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Odd vs. Even

Finding the best front for your defense.
by: Michael Parker
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At some point this off season, a lot of coaches are going to sit down and try to make a decision about what changes need to be made to improve for the upcoming season. With players moving on, and the opponents making their own adjustments, these coaches will likely think about choosing a different defensive system to make them more successful.

So – to start with – should it be an Odd Defense … or an Even Defense? Some of the best high school coaches are here to help. They believe firmly in their respective defenses and share some of the insights into just what made them choose the defense they did. Some of their explanations may surprise you.


John McCall is the DC at Richland HS in Texas. He has some specific reasons for choosing the odd front as his base defense.

Get Athletes on the Field
“One of the reasons we like the odd front versus the even front is we primarily play teams that are in 10 personnel spread and the odd front allows us to put a faster defense on the field. So that is one factor. We aren’t playing against multiple backs, multiple tight ends. We are playing against four wide receivers. So we have a faster defense by playing with only three down linemen,” McCall says.

Find Creative Ways to Put Pressure on Offensive Linemen
“Another factor is that in our conference where everybody passes all the time we like the pressure and blitz package of our odd package better than our even front. We have more movement and blitz capabilities out of the odd front than we do out of the even front,” says McCall.

Utilize a Dominant Nose Player
Besides the odd front’s obvious addition of athletic players as linebackers, Jim Girard, Defensive Coordinator at Wayland HS in Massachusetts, says, “We saw coming up a few years ago a kid that was an absolute terror and had all the attributes to be a great nose guard. And if we hadn’t had this kid, I will be honest with you, we probably would have gone to an even front. So odd or even is really do we have the type of nose guard that can command a double team on every play?”

Make Up For an Undersized Defense
Girard coaches at a school where he usually has more athletes than big defensive linemen types. “We don’t have a lot of size in our school and so it was key that we had a good nose player. We are pretty lucky that this kid is a pretty good size for us. So with this defense it isn’t as important that these kids be big, physical two gap players since we are in the stack,” he says. “Because of our size, we can’t just line up in gaps and say, ‘Here we are … come and beat us.’”

Use a Lot of Different Looks
“We started as a 3-4 base, but since we face a lot of Wing-T teams it is imperative that we are in an eight man front. So now we are in a stack. It allows us that ability to slant and do a lot of things. We can bring and disguise more of the fronts and blitzes in the odd front,” says Girard.

Keys to using the odd front
“I think the whole key to the odd front is the nose. With Wing-T teams that pull their guards a lot, a good nose guard makes it difficult and he can be in the backfield making plays,” says Girard. “The types of kids that we have, we have athletes, and so we use the stack, because it features that athleticism. That is pretty much why we’re doing it. And every year, I am going to find the toughest kid on the team and put him at nose guard and let him wreak havoc. After that, we will build around him. It is important to have a strong core regardless of the defense you are using. I think you should build it from the inside out,” he says.


Steve Tutsie has seen a lot of success as Defensive Coordinator, and now Head Coach, at Warren Central HS in Indiana. A lot of it can be attributed to the stellar defenses the Warriors have had over the past several years. Tutsie feels an Even Front defense accomplishes several things, including:

More Difficult to Run Against
“The first thing that is important to note is that EVERYBODY runs a spread offense today. I think that everyone is trying to spread us out and run a one-back attack. Now that might not be their number one look but they have a spread package. So you better have an answer for the spread. The first thing you have got to identify is whether they are getting into the spread to run or are they getting into the spread to pass. If they are getting into the spread to run then you are good with your four man front,” says Tutsie. “We want to keep our four linemen in because there are certain lanes that the offense wants to run in. They want to find the B-Gap and run the B-Gap. The biggest thing is that linebackers get picked off on running plays more than a defensive lineman would.”

Play More Games With Your Defensive Line
Tutsie says, “I used to believe that the 3-5 was the way to go but now I think the 4-4 is because we can do so much with games from our defensive line.”

Todd Quick, Defensive Coordinator at Lufkin High in Texas agrees. “We really don’t want the offense to know where we are going to be. We feel like if we can make them think about what we are doing up front then we have a little bit of an advantage with that,” he says.

More Push in the Pass Rush
“There is that myth in high school that you can’t bring pressure unless you are in an odd stack defense. I just don’t believe that,” says Tutsie. “I just think that with a four man line, you can get a better push in pass rush and you can attack a weak link guy on the offensive line better than you can with a blitzing linebacker. You can ask anyone, in the NFL, or anywhere, that even with all the three man lines, there is still going to be a fourth guy coming from somewhere,” adds Tutsie.

Attack Weak Links in the Offensive Line
“In high school today, everybody has a pretty good QB and everybody has a pretty good running back. But not everybody has five good offensive linemen. Very rarely do you see that,” says Tutsie. “Blitzing doesn’t usually hurt us. Penetration from defensive linemen hurts us.”

Get More Size on the Field
“Our base has always been an even front. Mainly it has been because we can find two big kids that can play inside and draw the double teams and you are going to get two pretty good athletic defensive ends. And we have almost always been able to find two quality tackles and two quality ends. We will usually have only one or two players that are true inside linebackers. But we get a whole bunch of those in between kids that are too big to play outside backer but not big enough to play defensive end,” says Quick.

Keys to using the even front
“We feel it is easier to take a linebacker and move him up to the line than to take a lineman and move him back and have him play in space,” Quick says.

Tutsie feels the keys are in the defensive linemen. “We are in a big school. We better be able to find four defensive linemen. And I realize that not everybody has that luxury. A lot of offenses are getting away from using a tight end because they don’t have a tight end. And we rotate linemen to keep them fresh. It is a lot harder to rotate offensive linemen than it is to rotate defensive linemen for pass protection reasons and that gives us an advantage,” he says.

Can we do both?
Even front disciple Tutsie says, “We have an odd package but we don’t use it a lot unless a team is trying to spread us out and throw it. It is good because you give up a defensive lineman for another athlete. But if you are facing a dual threat quarterback then I think the four man line is the best way to defend it.”

McCall, a proponent of the odd front still concedes this point: “We feel like we are stronger against the run in a four man front. We do have a 4-3 package and we run it sparingly in games as a change up. We go in every week with some form of a four man line. We put our second nose tackle in the game. We actually do both but when we run our four man line, we are doing it off our three man principles. So we aren’t teaching two different concepts. If they are a team that takes 11 kids and they huddle and they break the huddle and get into 10 personnel Doubles and then the next play they break the huddle with the same 11 kids and get into Power I with two tight ends then we are going to keep our base 11 on the field,” he says.

Tutsie admits that getting a nose tackle on the field in an odd front look has its definite place. He says, “In high school the weak link is often the center. If we are going against a spread team, and we are playing against a center that is kind of shaky, I guarantee I am going to get a guy over him. It is easy to snap and block when there is nobody over you but it’s something different when someone is over you.”

Girard feels the decision comes down to personnel. He says, “I like both odd and even. I have been in schools where we have used both. I see pros and cons to both. For me, as far as what we have here, the reason that we went to an odd front was completely personnel driven.” Even though he would prefer to stay in his base even front, Quick likes the coverage opportunities that the odd front presents. “We have a three man package we use that is basically a dime personnel package. We might put one or two of our extra defensive backs in there,” he says.

What it comes down to
Regardless of what defense a coach chooses to run, no system is going to be a cure-all for every school. There is no one ‘best defense’ for everyone to run.

To that point, whether you are going to run an odd or even defense, coaches Quick and Girard sum it up best. “The reason for our success on defense is that this is what our kids have done; this is what we believe in. Once you get that set in, they believe that this is what is working and is what is best for us,” says Quick.

And Girard adds, “I think that at the high school level, as a defensive coordinator, I am going to see what we have for talent, where the kids need to be on the field to be successful and build the system around the kids. It would be naďve to think that you can fit high school kids into a system. The system for me, at this level, is about hustle and tackling and aggression.”


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