Paging coaches: looking for a youth FB defense

Submitted by Topher on July 7th, 2010 at 11:11 AM

Hey guys, I appreciate the help...I'm coaching 8-11 year olds this upcoming season and while I have an offense picked out and studied, I'm still looking for a defensive scheme.

For whatever reason it's really hard to get good defensive information on the Internet, not that I totally trust some dude with a low-rent webpage which seems to be all I can dig up. My criteria are as follows:

SIMPLE to learn, to teach and to debug in the game. Preferably one assignment or focus item per player, with perhaps a simple wrinkle like a couple of blitzes or a line shift. I don't want us to bumfoozle ourselves.

NOT DEPENDENT ON A KEY TALENT like a big nose tackle, elephant, safety/LB hybrid or anything like that.

LOW-RISK: I'm less concerned with "shutting down" the opponent than I am with controlling the game and establishing a physical style of play. Big plays are really mentally devastating at this level so I'd like to play a safe scheme.

BROAD APPLICATION: Every now and then there's a team at this age group and region that tries to pass a lot, and if they have a kid who can catch they can be good, but most teams run two backs and at least one tight end and try to run to the outside.

I am one who believes that the best way to play defense is to really muscle the offensive players, especially on the line. The kids I'll be coaching won't have enough experience or athletic skill to do a lot of finesse or shifting so simplicity is key to keep them focused on their job.



July 7th, 2010 at 11:19 AM ^

I'm no defensive expert, but with 8-11 year olds, I'm guessing every offense you play with rely heavily on the run.  May I suggest the rarely used 11-0-0 defensive scheme, or if you want to play it safe, the 10-2-0.

But seriously, if you're just looking for something simple and want to teach the children how to play a legit defense, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't stick with a traditional 4-3.  Pretty simple, and can throw in the occasional blitz if you want.

Young Hero

July 7th, 2010 at 11:20 AM ^

I would love to help you out, but I am not understanding exactly what your players are being charged with.  I have successfully defended many juvenile cases (both individual and group) and am usually able to significantly reduce or even eliminate the sentencing.  Feel free to drop me an email if you are interested but remember, 2 way communication is essential for the success of this defense.

Double Nickel BG

July 7th, 2010 at 11:39 AM ^

for kids that young, run a 6-2. Every DL plays on/outside shoulder and only have to worry about the guy they are over. LBs shouldnt have any OL to deal with and can stuff the inside and if the run goes outside, LBers flow to the ball, where the CBs keep everything inside them, funneling to LBs or safety.  All your coverages will be cover 3.

On passing downs at that age you can substitute a DL for a safety, making it a 5-2 and play cover 2 instead of 3.


Edit: As Steve pointed out below, the 4-6 bear would work but requires the players to know where to lineup on every play, hence why I omitted it. If you think your kids can handle it, that would work too.

MI Expat NY

July 7th, 2010 at 11:35 AM ^

I would think teaching strong fundamentals will do more for you than scheme.  Teaching your DL to have a low base and teaching your LBs and DBs to tackle properly will make a much bigger differance than what scheme you run. 

That being said, you pretty much have two basic options: a 5-2 or a 4-3, each supported by a basic cover 2 (I guess you could also go 5-3 with a Cover 3).  Either way, you put your ends either outside the tackle or man-up with the TE to hold the edge and give your line backers keys on which RB to flow to.    4-3 gives you more flexibility in terms of blitzing, but if your linemen have proper technique, a 5-2 might lead to a stouter D at the point of attack.

EDIT:  Re-thinking, i like the 6-2 or 5-3 better.  With little to no pass threat, stack your guys near the line and let your best tacklers run to the ball.

Mitch Cumstein

July 7th, 2010 at 11:33 AM ^

I'm not convinced this is the best way to go about things at this age, especially on the outside. I highly doubt you have QBs in your league that can throw a 20-30 yard lateral rope for a WR screens. And being too aggressive on the outside can allow them to be blocked for some big yardage runs. Just my 2c.

steve sharik

July 7th, 2010 at 11:37 AM ^

  • The Washington G defense (now played by Va. Tech) but with Cover 3 instead of their robber coverage.
  • Bear (aka 46) defense with Cover 3

If you have more big guys, I'd go with Bear; more LBs and DBs, G.

4-3 might be a simple front, but the coverages associated with it are much more complex than cover 3.  To play cover 3 out of the 4-3 you would have to spin safeties down into the box, and this is beyond 8-11 year-old players.

More important than scheme is teaching fundamentals at this age.  This is one of the two most important aspects of youth football, along with making the game fun.  Teach your players to read keys first, ball second.  Teach your players how to properly block, defeat blocks, and tackle.  Teach great technique with whatever scheme you choose and I'd bet you win most of your games.  I would also incorporate plyometric training (developing explosiveness).

If you'd like to know more about G or Bear, don't hesitate to ask.


July 7th, 2010 at 1:41 PM ^

Traditionally it uses the same personnel as the 4-3, so you could easily have a normal (run) down defense and a Passing down defense with everyone still playing the same position (just with different responsibilities)

You could teach line gaps, have CBs and Safetys doing Cover 2, man, whatever

Your best athletes should be your SS and MLB 


July 7th, 2010 at 11:38 AM ^

Coming from my meager few years experience coaching youth- junior high football. Make sure you're smartest most athletic kids are the DE's. The DE's will make or break your defense at this age. With three down lineman between and scatter the linebackers as you see fit. Give each LB a color so they know when they are to blitz and have one fast guy back as your safety valve. Boom defended. Always worked for us and good luck with the upcoming season.


July 7th, 2010 at 11:48 AM ^

I coach the 5th grade group and I find the 5-3 to work best or 5-2 if a team actually tries to run a spread. Very easy to run, blitzes are easy. I had all of about 5 defenses for each. If against a team I knew wouldn't throw at all I would send 6 if not 7 every time. I always have the ends pop the tightend and get outside. I always had the DT's tear to the far hash. The safety was usually the one who never let anything behind him. The linebackers blitzed or held inside contain. What kind of offense are you going with?


July 8th, 2010 at 11:11 AM ^

Depends on the age: Tiny Mite and Mitey Mite (up through 9 years old) we did a basic 5-3. For Junior Pee Wee and Pee Wee (where passing is a little more likely), we do a lot of 5-2 and 4-3 with a similar mind set to Hossflex above.

Either way, you need a fast smart guy at safety, and a strong smart guy at MLB. (If you have a few older lighter kids, they can be good corners or safeties.) Your ends need to be disciplined on contain.


July 7th, 2010 at 11:39 AM ^

If it is 11v11, do a 4-4. This was the defense I played in youth football, and it was very successful.  The two interior linebackers can focus exclusively on the inner run, one taking the left side, the other the right side. The outer linebackers can stop big plays run around the corners [the usual "big play" in youth football]. Finally the safety is usually the smallest kid who otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to play, remember, this is youth, not the NFL, and everyone should get a chance to play. In this defense no kid has to do it all, just one assignment which is a major stipulation in youth football.


July 7th, 2010 at 11:42 AM ^

I would suggest a 4-4 with your  outside linebackers @ 3 yards outside the last man on the line. This stacks the box enough to give a stout inside defensem while keeping and outside backers (OB) available to blow up any sweep and turn it inside. Make sure to teach the OBs to take on run blocks with their inside shoulder, this way they can string out sweeps should they lose containment. Pass drops are simple in zone, in man the coners have to be put in a position to suceed. Know your talent and this defense will be able to dominate on that level. Even if you weren't going for that.


July 7th, 2010 at 11:46 AM ^

and then select after meeting all your players. You can begin with a simple quiz. "Do you know the difference between a Defensive Tackle, A Defensive End, and a Linebacker?" "Do you know what a screen is?" "Do you know how to watch for a reverse?"

If they can answer these pretty well, you can go with a slightly more complex scheme. If not, then go with something really basic and work on technique more. 


July 7th, 2010 at 12:13 PM ^

Its very simple and the main reason it is efficient is because its extremely easy to adapt to formations they might not be familiar with. Line up with 3 down lineman ( 2 DEs and a NT) NT is very effective because it is very tough for a kid to snap the ball with a defender lining up directly over them. Place the DEs in 5 techniques (outside shade of the tackles). The 3 linebackers line up with the Mike stacked over the NT and the 2 Olbs in between the NT and DEs at the same depth as the MLB. then put 2 LBs or DE standing up outside the DEs half way between the LB depth and Dline. They're only job is outside contain and force everything back into the LBs. Then you have 2 corners and only 1 safety who's job is to not let anyone behind him. 8-11 is young enough that qbs will not be looking off a single safety


July 7th, 2010 at 12:39 PM ^

I think in youth football you don't want to be super ultra competitive at the cost of getting somebody hurt.  In a 3-3-5 with a guy lined up on the center, you will make the center nervous.  You will also run the risk of getting that center hurt when he doesn't instantly pick up his head and your NT barrels through him.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for having a winner and competing hard, but in youth football I think the job is to teach fundamentals on stances, proper tackling, and plays.


July 8th, 2010 at 11:25 AM ^

Good point. Nose tackle or not is age dependant, and not allowed when long snapping or shotgun in the local Pop Warner teams here. Same with blitzing (starts at Junior Pee Wee. So both of those rule sets may drive your defense choices (5 vs 4 or even 3 on the line) etc.

My son's favorite season is when he played Center and Nose Tackle in Mitey Mite.


July 7th, 2010 at 12:33 PM ^

Great defense against the run with simple assignments for DEs, DTs and the NT. And you have one of each major secondary position (CB, CB, FS, SS) that they can learn.

The LB positions have important responsibilities in the 5-2, but in the end it's all about fun and learning.

That said, I do find the 4-4 the toughest defense to play (run) against.


July 7th, 2010 at 12:44 PM ^

With a 4-4 you can start teaching gap assignments and shading to your DLs.  The same applies to your LBs, have your 2 OLBs covering the outside while your two ILBs focus on run stuffing.  Play a man/C-1 behind them.

If you play in a league with an insane spread team... just change the scheme over to a standard Nickel package, same personell, just shift your OLBs out and move your ILBs over the guards.

Space Coyote

July 7th, 2010 at 1:48 PM ^

Or, essentially a 6-2 with the OLB about 3 yards off the last guy on the line like someone above me said.

One problem that many youth coaches have is that they don't have much size, the 4-4 can be used without much size.  Get your smallest, scrappiest guys and put them at DT.  They're called "grubbers".  The idea is that they simply stay low and aim for feet and disrupting blocks, traps, and what not.  Most big plays are to the outside, so put your biggest guys at DE and fastest guys at LBs.  I would disagree with smallest guy being the safety though.  At that age I would put the smaller guys at corner and let the safety essentially be the last LB, with speed who can get his nose in the play and make tackles. 

The advantages of this is

  1. It doesn't discourage the smaller kids from playing (unless they are afraid of contact, in which case football may not be their sport) by actually putting them in play at a DT position.
  2. It allows you to put your biggest guys in areas of greatest threat (usually on pitches to the outside, so your big DEs are holding their areas)
  3. It allows you to put your best athletes at LB, usually fastest at OLB, and best tacklers at MLB (if it's both I would suggest putting them at MLB).  Basically at that age you are just looking for your LBs to get to the ball and make a play.  It's not as complex as reading the O-line and what not.  See the ball hit the ball.
  4. It gives you an athletic safety so that they can clean up anything that gets by the LBs, and also assist on tackles.
  5. CBs always play pass.

So everyone has fairly easy responsibilities, and every type of kid gets to play. From there I would simply teach gap responsibilities and cover responsibilities.  Play man, cover 1 like the person above me said.  Just run pinch, slant left, slant right, and then maybe have a fire blitz or something.  Keep it simple.  At that age blitzing can often just get your kids out of position.

 I would also tell the kids it's a 4-4, because let's be honest, playing DE for someone that would usually be concidered fatter, bigger, or slower is exciting for them, "grubber" or "DT" is exciting for little kids, and "LB" is generally more exciting for your athletes than "DE"


July 7th, 2010 at 1:47 PM ^

Thanks for all the input. My initial plan was to play a three deep with 3 DBs and put eight men up front in some combination, all these posts basically back me up on that. If I have a kid who can handle playing NT I can run a 5-man front, otherwise I will go even. I am wary of the 4-3 because it usually requires a stud DT and I want more meat up front.

Key skills I'll focus on from day one:

-Getting in the hit position

-Tackling and getting off of blocks (don't run around blocks! they are pushing you away from the play)

-Containment by defensive ends

-Understanding when you should force a player to the inside (towards teammates) or outside (using the sideline as an extra defender)

I want the kids to play aggressive and have fun and not get caught up thinking. Any of these alignments lend themselves to simple blitzes, slants, safety/corner blitzes and other wrinkles when the kids are ready. I want to be sound but sometimes it's time to gamble.


July 7th, 2010 at 1:48 PM ^

When I played at that age, we used a 6-2. I'd suggest using that, as it is really simple and stops the run well (as others have said). Make sure to put 8 in the box no matter what, because no 11-year-old can pass well enough to challenge more than 3 DBs.


July 7th, 2010 at 4:35 PM ^

At that age, a good nose tackle can really mess up the center.  I'd go with a 5-3.  Larsonlo had a good post up above, too.