Before I begin my first article, I would like to take a minute to introduce myself and let you all see more about me and my passion for football.
I first knew that I wanted to be a football coach after my sister gave me a book for Christmas when I was 14 years old titled Wins, Losses, and Lessons. This was the autobiography of Lou Holtz, one of the greatest college football coaches of all time. Coach Holtz’s insight to the coaching world inspired me that day to become a football coach. I loved everything from the late night film sessions, to scouting, to breaking down opponents and practice. I fell in love with everything in the world of coaching.
4 years later I attended college with the mindset of becoming a football coach. I was ready to get to work. My first objective when I stepped foot on campus was to find any nearby high school program who would give me a job and an opportunity to breakthrough in the coaching forefront. I ended up finding a school about an hour away which gave me that opportunity. I worked for free my first year, working primarily with the defensive line and running backs, learning the ropes. Learning what it takes to become a high school football coach. In my final year working with this school, I worked more with the linebacker position.
When my senior year rolled around, I looked to find a job closer to my university so I wouldn’t have to travel as much. Thankfully, I had a friend who worked at a large nearby high school who got me in touch with the head coach and I accepted to offer to become the varsity assistant inside linebackers coach and Freshman and JV defensive coordinator. We implemented a solid 3-4 system and had a successful defense. I coached there a year and decided after my graduation from college to move back to my hometown where my wife took a nursing job at a nearby hospital. As soon as I knew we were moving back I contacted my high school football coach and asked for the opportunity to work with him at my alma mater. We sat down and I was hired on as the linebackers coach where I continue to coach today. This Fall, I begin my second season with the program and fifth year overall as a coach. I love our community and program and take great pride where I coach and take pride in working with my linebackers.
When I’m breaking down film of my own linebackers, I am likely watching, analyzing, and breaking down Packers film. I do this for 2 reasons. The first reason is that I have coached in the 3-4 system and continue to coach in a similar system (3-2 in 8 man football) and I love to get ideas for our guys. Even though this system is at the highest level, I still find elements that can be incorporated in a high school system: angles, pursuit, and running to the football. Things that any team could incorporate. The second reason is because I love the Packers. I’ve been a Packers fan since 1999 when Ray Rhodes was the head coach. I was 6 years old and it was the first time I sat down and watched an entire game of football. John Madden and Pat Summerall were in the booth, whimsically commentating the games for FOX, both speaking to the great history and tradition that the Packers have throughout the game and I have been in love with the Packers ever since.
Now that you know my story, let’s get down to the X’s and O’s. I’ve predominately been a defensive coach in the 5 years of coaching. There is something about defensive football that I’ve always loved. I think most of it is the teamwork of defensive football. All 11 (or 8 in my case) guys must be doing their job all the time. Defensive football is definitely all about team. Another part of me thinks it’s just because it feels rewarding to wreck an offensive coache’s game plan that he spent all week installing. I have been, and I think I always will be, a defensive coach. If I could model my coaching career after any defensive coach though, it would be Coach Dom Capers.
I know what some of you are thinking, “Why would you want to be like Capers?! Don’t you know that he gave up (insert number here) yards against (insert team name here)?!”
Fans need to stop focusing so hard on numbers. Are numbers important? Yes. I look at numbers every week against the next team that our school will face. Do I think a good coach is measured by numbers? No. The sign of a good coach, to me, is one who has a well thought out game plan and can put his guys in the best possible position to succeed. Has Capers done that? Absolutely. There is so much about Capers that I aspire to be as a defensive coach, and one of the biggest parts of that is scheme which we will finally dive in to. This will be a brief introduction into the Capers 3-4 defense and why I believe it is the best in football.
The first thing which is vital in defensive football, is establishing the strength of the offensive formation. Strength is set in order to get your strongside players – such as your strongside outside linebacker (Sam), strong safety, and strongside inside linebacker (Mac) – in position. Strength generally is set to the multiple receiver side. If the formation is balanced, the strength is set to the wide side of the field. Here are a few examples:
As you can see here, the offense begins in a 3×1 set on the short side of the field, as soon as they shift in to a 3×1 on the wide side, the defense responds accordingly. You can see both the Sam and Mac linebacker adjusting to the offensive formation. It is vital to get guys in the right position so you are not out of place at the snap of the ball.
Here is an example of setting the strength with no motion. As I mentioned earlier, when the formation is balanced, the strength will be set to the wide side of the field. Not many offenses will ever run to the short side of the field. If the formation is in the middle of the hashes, the strength will generally be set to the left side since most offenses are right handed. We see an example here of 11 personnel which is one back and one tight end, which we will get into later. The first thing to understand about Capers’ defense is determining the strength of the offensive formation. Once you can identify that we can move on.
Next we will take a brief look into the base front that Capers uses. Every defensive coordinator has a base package that everything else stems from. In a 4-3, the base is usually an over front; that is, the tackle is in a 3 technique, which is the outside shade of the guard. The 3 technique is set to the offensive strength. The alternative in a 4-3 is having an under front, that is, having the 1 technique shade on the center, to the strength. In the 3-4 a coaches base front could vary greatly. Some coaches use an okie front, where the ends are in a 4 technique, or head up on the tackles. Other coaches might use a 50 front in which the ends are in 3 techniques with the Sam and the Will linebackers in 5 techniques, or outside of the tackle. Capers, however, uses an Eagle front for his base. Everything else that the Packers do defensively will stem from this front. Below are a few examples of what you will see from the Eagle front.
The Eagle front is a base front with 3 down defensive lineman and 4 linebackers. The nose is shaded to the strength of the formation. In an eagle front, the nose and 5 tech will be to the closed side of the formation; that is, to the side of the tight end. The open side of the formation would be the side with no tight end. With the nose and the 5 tech end to the closed side of the formation, the weakside end will be in a 3 technique with the Will linebacker in a 5 technique or 9. The Sam will be in a 9 technique and will primarily be the force player. The force player is responsible for forcing the play back inside to the defensive line and inside linebackers. In order for a 3-4 to be successful everything must funnel back inside. One of the most helpless feelings is seeing the defense lose contain and seeing the ballcarrier run for a first down. Need I even mention the 49ers game in 2012?
One of the best things about Capers 3-4 scheme is the flexibility that it offers. Here we see an example of a 50 front. This can be run from your base package, as we discussed earlier. The 50 front is very gap sound. It is important in this defense that every player knows his gap. The only player who should have a 2 gap responsibility is the nose guard. Playing the nose head up on the center has its advantages. A head up nose can make things difficult on the center. The center has to worry about getting the snap and worry about his man in front of him, as opposed to seeing an over or under front, where the center would work to the Mike linebacker. We see here that only 1 inside linebacker is in the box. The other inside linebacker – called the Buck – is flexed out on the number 3 receiver. That can be one downside of coming out in a base look. If Capers gets an empty look, like shown above, it will take an extra linebacker out, which is usually a mismatch. This is why we usually see Capers in a nickel or dime look, to counter multiple receiver sets. I hope to have an article on nickle and dime personnel coming soon.
Football has certainly changed over the last ten years. Offenses now run more 3 and 4 receiver sets and throw the ball much more than they used to. Because of that, defenses now have to adapt. This is why we see the Packers in the nickle and dime packages about 80% of the time. That is the beauty of the 3-4: it is extremely flexible to whatever the offense throws at you. Unlike other defenses, you can show multiple looks from your 3-4 personnel. You can show all the elements of a 4-3, 4-2-5, and a 5-2 defense with 3-4 personnel on the field.
Although this is from the nickle package, there is no difference from this 3-4 “stack” look and a base over 4-3 look. That’s what I love the most about the 3-4 is the flexibility that it has. There is nothing that the offense does that the defense can’t adjust to.
Know the Basics:
- Strength is set to the multiple receiver side, wide side if balanced, closed side if in Eagle front.
- The 3-4 is a one gap defense. Each player is responsible for their gap.
- The Eagle front is great vs the run, susceptible to the pass.
- Defense must identify the strength and adjust quickly.
Hopefully this gave you a slight insight on the Capers 3-4 system. There will be much, much more to come.
Go Pack Go!