Semi-OT: Installing the 3-3-5 Stack

Submitted by Magnus on May 3rd, 2012 at 10:48 AM

The program where I work is considering installing the 3-3-5 as its base defense.  I'm sure there were some people around these parts who studied the 3-3-5 when Michigan installed it (or tried to, anyway).  Did anybody find any good resources (books, DVDs, websites, etc.) on coaching and installing the 3-3-5?  I have a decent understanding of how the defense works, alignments, etc., but I'm looking to consume as much as I can.  And even if we don't make the switch, that type of material could be useful down the road.

Thanks in advance.



May 3rd, 2012 at 10:56 AM ^

When I played HS ball we used materials mostly from Leo Hand.  He did a Coaches Choice book in 2004 on it.  I graduated from HS in 2003 though so I never actually bothered to read the book.  I wasn't a big fan of the 3-3-5, but to each his own.  


May 3rd, 2012 at 10:59 AM ^

Curious as to why they want to switch to 3-3-5?

What are you running now?

Is it based on the strengths of players you have or defensive philosophy thinking its better?


May 3rd, 2012 at 11:01 AM ^

Right now we're running Omaha Split-4, but we probably don't have the size at DT to be successful.  We're trying to come up with ways to slant, blitz, and get more penetration that we'll be able to with Omaha.  We also have a lot of linebacker/safety sized kids who need to get on the field.


May 3rd, 2012 at 11:28 AM ^

I really like the split 4 much more compared to the 3-3-5.  Running the split-4 allows you to have 8/9 in the box against power teams.  Against spread teams your outside backers can be replaced with Safety types, which you say you have plenty of. Just my two cents.

Hank Hill

May 3rd, 2012 at 11:15 AM ^

LB's and DB's the art of shedding blocks now. Motion can be a bitch to adjust to. At least if you want to be in good position.
The stunts and blitzes can be disruptive, even devastating, but leave you so very susceptible to counter action, and screens. Not to mention putting eight in the box basically makes this defense a 3-5-3.
I am obviously not a very big fan of this defense as a base model, but love the idea of using it as a package to get some pressure on a QB as well as getting different kids with different skill sets on the field.

Space Coyote

May 3rd, 2012 at 4:20 PM ^

I say that because of experience.  I coached a team that switched from an I-form to a single wing on offense.  It seemed to work decently for the first year (remember, you're still trying to really grasp the intricacies of it as well), and then the next year, after a few teams started to see what others had done, stopped it much better.  From what I understand, that program now runs a sort of pistol type look.

Just saying, be careful hoping other teams won't be prepared for it because it's different.  Make sure you really want to commit to it.  Without committing to something (either on offense or defense) you're only staying at most a half-step ahead of the other team, and only for a short time.  What I learned is that you should always switch to what you believe is best for the program.


May 3rd, 2012 at 11:16 AM ^

Played the 3-3-5 in high school as the drop end. Scariest part about the odd stack is the 1-high look. Make sure your best athlete is playing FS and can cover a lot of ground if your going against pass happy offenses. 


May 3rd, 2012 at 11:26 AM ^

Then the 3-3-5 is a GREAT d to run. If you have capable guys at the rush and drop end spots than you can do a lot of different stuff. Roll one up to show an over look, you can roll the backside guy to show an under look or you can bring both up and play a 5-2. All very effective ways to show a different front without changing one thing

Space Coyote

May 3rd, 2012 at 11:29 AM ^

This is one of the links I used when I was studying the 3-3-5 stack.

It has basic run and pass responsibilities against various formations.

From the same site:

Link, Link, Link, Link, Link

This was the best book I found on it:

I never ran the 3-3-5 but we looked into it.  Lots of responsibility on the NT, which we didn't have a solid enough player at that position.  3-3-5 has fairly clear assignments, but if you have kids looking to get to the next level I'm not sure it's the best defense to teach.  Ended up sticking with a 4-3 Over so that's what I'm more accustomed too.  Like the under front better, personally, but Over is really easy to teach

Mr. Yost

May 3rd, 2012 at 11:24 AM ^

My favorite defensive formation of them all...

Two SSs to play the TEs and RBs and confuse the QB on where the blitz is coming from...plenty of zone blitzes from the set...and me (reliving high school days...*tear*) playing the deep safety spot, NO FLY ZONE!


May 3rd, 2012 at 11:28 AM ^

That's the thing - we don't really have four defensive linemen who are starter-level players.  We're either going to have to play one guy in a four-front who's not very good, or we'll have to run a 3-4 or 3-3-5 to get our better athletes on the field.


May 3rd, 2012 at 3:13 PM ^

I'd like to get that 8th guy in the box as much as possible rather than just 7.  You can walk the strong safety up, obviously, but he's typically another couple yards back.  Part of the staff likes a 3-4 better.  That's a possibility, too, but I'm more familiar with the 3-4 already.

Space Coyote

May 3rd, 2012 at 5:01 PM ^

I would look into running a 3-4 under.  Puts less pressure on the lineman by giving them a gap and allows you to naturally move the SS down into the box.  4(5)-1-3 techniques from strong side to weak side across the line with the Strongside OLB head up to outside shade on the TE on the LOS.  Stack the SS over the SOLB, have the weak OLB on the LOS in a 5 tech.

I feel this puts less pressure on your linemen, gives smaller linemen an advantage, gives the MLB natural and easy responsibilities, and allows the OLBs/SS to play with speed.

I don't know if by 3 DL that you have 3 good sized guys, or if your whole program is looking more undersized.  If you have undersized DL I would stay away from any base 3-4.

steve sharik

May 3rd, 2012 at 11:57 AM ^

Since you have fewer DL and won't be facing good passing teams, 3-3-5 makes some sense.  However, the 3-3-5 is weak in the flat, and even the most basic offenses with the least talented QBs can make those passes.

We ran this D from 2001-2005 and learned it from its inventor, Joe Lee Dunn at Miss. State, in the summer of 2001.  When it was new and people didn't know how to attack it, it was a big advantage.

I would suggest finding a college program or two that runs it well and pay them a visit this summer.  Take your entire defensive staff and pair up your position coaches to meet with their respective peers on the college staff.

I think Air Force has run it for some time with success, and of course you could go talk to Casteel at Arizona, but I wouldn't trust his assistants worth a damn.  Xs and Os is half the battle--all your position coaches need to be able to teach the techniques that will allow their players to be successful.


May 3rd, 2012 at 12:02 PM ^

I'm curious as to how you and the staff decide on changing scheme based on personnel. Having no coaching experience myself, I see that adapting to the guys you have is critical, but how do you balance that with maintaining some consistency so that kids don't have to relearn defenses too much? Does your program require JV/freshman/middle school to all run the same base sets as the varsity? Hypothetically, if the freshman and JV teams had guys that made it seem like you'd be stacked at DT by next year, would you switch two years in a row? 

I hope to coach someday, and I'd love your insight.


May 3rd, 2012 at 12:20 PM ^

The JV and freshman teams run the same schemes as the varsity, but the middle schools aren't connected to us.  They feed into multiple high schools, so they just run their own thing.  For some reason, the trend lately has been toward smaller guys.  For the past couple seasons we've been undersized, and there isn't a whole lot of size coming up from the middle schools.  Since we don't see that trend changing anytime soon, we're considering a change in schemes.

If the size trend changed in three or four years, then yeah, we might make another switch.  But no, you wouldn't want to be changing every year.  That would get confusing for the kids.  There's something to be said for consistency.


May 3rd, 2012 at 12:35 PM ^

I'd watch all the games Casteel has coached at WVU. He seems to be the guy that has the best understanding of the 3-3-5.


May 3rd, 2012 at 12:36 PM ^

Thread jack since i'm 9,600 mgopoints from creating a thread, but Lawrence Thomas and William (Tom) Gholston are fine after a roll-over on I-96 yesterday. I'm eagerly awaiting Mateen Cleeves statement since he's a rollover expert.  The News has the story also but the Freep has more details - the most interesting of which that this was Sparty on Sparty traffic crime - but I will not link to the freep.‘shaken’-but-fine-after-rollover-accident 





May 3rd, 2012 at 1:13 PM ^

I know Villanova has run it to be pretty good success over the past few years (national title in 09 with a dominant defense). Rocky Long at SDSU ran it at New Mexico and might still run it now. Tape or books or visiting those guys might help.

From an offensive perspective, I think it's a tough defense to go against IF it's run properly and aggressively. But I'm guessing the nuances of the defense make it something you have to really commit to in order to be really good at it.


May 3rd, 2012 at 6:57 PM ^

I installed this defense three years ago and have run it ever since.  It took a little while to get everyone comfortable switching over from the 4-3 scream and splatter, but once they did it was a lot of fun.  Here are a bunch of things that I have learned over the years:

There are a lot of different ways to run a 3-3-5.  Some guys will run the true stack with the DTs at the 4 tech and the Sam and Will stacked behind them, this is what I run.  I know a guy that runs his with the DTs in 5's and the Sam and Will in 30's three yards off the ball.  I know two guys who run with the DTs in 3's and the Sam and Will at 50's.   This will all depend on the type of athletes you have. 

Also, you need to decide how you want to use your box safeties (Spur and Bandit) to get the most out of your players.  I line mine up 3x3 off the last man on the line in base defense and will often have them rolling up or back.  This will also be determined by how you line up your DTs and LB's.  This year for example my spur almost always lined up 1x1 off the line, a lot like a standup end in a 5-3.  On the other side though my Bandit would often walk off and be 8 yards off the line becasue he could fly down hill. 

The three safeties are in my opinion the most important guys on the field.  These are your best athletes and they need to have the best coaches.  If your Spur and Bandit cannot hold the edge you mine as well just go home.  They also need to be able to go out in the flats and depending on your coverage scheme they may need to cover man to man.  The FS needs to be a ball hawk, make quick reads, and tackle in the open field, he can be the difference between a good and great defense.  Some coaches though will have their FS sit back and just not give up the big play.  (Which I hate.)

Are you going to be a blitzing team or one that reads and reacts? I personally love to blitz (one game I blitzed on every single play) and you can be very creative.   I use a numbering system to call my blitzes which allows me to be very flexible and come up with things on the sideline.  Combined with different fronts we will show I have over 200 blitzes drawn up.  I will usually take about 30 into a game, 20 that we consider our bread and butter and then 10 or so that take advantage of the offense or cover up our weaknesses. 

If you have a small defensive line slant and loop them all of the time and have them get up field.  Do not put them in a position to get latched on too.  I love to slant them to the strong side and then bring multiple guys on the back side.  If you have big guys slant and loop them all of the time and have them smash the line to the inside gap.  This year I had a huge defensive line, 290 at nose and 270 and 250 at DT.  I would slant them one way or the other and they would destrory the OL.  Our DL had more pancakes this year than the OL. 

Another thing you need to decide is what you are going to run for coverages.  I like to run cover 0 or 1.  However, we also run cover 3 and cover 3 clould (the spur and bandit take deep outside 1/3's and CBs take the flats, looks like cover 2).  Like everything else they each have pro's and con's and you need to make it fit with your kids abilities.  The first two years we were primarily cover 3, but last year it was almost all cover 1. 

Coaching technique is the most important thing.  There are some techniques in this defense that are a lot different than some of the things you may have been doing.  You need coaches that can coach them.  For the spur and bandit if they lack in just one area they will get exploited.  This past season I lost my Spur and Bandit coach and my FS coach.  I had to replace them with a guy that had never coached before (this is for varsity) and an offensive coach that moved over to defense.  They struggles, the kids sruggled, and as a result our team struggled.  In the end though that was my fault for not making sure that my coaches were ready to do the job.

I would agree with what someone said earlier, find another school that runs the system that you want and send your whole staff over.  I have a number of playbooks and if you are a member of glaziers they have a ton of stuff on their website.  I spent around six months working on my playbook and working with other coaches.  There are a lot of things for you guys to go over in a short amount of time.



May 3rd, 2012 at 11:27 PM ^

I'm a young varsity coach so I read as much as I can on any kind of offensive and defensive philosophies. If you to you can get several different college and HS versions of the 3-3-5 with explainations in them. It's a really good site for coaches. Give it a shot I was able to get alot of 3-3-5 stuff from a few different playbooks. It's similar to a 3-4 in a lot of respects except the OLB don't come down to the LOS as they often do in a 3-4. I hope you guys are installing it to play primarily spread teams. I also talked to the coach at Colerain (OH) at a clinic in Novi and h said its a tough defense to run the Midline/Veer option against which I never really thought about. But Colerain is a nationally elite program and they run a midline/veer package so I took him at his word.