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University of Richmonds Defending the Pro Formation

by: Michael Elko
Linebackers Coach, University of Richmond
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I would like to share with you our defensive philosophy on defending two-back formations with an eight-man front. When we first began developing our two-back package, we wanted to adhere to a few base principles. This article will be devoted to the decisions we make in each of these areas.

Defending the pro-formation is one of the major responsibilities for defensive coaches at Richmond. Hopefully some of these ideas, while certainly not revolutionary, will spark some meaningful discussion among its American Football Monthly readers.

1. Stop the Run. Like most people, when the other team is in a two back set, our philosophy must be geared toward stopping the running game.

2. Have the Ability to Change Passing Windows. If we are successful at stopping the run, we want to make sure we have some answers in the passing game.

3. Be Multiple but Be Simple. In putting the plan together it was important that we were multiple enough to not be predictable. While keeping things simple for our players we did not want to paralyze them with confusion.

• Stop the Run

In order to effectively stop the run we felt like we needed safety support. We did not believe we could get the kind of run support we were looking for if our safeties were aligned ten yards deep. Therefore, we wanted to walk them down by alignment. As a result we developed our base eight-man front concept (See Diagram l).

Diagram 1

The term ‘Weak’ sets our three-technique away from the receiving strength. Pre-Snap, our safeties maintain a two-deep shell to disguise our look. As the cadence begins, our Strong Safety walks himself down to six-yard depth and becomes the outside–in player to the tight end surface run and the B Gap cutback player on run away. Our Mike Linebacker will spill all tight end runs to the strong safety and is a scrape player on run away. Our Buck Linebacker is a squeeze player (forcing the ball back inside) on run to and A-Gap cutback player on run away.

From a coverage standpoint, ‘1 Screw’ is a man-free coverage. Our Strong Safety has the Tight End man-man. Our Corners are playing man-man on the wide receivers. The Linebackers are playing combination man on the running backs. The Free Safety is the middle one-third player helping on all post throws.

We feel that this base eight-man front gives us the best chance of defending the run as well as being sound against the pass.

• Change the Passing Windows

One of the negatives to playing our base front is that it forces our defensive backs into a lot of isolated situations. As a result, we felt it was important to come up with some different coverage concepts to provide help to the Cornerbacks (See Diagram 2).

Diagram 2

If we are having trouble to the single WR side, our answer is to play ‘6 Screw.’ We now play half field coverage to the single WR side, while still playing the same man-man concept on the front side. This now takes the burden off of the weak side cornerback while still maintaining the integrity of our eight-man front.

• Be Multiple but Be Simple

We also know that we cannot survive if we become predictable. We felt like it was important to have a way to invert the Free Safety and play a cover two concept over top of the Tight End. This would enable us to give help to the strong side cornerback. In order to keep it simple, we committed ourselves to always bringing the safety down to the side where our Defensive Tackle is the A Gap defender. As such, the Slant call moves the front to the Tight End Surface (See Diagram 3).

Diagram 3

This allowed us to change up the bubbles in our run defense as well as simplifying the fits for our linebackers. Our LB’s know that if they are the B gap player, they are spilling to the safety and scraping on run away. If they are the A Gap player they are squeezing on run to and playing A Gap cut back on run away. We believed this would allow our linebackers to play without hesitation or confusion. It also allowed the inverted safety to know that he was always responsible for the B Gap so his fits never would change.

We believe that this package provides us adequate looks to stop the two back offenses while keeping it simple enough not to inhibit the ability of our players. I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts and thanks again for your time.


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