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The “No Name Defense” – Mixing personnel, fronts, and coverages along with stunts and blitzes can continually keep an offense off-balance.

by: Caleb King
Defensive Coordinator, Havelock High School (NC)
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Coaches often ask me what we call our defense? “What defense do you run: 3-5-3, 4-3, 4-4, 5-2, or the 3-4?” Our response is, “The one that works.” If pressed to answer, our personnel is best described as a 3-4 but we line up in everything from a 3-4 to 4-3 to 3-3-5 to a 4-6 Bear. Some defensive coordinators do not want the offense to dictate what they do, but we do not look at it that way. We want to dictate to the offense what plays they can run. For example, if they are an “I” formation team, we are going to run our under front “Eagle” or “Bear” because we want to take away the weak Iso and the TE power play (See Diagrams 1 and 4).

We wanted a defense that was built on sound principles but diverse in looks. We wanted to change our front similar to how an offense changes their formation. Just like an offensive formation works by moving into the best look possible, we wanted to be able to move into the best defensive front possible. We had to be sound in what we did and simple enough for the student-athletes to understand it. Our fronts, our coverages and our personnel might change, but our principles cannot. These are the basic principles of our defensive play:

    2.  PHYSICAL
    3.  FAST
    4.  DO YOUR JOB
    5.  STOP THE RUN
    7.  WIN 3RD DOWNS


We came up with the nuts and bolts of our defense, starting with the front. We wanted three or four down linemen, depending on our personnel each year. We cannot recruit, so our personnel is dictated for us. Our nose is our biggest defensive lineman. He demands a double team and is the most dominant defensive lineman we have. The tackle is smaller than the nose, but we always ask him to be more of a technician than the nose. The defensive end is the fastest of the three down linemen but must be physical enough to play inside the tackle.

The Jack is a hybrid player. He can either play as another fast defensive end or as a linebacker. The Rover position is played with our fastest linebacker but he must be physical enough to play a 9 technique. Our Mike linebacker is our toughest, most physical linebacker and the leader of our defense. Our Sam linebacker is our best tackler and has to have a nose for the ball.

Our corners are our fastest players and must be able to play man-to-man coverage. We can place our corners in two different ways. First, both of them can play equally apart as a right and a left corner. If we have one corner that is much better than the other, we can assign them as field and boundary corners. Our free safety is our hammer in the secondary. This is where we put our biggest hitter. Our Spur or strong safety is a ball hawk that must also be the brains of the secondary.

We have a called side of the defense and an away side. To the called side is our nose, Mike, end, rover and free safety. Away from the called side are the tackle, Jack, Sam and Spur. With the ability to call a front from field or boundary to passing strength to the TE, we can take away what the offense does best. We also feel that we can match our front and personnel to best attack the offense.


Off of these fronts, we can adjust personnel depending on the offense we face. For example, we can move the shade to a 2i or replace the Jack in base with a Dime back. With one simple word, we change the front or look of our defense. This keeps it very simple for the student-athletes and allows them to play fast.


We want to disguise our coverages. So many offenses today have pre-snap reads, so we are going to try and confuse the offense. In each of the diagrams except the Bear front, each secondary look has been the same. Out of each front, except Bear, we can run a variety of coverages including cover 1,2,3,4,5 and 6. We are, however, aligned the same exact way in each and are rolling into specific coverages to throw off the offense. If a coach or quarterback thinks we are in cover 3 (Diagram 5) and throws four verticals against cover 4 (Diagram 6), we feel we are in a good position to make a play on the ball. It is simple for our secondary. It makes us play faster because we are playing, not thinking.

Stunts and Blitzes

Our stunts and blitzes are tied into our multiple fronts and disguised coverage system. We do both man and zone blitzing. Our blitzes are similar to any other team. We bring field and boundary side pressures and bring the heat playing 0 coverage. The success we have been having, however, is changing our line stems into a blitz. Offenses today will come to the line, see what defense you are in and check the play. This is difficult to do against our defense because of all the movement, fronts and pressures that we will bring. An example of our defense stemming and blitzing is “Stem Eagle Pittsburgh” (See Diagrams 7 and 8). We start by lining up all three defensive linemen one gap opposite the call. The tackle, instead of being in a 3 technique, would be in a shade on the center at the snap.

With subtle movements, we have changed fronts and brought pressure to the offense. The offensive linemen always have to be ready for blitzes and stems from the defensive linemen, so it is very difficult for them to get a read on what our defense is doing. In the Stem Eagle Pittsburgh diagram, you can see what all the linemen have done when they hear the stem call. They line up where they normally would and run a simple zone blitz, but to the offense, the nose has gone from a 3 tech when the cadence is started to a boundary side A gap player. The linebackers will always fake a blitz so the QB and offensive coordinator do not know if they are actually blitzing.

With these various movements, we were able to cause 52 turnovers this past season.

About the Author: Caleb King has served as Assistant Head Coach for four years and Defensive Coordinator for the past three seasons at Havelock High School (NC). Havelock has won three straight conference championships and last fall won the North Carolina 3A State Championship. King graduated in 2007 from East Carolina University. 


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