Wednesday, January 19, 2011

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - Mike play


I have learned a lot about 4-3 defensive fundamentals from my next guest writer.  He has tremendous knowledge and experience on defending the Flexbone from the 4-3, and he has been amazingly gracious and patient enough to answer all my questions over the years.  The keys for Mike LB play in the video are simple enough, but the position requires a high level of instincts, physical ability, and fundamental skills to execute effectively, as my friend from the "Darkside" will discuss. 

Mike Fundamentals 
I have always been an Over front guy, and in particular, the old Miami style of the Over front.  Offensively, the Flexbone and the Triple Option has always been my staple in terms of what I have run as an offensive coordinator.   The Over front, and its play of the Triple Option, is what sent Triple Option football back to the dark ages in early to mid-80’s in college football.  I am going to discuss the nuisances of how the “man in the middle” of the Over front, can lead to huge success when playing any Triple Option style of offense.
The Middle Linebacker, in most coaches’ Over front, is usually the best defender on the field.  Without going into specifics, if he isn’t, you had better find your best defender and put him here, especially vs. the Flexbone.  In my early years, I played the Flexbone the traditional wayall the linebackers at their standard depths, and keying 1 thing, the Fullback.  The Middle Linebacker had 2 responsibilities all game, and that was to check for Dive leakage (Defensive End not tackling the Fullback), and he had inside half of the Quarterback, or what some would call cutback.  Later on in my career, I learned a newer approach of deepening the Middle Linebacker, to help keep him out of the “wash” by the Offensive Line.  This is how I play it today, and this past bowl season I witnessed this very same technique when Iowa defeated Georgia Tech. 
The Middle Linebacker, or Mike Linebacker as I call him in our defense, will align six to seven yards deep, over the Center, or in the A gap opposite the Nose Guard.  This is based on the Middle Linebacker’s ability to see his key, the Fullback.  The Middle Linebacker moves in relation to the Fullback at all times.  The only time he changes direction is when a Guard pulling goes opposite of the Fullback’s path.  Against the Inside Veer, the Middle Linebacker’s responsibility is to check Dive, to inside half of Quarterback.  He does this by mirroring the Fullback’s steps, and staying on the inside hip of the Fullback.  As he mirrors, if there is an open window, the Middle Linebacker fills this window immediately.  This is basically the “Zone Dive” portion of the Flexbone offense.  There will be an open B gap window, because the Tackle and Guard are zone blocking.   

vs. Zone Dive, Mike sees an open window and will fill it immediately: 

vs. Midline, Mike sees a closed window and will scrape over the top:

vs. Inside Veer, Mike sees an open window initially, so he will check Dive first:

Now the window has closed, with the DE executing his Block-Down-Step-Down technique.  Mike will scrape over the top for the inside half of the QB:

Common Mistakes

Some common mistakes by the Middle linebacker are that he overruns the ballcarrier and allows for the cutback.  Most Flexbone teams like to run the Zone Dive at the 3 technique so the ballcarrier can cut back.  The Middle Linebacker has to be patient here and respect the Fullback’s ability to cut the ball back into the A gap.  If the Middle Linebacker gets a closed window, or cloudy read as some call it, he is to continue to scrape downhill, keeping himself on the inside hip of the Quarterback.  As he does this, he may encounter the Offensive Tackle along the way.  The depth of the Middle Linebacker helps to make this a tough block for the Offensive Tackle; however, the Middle Linebacker must be able to rip across this block and get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage to prevent the Quarterback from cutting back, or cutting up in the option Alley.  

A costly mistake by the Middle Linebacker is to align too shallow to fight across this block, getting caught up in the B gap.  This now has the defense with two players playing the same gap: the Defensive End and the Middle Linebacker, and nobody in the C gap to take the Quarterback.  Another common mistake is overrunning the ballcarrier, or not staying on the backside hip of the ballcarrier.  This allows for the cutback by the ballcarrier and can lead to very big gains for the Flexbone Offense.
Vs. Counter Option, or “G” option, the Middle Linebacker has to step and honor the path of the Fullback, but then must redirect, once he reads Guard pull, to once again play the inside half of the Quarterback.  Again, the depth of the Middle Linebacker helps in this case, as does the play of the Defensive End on the Offensive Tackle.  The Middle Linebacker should redirect, and rip across the block of the Tackle, staying on the inside hip of the ballcarrier at all times. 
Some other common errors Middle Linebackers make when defending this offense are slow reads.  Slow reads get a Middle Linebacker blocked, which leaves 1 phase of the Triple Option offense unaccounted for.  This is why I recommend utilizing what we call Perimeter Drill weekly during the season.  Flexbone teams commonly use a drill called Half-Line to get as many reps against the defense as they possibly can.  Perimeter drill is the defense’s Half-Line drill.  Set up half of your defense with a Tackle, End, Outside Linebacker, Middle Linebacker, Safety, and Corner and have your scout team run the Inside Veer at your defense.  The easy part of this drill is that you do not use a football.  This eliminates false reads and miscues when players see the football handed off or pulled.  Now the players have to execute based on reads and keys that should already be built into your defense.

In a nutshell, the Middle linebacker’s job against the Flexbone Triple Option offense is an extremely important one.  He has to be able to fill an open window and plug up the inside gap on the Zone Dive, as well as being able to read a closed window and scrape outside for the Quarterback.  He also needs to be able to see the offensive lineman pulling opposite of the Fullback’s path, so he can help defend on the “G” Option.  All these reads and keys must be practiced weekly for the Middle Linebacker to understand his reads and his role in the defense.  I highly recommend practicing these keys and reads weekly, as game week is too late to begin training your middle linebacker, for what is ultimately his toughest test.  

Mike Keys
1.  Clear Read - Fill
2.  Cloudy Read - Run Over the Top
3.  vs. G Load Option

Mike Mistakes
1.  Slow Read / Poor Read
2.  Not Getting Over the Top of OT
3.  Not Staying on Back Hip of Ball Carrier / Not Coming Tight Off of Cloudy Read
4.  False Step
5.  Not Aligned Deep Enough

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - Schedule of Posts
Wed. January 12 - DT Play
Sat. January 15 - DE Play
Wed. January 19 - Mike Play
Sat. January 22 - OLB Play
Wed. January 26 - FS/SS Play
Sat. January 29 - CB Play

Also, Deuce has a blog at:

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