At Clarkston High School (MI) our defensive philosophy is to be multiple while keeping things simple for our kids. One of the toughest things that we face as coaches is that we want to throw too much at our kids. This is bad! A kid that is thinking is a kid that cannot play fast. As such, we have streamlined our multiple defense such that our calls tell them where they need to be. This gives us the ability to give multiple looks, pressures, and coverages while maximizing our ability to still play fast and get to the football.
We run a 4-3 defense as our base, but we have the ability to get into a 4-4, 4-2-5, 3-4, 3-3, 4-1-6, and a variety of other looks, all while keeping our communication simple and not changing the techniques too much for our athletes. We can run cover 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 with some different variations. Again, we always make sure that techniques can carry over so that we are not overburdening these kids. I think looking complex while maintaining simplicity is a huge reason why we are so successful at CHS.
What we are running as our base coverage can change from year to year, and even week to week depending on a few things: 1. Our talent 2. What our opponent wants to do. In 2018 our base coverage was a pattern matching Cover 3 because of the talent we had on the back end of our defense. However, there were some weeks where we ran more Cover 2 if we were concerned about a team giving us trouble in the flats and wanted to get some extra help from the corners out there.
As an offensive guy, I think that you absolutely have to have a few different answers to Trips sets. I call trips because it can give a defense some problems, but more often than not makes defenses very predictable as well. Being in Michigan State’s back yard, most teams in our area play some version of quarters coverage, whether they want to press with their corners or play off. Usually though, when I call a Trips set opposing defenses will roll into a very vanilla version of “Country Cover 3.” I’ve made my money by isolating whichever corner I view as less effective and picking on him out of Trips sets. As I delve more into defense and learn more about some of what we do at Clarkston, I think that it is very important to have more than one answer.
Figure 1 (Cover 3 vs. Trips)
The first coverage I want to look at is Cover 3. In this image you can see our Base Cover 3 look. We can apex our LB to the trips side as well, but this particular week we were more concerned about the run so opted to keep him in the box. From this look our strong corner has the deep third, our strong safety who is rolled down has seam/curl/flat (SCF), our free safety has the deep third, and our weak side corner has his deep third, but knows that he’s essentially in man coverage by himself.
If our weak side corner is having problems handling that single receiver on his own, we have ways to give him help. One option would be to check that strong LB out over #3 and give him SCF responsibilities. This would allow us to roll our free safety back over toward the weak side of the formation and give our corner some support from a safety.
Another check we have in our system for that LB is to tag our Cover 3 look such that he has man responsibilities on #3. We have this variation because a lot of teams that we see like to put their dudes in the slot position. Those smaller fast guys can do some damage. This gives us an option to make sure that we have somebody on him at all times if he is a major threat.
Even with our different variations of Cover 3 which have been quite good to
us, staying in Cover 3 against Trips at all times is predictable. We can also play a version of Cover 2 against Trips. Similar to Cover 3, we have the ability to check our SLB out to either play SCF or man if the slot is problematic. In this image our corners will both have all of #1 vertical. If he goes in they’ll make a call and pass him off, getting their eyes immediately on #2. In this particular image you’ll see our strong corner is about 13 yards off the ball. We are one of the few schools in our area that moves DBs around pre-snap. We see a good number of teams who will line up and make a call based off our alignment. Our answer to this is to disguise our coverages by moving those guys around a lot. We are also able to do this with our front 7. Our SLB is checked out over #2 in this case, and our safeties both have deep halves.
A lot of guys do not like Cover 2 vs. a Trips look, but I think it is important to have as an available option. 1. As I mentioned before, it is never good to become overly predictable unless your dudes are just better than theirs. 2. I don’t really want to allow an offense to dictate what the defense does on every single snap. I know many great coaches who are ok with this and they have been very successful for it. We prefer to dictate things to the offense, which as worked for us.