: a) the tackle lining up in the backfield, making it so only 6 players are on the LOS; or b) if an extra person is on the LOS, either the extra person (who is lined up inside the outer most person on the LOS) to become ineligible or causing someone who is supposed to be eligible to be ineligible because the 8th person on the LOS is outside the person who is supposed to be the last one on the line of scrimmage.

Basic Formations:

The formations below are very basic in nature.  On Friday through Sunday you will see some formations more complex than these.  This is simply to get you acclimated with my personal terminology. (Note: any player with a letter is an eligible receiver)

*Strong - When the FB is offset toward the TE.  Sometimes known as King.

*Weak - When FB is away from TE side.  Also referred to as Queen.

Some teams prefer to call strength (i.e. left or right) based on the location of the Y receiver, typically the TE.  However, I find this can cause confusion.  In my play calling I tend to call the strength the side with the greater number of eligible receivers.  Therefore “Twins I Left” means the twin set (where more people are) is to the left.  Important to note is that this is not always the same as defensive strength calls.

(Another way of playing by some teams is just have a single call, such as “I-Formation” and then say “Flip” when going from “Right I” (their version of “I Formation”) to “Left I”.  I still prefer my own method as I find it to be clearer in nature.)

There are also some more receiver-heavy formations.

There are some similarities in shotgun play calling, though some nomenclature is a little different.  A few examples are given below.


Flex = Receiver positioning

Gun = Shotgun

Right = Position of running back


Basic Plays:

Very few plays are diagramed below.  The goal is simply to get you acclimated on how plays are called, and what the meaning behind the play call is.  In this set I won’t show detailed blocking for certain defensive alignments for simplicity.

Note: I Right 34 Trap should read "I Right 32 Trap" as the fullback goes through the 2 hole

For simplicity of the play calls, some pass plays simply go by names.  For now I will just go over these type plays, in the future we will look at more complex plays/routes.


This is all an art form, from the necessary dialog of calling a play, to the picture that is painted prior to the implementation of the actual actors playing out their roles on stage.  Offensive football is a treat to watch because of small intricacy adds up into something so grand as to make it so 11 people cannot even bring down a single person.  It can stand for so many things, the strength and intelligence of humanity, as a metaphor for the power of cohesion, or it can just be seen as football.  People love points, and I can’t blame them, but it isn’t where the beauty of the sport begins, but rather where it starts.  In our next class we will begin our look at defensive football.  Have a good day.

Note: In the near future I will try to figure out some way to have an add-on that will include a whole bunch of formations rather than just these basics.  Whether I put it on a download site to as a .pdf or power point document, or if I should embed all the formations (which is a ton, and that’s just scratching the surface) on a simple blog post, I don’t know yet.  I would like to hear suggestions or preferences if there is any demand for such a thing (and maybe how I would go about doing it).  Either way, for a basics package to be complete so that communication can become more fluent on the board, I think a package such as this is necessary.

FF101: Syllabus & Day 1

FF101: Syllabus & Day 1

Submitted by Space Coyote on August 15th, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Football Fundamentals 101 Syllabus:

Opening Statement:

I’m MGoBlog member and professor of football larsonlo, and today I plan on starting a major (a series of diaries) based on football fundamentals.  If you wish, for this upcoming semester (which is an as of yet indeterminate length), you will be taking a crash course in football fundamentals.  I will be your professor for probably all of these classes, though, if you wish, you may ask several of my MGoBlog University colleagues if any questions arise.  We will start with the basics, FF 101 – The Fundamentals.  Whether this is an elective for you, a minor, your major of choice, or part of a dual major is up to you.  As of now, a master’s program has not been commissioned, though maybe someday one will be provided. 

As for my credentials: I’ve coached football, read a lot of football books, websites, etc. and have been to several football related conferences.  I’ve also participated in scouting and breaking down film.  You also may remember me from my previous paper (diary post) entitled ‘3-3-5 Fundamentals’.  This is now part of the FF201 – 3-3-5 Defense Series.

Before we continue, I would like to step back and focus on broader fundamentals of the game.  The goal in the end is to be able to discuss aspects of particular games that come up on a week by week basis, and hopefully break down some of the film so that you, the reader, can understand: 1) Where the problem occurred; 2) Why the problem occurred; and 3) How and why to fix the problem in the future.  In the end, I hope that all those that participate will earn their Bachelor of Science in Football Fundamentals.

Important note: This is in no way affiliated with the University of Michigan or any of its satellite Universities.  This is not an accredited institution.  Any degree you earn from this will not go to furthering your career, and will only provide you advanced knowledge with which to debate lesser educated football fans.  It may or may not improve your EA Sports NCAA Football abilities.  It may or may not actually make you a good coach.  It may or may not allow you to dominate your next touch football game at your next tailgate.

Important note 2: No quizzes or exams will be given.  No projects or homework will be assigned, though I may provide further reading.  If you want you can skip class.  I really don’t care what you do with this information.  Basically I’m like that one professor that your friend had that didn’t care at all about grades but you somehow managed to miss during your undergraduate education.  You’re welcome.


Day 1 – Terminology, Diagrams, Etc.

Day 2 – Offense

Day 3 – Defense

Day 4 – Offensive Line

Day 5 – Offensive Backfield

Day 6 – Receivers

Day 7 – Defensive Line

Day 8 – Linebackers

Day 9 – Defensive Backs

Day 10 – Special Teams


The Importance of This Class:

The reason I feel this can be an important inclusion into the MGoBlog community is because I, like most of you, have gained most of the moderate success I have through originally not understanding topics, ideas, etc. and striving to further my knowledge because, let’s face it, I hate not being smarter (i.e. better) than the people around me.  Football fans, as a mass, are uneducated.  They don’t know ass from elbows when it comes to many things, but most think they know their intergluteal cleft from their olecranon processes.  I would like to change that, at least as far as Michigan fans that visit MGoBlog is concerned.  This series will begin by discussing the very basic fundamentals, then the basics of offense, and then the fundamentals of defense, and possibly some fundamentals of special teams.  I hope to further that with a fundamental breakdown of the position groups.  This original class won’t necessarily relate directly to Michigan football, so may not interest all of you.  However, this is just FF 101, if you think you’ve taken the AP version of this already then maybe you can just sign up for when I teach the next step up. 

As I continue, I hope to delve further into the football coaching aspects, until it is not so much fundamentals as it is the small aspects of the game.  This series will be very cyclical in nature, at least I hope, in that we will start looking at the fundamentals as a whole, then break it down into units, and then positions, and this will then relate back to the team as a whole. 

I can’t promise this series will happen once a day, twice a week, or biweekly.  This series will come based on the amount of free time I manage to obtain.  Like I said though, the goal is to be able to eventually break down some film for the MGoCommunity, so hopefully by the start of the football season I will have established enough of a base from which to build on.  Furthermore, I would like to call on the other resident coaches out in the community for some of their input and assistance.  One thing I’ve learned through coaching is that I feel like I know a lot, but in actuality, know very little.  There are many others on this site that I feel can help, and their assistance, at least as far as answering questions posed in the comments, is greatly appreciated.

Semi-Important Note: I am far inferior in these design-y things as Brian, Six Zero, and many others around here.  My formatting may suck, and if I’m feeling rushed, my word usage may become very bland.  Frankly though I feel like my mastery of the English language is very… um… well… not bad?  Anyway, I’ll try not to make an ass out of myself, because most of you wouldn’t know it from my olecranon processes anyway… (hahaha, see what I did there, it wasn’t even funny and I still laughed because I’m the professor of the class and I can)

Another Note: I’m not one of the cool professors that just hands out the syllabus the first day.  We are actually going to start stuff here.

So without further adieu (Boy, those French, it’s like they have a different word for everything! (Another note(!!!): if it’s funny it’s most likely: a) not supposed to be; b) from Steve Martin; or c) from The Simpsons) )…


FF 101: Day 1 – Terminology, Diagrams, Etc.

Football is awesome. 


That deserved its own paragraph it’s so true.  However, with how true it is, it is partially so awesome that many don’t understand some of the concepts that would really help them understand the game.  Beyond understanding the basics, there is understanding the small intricacies.  For some, understanding these minute details doesn’t make the game any more enjoyable.  For me, the more you know (yes, like one of those NBC commercials) makes the game even exciting.  It also makes it much more demanding, and at times makes it that much more frustrating.

The object of football is simple.  Take an abnormally shaped ball and find a way to get it into a zone at the end of the field you are trying to score and stop the other team from doing the same – at least that’s how I explain it to my mom.  Some are more than happy to leave it at that complexity level, for some of the less competent and more towards the inebriated state in the student section, they may like that dumbed down a tad.  Well this isn’t for them.

Football, at its broadest level, is amazing because of the strength, speed, flexibility, and quickness of the athletes.  It is enticing because of the chess match that goes on between coaches and the instantaneous chess matches that take place on the field.  Reacting quickly and playing smart are just as fundamental as hitting harder and running faster.  And neither succeeds without the other.  And neither succeeds outside of the mental aspect that comes along with it.

Most of us love football partly because of those reasons.  Many of us love football even more for reasons that can’t be quantified by ideas, words, or theories.  Still, it is always nice to better understand something we love so much, unfortunately, that isn’t always easy.  To help others understand requires communication.  My goal is to communicate to the MGoMasses these ideas.  To do that we need to set a foundation, which is what I plan on doing with this insertion into the series.  Many will have heard or seen some of the things I talk about or diagram very differently.  It is important to note that the terminology I use may be completely different than the terminology Rich Rod uses, which may be completely different than what Lloyd Carr used, which is probably very different from what Mack Brown uses.  Terminology is a funny thing in that you get so used to calling something one thing, then someone up and switches it on you.  That’s part of the fun (or annoyance) of the game I guess.

So today I will set a foundation which will be built on later.  This can be referred back to if any confusion arises about with what I am talking about.  Most of this is going to be very simple and obvious.  Hopefully it will get more interesting as more diaries are added, but because MGoBlog attracts so many different people it is necessary to catch everyone up first, and establish a single base from which to build from.



Quarterback – QB

Tailback – TB

Fullback – FB

Halfback – HB / H

Tight End – TE

Wide Receiver – WR

Flanker – FL

Slot Receiver – SR

Split End – SE

Wing – W

Offensive Tackle – T or OT

Offensive Guard – G or OG

Center – C


Defensive Tackle – DT

Nose Tackle – NT

Defensive Guard – DG or NG(won’t use much but just to throw it out there)

Linebacker - LB

Outside Linebacker – OLB

Strongside Outside Linebacker – S or Sam

Weakside Outside Linebacker – W or Will

Middle Linebacker – M or Mike or MLB

Strong Safety – SS

Free Safety – FS or F

Spur – $ (Closer to Will than SS)

Bandit – B (Closer to SS than LB)

Cornerback – CB

Defensive Back – DB

Special Teams:

Kicker – K

Punter – P

Long Snapper – LS

Punt Returner – PR

Kick Returner – KR

Holder – H

Other Abbreviations:

Line of Scrimmage – LOS

Play Action – PA

Holes/ Gaps:


On offense the holes are numbered from 1 to 8 (though I’ve seen zero to 9).  The odd numbers are to the left, even to the right.  Start with 1 to the left of the center, 3 to the left of the guard, 5 to the left of the tackle (off tackle), 7 to the anywhere left of the tight end.  On the other side, 2 to the right of the center, 4 to the right of the guard, 6 to the right of the tackle (off tackle), and 8 anywhere to the right of the tight end’s location.


This is the numbering system I’ll be using, where the dark circle with the X is the center:

(EDIT)Basically, the defensive numbering system counts the offensive linemen's shoulders and helmets, starting at the Center's shoulder.  So Center's shoulder is zero, Guard's inside shoulder 1, Guard's helmet is 2, Guard's outside shoulder is 3 and so on.  From what I've learned, the reason for 4i(nside) and 4 is to keep the even numbers the helmets.  After 5 for the Tackle's outside shoulder, it resumes with what would have been the normal numbering system if instead of 4i, 4, 5 it was 4, 5, 6.  This means the tight end's inside shoulder is 7, his helmet 8, and outside of that is 9.  Note, that for linebackers, the numbering system adds a zero to the end.  For example, if a LB is lined up off the line, but stacked above a 4-tech DE, he would be playing a 40 technique.


To quote Wikipedia (because I’m already being lazy):

“American football is played on a field 360 by 160 feet (120.0 by 53.3 yards; 109.7 by 48.8 meters).[14] The longer boundary lines are sidelines, while the shorter boundary lines are end lines. Sidelines and end lines are out of bounds. Near each end of the field is a goal line; they are 100 yards (91.4 m) apart. A scoring area called an end zone extends 10 yards (9.1 m) beyond each goal line to each end line. The end zone includes the goal line but not the end line.[14] While the playing field is effectively flat, it is common for a field to be built with a slight crown—with the middle of the field higher than the sides—to allow water to drain from the field.

Yard lines cross the field every 5 yards (4.6 m), and are numbered every 10 yards from each goal line to the 50-yard line, or midfield (similar to a typical rugby league field). Two rows of short lines, known as inbounds lines or hash marks, run at 1-yard (91.4 cm) intervals perpendicular to the sidelines near the middle of the field. All plays start with the ball on or between the hash marks. Because of the arrangement of the lines, the field is occasionally referred to as a gridiron.

At the back of each end zone are two goalposts (also called uprights) connected by a crossbar 10 feet (3.05 m) from the ground. For high skill levels, the posts are 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) apart. For lower skill levels, these are widened to 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 m).”

Also to note, you defend your own endzone.  So when we are on the opponent’s side of the field, we are on the side of the 50 yard line towards the end we are trying to score.





So this is it, I’m going for it.  These are some of the terms I will be using and the way my diagrams should read.  My next installment will go over some basic philosophies, positions, some very basic formations, a bit more terminology that will be used to denote plays, and maybe a few surprises.  From there I plan on covering the defense, then breaking down the offensive units and defensive units, and then maybe some special teams because we love them too.  Hopefully by the time the season comes a basic understanding will be made and we can then start to dissect some film. 

I'm pretty busy tonight and was originally intending to post these each individually, but I've fallen behind a bit due to my schedule.  Tomorrow or the next day I plan on posting FF101 Day 2 and 3 which should cover the basics of the offense and defense.  From there I hope to start breaking down some position groups and hopefully post another FF 201 (about the 3-3-5) within the next week or so.  

In all honesty though, I think there are many other important if not essential diaries, and I really don't feel like cluttering it up with all my stuff.  So when I see a few new diary postings I will probably shy away from posting one of these.  I hope these are useful, let me know if you have any suggestions as far as formatting or things you would like me to talk about or if I have errors or something.  Again, I encourage other coaches to help out if they can because: 1) It helps me out; 2) It teaches me things (every coach knows different things); 3) It helps make our fan base and the mgoblog community that much smarter when it comes to football.  I don't know everything about football, I just act like I do because that makes me more convincing.  Still, my word isn't the end all be all.  Thanks in advance for all the help and suggestions from everyone.