Welcome to the final installment on the Notre Dame transition to the 3-4 defense with LB Coach.
In this installment he breaks down the responsibilities of the secondary. Links to Parts I, II, III and IV are below in case you missed them. Thanks again to LB Coach for a great contribution to the discussion here on OFD. We hope to see a lot more of him around here going forward. Don't hesitate to leave him questions in the comments. His answers are as good as his posts. Whiskey
Part I- Expectations
Part II- Defensive Line
Part III- Outside Linebackers
Part IV- Inside Linebackers
The responsibilities in the defensive secondary don't change all that much in the 3-4 transition but one advantage in coverage is that you can drop 8 and rush 3 without making a substitution. Another advantage is that you can rush 5 defenders without calling it a blitz and still play zone behind it.
Mostly what needs to be accomplished in the transition is where run support will come from and how the front is effected. With a 5 man front vs. run the free safety may need to be a down hill defender and fill an A gap on the backside to protect cutback.
Against the option, the secondary will usually be assigned the pitch man and must run to cover him should option materialize. The front 7 must know if the secondary is in Cover 2 or Cover 3 so they know where run support is. Let's talk about basic coverages you will see.
Cover 3 is the gold standard or, in other words, a 3 deep secondary with the strong safety taking the flat against the pass to the side he lines up on and helping on the off tackle hole against a run to his side. He is an in and out supporter to the outside linebacker and must not run upfield against the run to the outside linebacker's outside in case the back cuts inside and then back outside. That's called double contain and you don't need both defenders to force the running back up inside!
This has happened way too many times in past years due to undisciplined play and lack of coaching the fundamentals. When an outside linebacker with good technique, inside leg up, square to the line of scrimmage, forces the ball carrier to go up inside of him, the inside linebacker should be scraping that hole from inside out. The strong safety should be waiting about 2 yards behind the outside linebacker and once he sees the outside linebacker play his job correctly, supports him and is there to plug that gap.
Should the back cut outside if he sees the inside clogged, the strong safety should be in a support role ready to come upfield only if the outside linebacker is struggling to defeat a hook block or has lost contain somehow. If the SS comes upfield and is on the same level as the outside linebacker and the running back cuts up inside the outside linebacker, the SS has effectively blocked himself!
This is a diseased position and must be eliminated from Notre Dame's play to have a healthy defense. How many times in past years have you seen a corner back or safety come screaming upfield only to have the running back cut up inside of him and then back outside and the defender just keeps running upfield thinking he did his job by containing the ball carrier! This is a ridiculous and selfish move on the defenders part and also must be eliminated.
One of the philosophies of the 3-4 is that every defender is the designated tackler on every play! No wrong shouldering to let the linebacker make the tackle, MAKE THE TACKLE YOURSELF! We don't teach contain as much as we teach proper outside in force or leverage so if you are the end player on the line of scrimmage and the ball is approaching you, forget about turning it in or taking out a few blockers so someone else can make the tackle, play tough with good technique and make the tackle yourself!
Cover 2 is a 2 deep with both corners playing flat coverage. There are many ways to run this seemingly simple concept but 2 safeties split the field in half and the tough corners are there for run support outside. I tell the outside linebackers to forget about the corner out there, he's a pass defender first. Don't let the ball get outside of you and expect the corner to be there to make the play. The corner might think he's the next Deion Sanders and you can forget about him sticking his nose in there.
Most secondaries will try to disguise the coverage in one way or another and most offenses have cover 2 and cover 3 cuts built in as well as zone and man reads and cuts. I look for Notre Dame to be a much more zone based defense in the secondary this coming season and play man behind any blitzing schemes. Cover 2 and Cover 3 should be the home or base coverage and the secondary must know their responsibilities so when the going gets tough, they're fatigued to the max, and the game is on the line, they don't have to think about what their responsibility is. Just go there and make a play on the ball whether it's run support or defending a pass.
The past defenses didn't have a home or shelter defense as I like to call it. That's a defense you know so well that you can play it against any formation, any down and distance, or any game situation. Notre Dame needs a home defense where they can play ball with a more than reasonable chance for success instead of grab bagging a stupid exotic blitz drawn up in the dirt while our defensive backs all look at each other after the play asking whose man was that?. Look for ND to be sound defensively this coming season. VERY SOUND!