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Attacking Offenses with the 3-5-3 Secondaryby: Dan Weil
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Many high school and junior college teams are turning to the 3-5-3 defense as a way to disguise their pressure in stopping both the pass and the run. We talked to Rob Manchester, defensive secondary coach for Georgia Military College in Milledgeville about how his secondary functions in the 3-5-3. GMC implemented the defense in 2001 and has enjoyed great success with it, leading the nation in total defense twice and capturing the NJCAA National Championship in 2001. Manchester's strategy:
“The main thing is that it allows us to create turnovers and be aggressive,” he said. “That’s because it creates havoc. We’re always blitzing people and play man behind the blitzes. Lining up like that allows us to blitz at all different angles. We have a lot of flexibility, and hopefully the offense doesn’t get a read on where we’re coming from.”
The defense was designed to stop the run, because you bring people to the point of attack from so many areas. “Secondarily, it allows us to get pressure on the quarterback so they can’t pick us apart,” Manchester said. “The coverage is fairly simple. The corners always cover the No. 1 receivers. The dog linebackers cover the No. 2, and the free safety covers No. 3.”
In the Bulldogs defense there is no outside man to provide help, so all the defensive backs play inside help. “We try to protect the inside when the receiver tries to stem or go vertical on you, because it’s easier to complete on the inside,” Manchester said. “The corners have to play three deep well, and that’s essentially reading the routes of the inside receivers. Usually the No. 2 or No. 3 receiver will do an inside route. If he goes vertical, you’ll have to play deep. If not, then you can play more on the No. 1. Obviously if he goes vertical, you have to play the fade.”
The dog safeties’ role is to blitz and play the No. 2 receiver. “They don’t play like corners,” Manchester said. “They always play inside out and cover the run first. If it’s a pass, they usually use a trail technique.”
Zone vs. Man
In order to run the 3-5-3 defensive package effectively, according to Manchester, “you have to have the personnel to execute the defenses that are called. The key to executing this particular defense is to have the corners, safeties and linebackers that can play man coverage. Because of our defensive calls, our coverage package requires us to play man coverage about 95% of the time. The other five per cent of the time we are playing a three deep zone with fire zone concepts. Our defensive package is one that consists of applying constant pressure to our opponent’s offense. With our blitz packages, we have several options in regards to how many people we can blitz. We will ususally blitz between four and six individuals per call. Depending on who we designate to blitz will determine what coverage we will execute.”
Technique is important, too. “When you’re playing man coverage, you have to be disciplined,” according to Manchester. “We play a lot of zero coverage, so there’s not a lot of help. You have to read the hip of the receiver and maintain your inside leverage, because there's no help to the outside. You have to get a good jam on the receiver and not get into the bad habit of looking back at the quarterback.”
“We work on foot speed drills and breaking on the football. We make sure they’re really disciplined looking at the receiver and dominating their man. And of course it all starts with the stance. Everybody wants a corner who runs a 4.3 or 4.4. I’d rather have a guy who runs a 4.5 or a 4.6 but has great technique and is a playmaker.”
Manchester uses five different schemes: 1, 3, Green, Blue, and Red.
A. Cover 1: This attack uses five-man pressure, man free coverage for the free safety and a blitz from the two inside linebackers (See Diagram 1).
As for coverage, both corners cover the No. 1 receivers, both dog linebackers cover the No. 2 receivers, and the free safety has man free coverage, helping the dog to the split No. 2 receiver side. The strong side LB covers the back or No. 3 receiver, the weak side linebacker blitzes into the weak side B gap, and the MLB blitzes into the weak side A gap.
B. Cover 3: This attack uses five man pressure, a fire zone concept and a blitz for the two inside linebackers with three deep coverage behind them (See Diagram 2).
As for coverage, both corners cover the deep outside third. Both dogs cover the curl and the flat routes on their sides. The free safety will start by covering the deep middle third but will slide to the split No. 2 receiver side to help the dog if necessary. The strong side linebacker blitzes through the strong side B gap. The weak side linebacker moves to cover the middle hook area. The middle linebacker blitzes through the strong side A gap.
C. Cover Green: In this attack, six men rush the quarterback, there’s zero coverage and all three linebackers blitz (See Diagram 3).
As for coverage, both corners cover the No. 1 receivers. Both dogs cover the No. 2 receivers. The free safety has the back or No. 3 receiver. The strong side linebacker blitzes through the strong side B gap. The weak side linebacker blitzes through the weak side B gap. The MLB blitzes through the weak side A gap.
D. Cover Blue: In this attack, five men rush the quarterback, with the two dogs blitzing (See Diagram 4).
As for coverage, both corners cover the No. 1 receivers. Both dogs blitz in a contain path. The free safety covers the No. 2 receiver on the strong side. The strong side linebacker has responsibility for the first threat – or the No. 3 receiver – on his side, while the weak side linebacker has responsibility for the first threat – or the No. 2 receiver – on his side. The MLB watches for leakage in the weak side A gap and then becomes a low hole player.
E. Cover Red: In this attack, five men rush the quarterback, with the Dog and Bat to the call side blitzing (See Diagram 5).
As for coverage, both corners cover the No. 1 receivers. The dog to the call side blitzes, and the dog on the away side covers the No. 2 receiver. The free safety covers the No. 2 receiver on the call side. The linebacker on the call side blitzes, and the LB on the away side covers the No. 3 receiver. The middle linebacker watches for leakage in the strong side A gap and then becomes a low hole player.
“Our 3-5-3 defensive package allows us to have a pre-snap alignment that looks the same to our opponent’s quarterback every time he comes to the line of scrimmage,” says Manchester. “This consistent, pre-snap look enables us to bring pressure from many various angles. In turn, we have five different players that can blitz at any time using several different combinations. This defense continually causes problems and mismatches for our opponents which is what we want.”
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