Nebraska’s base front and the base principles about matching fronts with their Buck linebacker. But what happens when your base defense and personnel are not the best tool for the job? What happens when you get in long-yardage situations or the offense gets out of 21 / 11 personnel? How does Pelini handle these special situations?
The spinner personnel grouping (3 DL, 1 Nickel + 1 Spinner) equates to a GATA package, and is premised on just that; getting after your ass. Whenever you see 3 DL in the game for Nebraska you can bet good money that they will likely end up in a 7 man pressure package supported by Cover 0. The most common concept Nebraska will use is known as “Steeler”.
This simply puts the corners and safeties on split receivers and everyone else is collapsing the pocket. This is the simplest pressure package in football and most known as the “Tigercat” blitz from Jim Bates (of 90's era Dallas Cowboys renown). The numbers will always afford for 1 free rushing defender (no matter how many stay in to protect, the defense will always to bring 1 more than they can block).
In spinner, the Ends will align head-up on the tackles to provide the threat of a 2-way go, though they will bull rush through the inside arm, to free up both the “C” gaps for Nickel/Safety edge pressure as well as help open the “B” gaps for Mike/Spinner blitzing. Versus 2 backs, the nose will always take the right “A” gap. Versus 1 back, the nose will bull rush the center. The edge rushers in this blitz have a "peel" assignment that allows them a free path to the passer unless the back releases to their side. In the event of a back release to their side, the rusher should peel off the rush angle and pickup the back in coverage from an inside-out leverage.
All coverage defenders are playing in an off-man or ‘catch’ position on receivers, allowing the receivers to free release. This prevents the coverage defender from giving up a deep throw, as well as, allowing the defender to keep his eyes on the ball, looking to break on the interception the minute the receiver sticks into his break.
If the slot matchup is better suited for a nickel / buck backer, the converse spinner adjustment is known as “thriller”. Exactly the same as "Steeler", with the exception of freeing up the safeties by engaging the Will / Buck ( substitute for Nickel) in coverage on inside receivers.
As a change-up and counter to the Cover 0 pressures, a rotating man-free concept is available provide a little more insurance behind the blitz and provide middle of the field protection.
The Back Dog pressure features an orchestrated overload to the Mike backer side of the ball. The Mike will be supported by a cross-facing nose (to open up the blitz lane), an end, and either the Buck Nickel or corner. The spinner will align away from the back, with the Mike to the back. The Weak Nickel will align to the tight end (or 4th receiver), with the Buc Nickel to the passing strength. This basic concept can be run based on personnel or field/boundary, the only adjustment (called from the safeties) would be from the blitzing corner or Buc Nickel.
Examples of Spinner Back Dog 1 Comet being run:
If you recall (or rewatch), during the Big XII Championship Game, after stalling Texas early in the 1st half, Pelini used his Spinner groupings to pressure McCoy all night into errant throws and interceptions.
This is the primary look Pelini will give once this dime grouping is introduced. He does have other coverage variations (next post) that apply to the base defense, but rarely utilizes them if nothing more than a change-up.