Many coaches are looking to simplify their defense. No need to look any further than one of the classics, the 4-4 Defense. We get carried away sometimes with the vast array of fronts, stunts, blitzes and coverages that we can run. Our masterpiece on paper turns into a cluster on the field.
It does not have to be that way. I’m going to show you how to get an entire, functioning 4-4 defense installed in 30 minutes of practice time. You could do it all in one day, but I wouldn’t. 30 minutes of install is tedious and boring for everyone.
Today I’m going to give you the first 10 minutes of install. We’ll put the base front in, only. In practice, you will probably want to put this and the coverage in one Day 1, and then put the blitzes in on Day 2. But we’ll get to that.
This was the first defensive scheme I ever coached in, and the first defense I ever coordinated (as a JV Defensive Coordinator). We eventually added in a number of wrinkles as the season went on, but the base was installed during the first 2-a-Day practice. And it never changed.
Our 4-4 Defense was the same in its basic structure as the defense I wrote about in Coaching Football’s 4-2-5 Defense. We used a spot drop Cover 3. The Outside Linebackers, which we called the Sam and Will, were always the contain player. The Mike and Jack Linebackers are the inside Linebackers. They all flop with the strength.
Base Front: The Defensive Line
We keep it simple for the Defensive Line. Once they’re lined up, they do not have to worry about much. Older, more savvy players will be alert for adjustments when we blitz or based on situation. But young kids will learn how to line up once, and then focus on technique.
- Strong End: 6-Technique, head up on Tight End. 5-Tech is no TE. Responsible for C gap.
- Weak End: 5-Technique away from strength. Head up on TE if he has one. Responsible for C gap. Quickest DL, usually move a Linebacker down.
- Strong Tackle: 3-Technique, outside shade of Guard. Responsible for B Gap. Best true DL.
- Weak Tackle: 1-Technique, weak shade on Center. Responsible for A Gap. Can be a smaller, wrestler-type kid if you are short on true linemen.
You don’t have to flip the Defensive Linemen if you do not want to. If your Ends are similar in ability, there is no reason to flip them. We use the same Defensive Line reads and techniques in the 4-4 Defense as we would in a 4-3 Defense or 4-2-5 Defense.
The Inside Linebackers
Just like the Defensive Line, we want to keep everything consistent for the Inside Linebackers. They do not have to flip, but we generally want the strongest player at the Mike Linebacker position (strong side).
We have run a more complex blitz package that put a very good athlete at the Jack Linebacker and then used him to blitz from all over the field, similar to a 4-3 Monster package. But you could do that with any player. We chose the Jack so that the Sam and Will always kept their contain responsibility.
- Both ILB are in a 30-Technique, outside shade of the Guard, with heels at 5 yards.
- Read through the Guards to the Near Back. If your Guard pulls inside, immediately attack through the A gap where he left.
- On fast flow (outside), scrape to fit tight to color off the hip of the Defensive End. Do not waste yourself inside on outside run plays.
- Take on Iso blocks with your inside shoulder, forcing them to your help outside.
You want two guys who are true Linebackers in the 4-4 Defense. They should be tough kids, but also smart enough to recognize tendencies and formations. The Mike is responsible for strength calls, the Jack is responsible for down & distance in the huddle. (Remember defensive huddles? We don’t do that anymore)
The Outside Linebackers
The Sam and Will also have a job that does not change much, though their alignment will change more often. If they are identical, you do not need to flip their sides with strength.
However, the Will Backer is responsible for carrying a vertical by a removed #2 Receiver against Doubles, to help against 4 Verts. But if you are going to run this, you can have a Nickel Package where you can bring someone else in for that situation.
- The OLBs are always the contain players in our 4-4 defense. Even when they’re blitzing, they blitz to the deepest in the backfield and force the ball to the inside.
- Base alignment is 1 yard outside of the End Man on the Line of Scrimmage (EMOLS) with their heels at Linebacker Depth, 5 yards. They will adjust the width based on alignments, which we will cover later.
- Key is EMOLS for run-pass key, to near back.
- Always keep the outside arm and leg free against the run.
- Counter-Reverse-Bootleg Player on any play away. We make them freeze and call out “COUNTER! REVERSE! BOOTLEG!” on any run read away from their side, before they can begin pursuit.
Next time, we will get into the formations adjustments. They do not take a lot of time, and each player as a base set of rules they have to know. Each player needs to know about 1-2 formation adjustments. Then we’ll put the blitz package and coverage package together. Finally, I will give you the install schedule to get this whole defense installed in just 30 minutes!
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