Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Coaching the 2-Gap Nose

Even or Odd, that is the question.  With more and more defenses opting into basing out of an odd front, I figured I would pass on some notes of my experiences from a true 3-4 defense.  We've touched on this before, but I believe the true multiple defense of today's game is consists of just 2 interior tackles, 1 defensive end and then 1 hybrid 'tweener' or undersized end/speed rusher.  You can get by with these type of players to get into whatever front you need.  Many defenses base out of these odd personnel groups, but are actually playing an even defense, in the traditional sense. These defenses may play a zero technique, but only require this player to control 1 gap.  In addition, they may cover both guards (2i or 3 tech) and control 2-gaps on a read, but aren't actually using a 2-gap technique. 
There isn't much out there on coaching up the zero technique.  The only thing I've seen addressing this is the Mike Fanoga's "Developing 2-gap Linemen For The 3-4 Defense" video and I don't know that anyone has garnered anything of value off it.  The video just reviews basic DL drills and Coach Fanoga mumbling through unorganized cutups of his teams with no meaningful coaching points. In this installment, I would like to provide my thoughts on coaching a 2-gap zero technique in an odd front.

The main goal of the nose tackle is to control both A gaps. This is usually to free up fast flow inside linebacker in the bubble. I believe its important to appreciate what this position's function is; be responsible for immediate action to both A gaps.  At the bare minimum, the nose should be an obstacle in these lanes.  At best, the nose is an immediate threat to the ball once its snapped. I have never bought into the notion of using defensive linemen as blockers for linebackers.  I'm all for linemen controlling gaps (laterally), but in no way should a defensive lineman be passive chattel to cover up deficiencies of other team members. 

So many times I see coaches simply expecting the nose to post the center and then grab the guard and either just hold both of them at the line or to knock out both blockers and make a tackle. This does the position and the scheme a disservice.  I  believe what these coaches are thinking is akin to the nose just teeing off on the center, essentially tackling him, and finding the ball.  That will likely work if you have Lyle Alzado playing for you, but since no scheme should be built around one player, you will need to develop important skill sets on your roster to actually play this position with technique.  What often happens when players are coached in this haphazard fashion is the player remains raw, getting off high (pad level) and get pushed off the line and into the linebackers.  This is typically followed by coaches chewing ass and throwing another (or simply a bigger) body in at nose, only to get the same result. Reaping the benefit of having a 2-gap nose(and choosing to run this scheme)  requires a significant investment in skill development.  You have to do more than just put a large body at zero technique and expect to 2-gap.

With every defensive technique, recognize these are skills that must be developed and repped correctly to gain any benefit from.  Simply talking about it will not generate any benefit.  I believe you should equip your players with rudimentary skills first to ensure they are competent to do the bare minimum of their position. Once they've mastered the basics of the position, then move on to advanced techniques for exceptional performance. Trying to advance from stance to double counter moves in one practice will only frustrate coaches and player alike and retard development.

Developing the skillset for the nose is simply to perfect a low, coiled stance and get extension on the center.  The stance should not be staggered and should be slightly wider than shoulder-width with the tail in the air and the chest as low as possible. Starting from a 4-point stance makes training this stance easiest. As the player builds a comfort level in this position, they can remove the off hand from the ground (but still keep the arm low).  


this is a good example of pad level and hip flexion in the stance

Remind the player that they are trying to make a compact spring, squeezing their mass into a small space.  The stance actually should be uncomfortable with 70% of the weight forward compelling the nose to move forward at the first opportunity.

Hip explosion and hand placement are key here and this skill cannot be drilled too much.  For what we're after here, it isn't just a stance and start rep, the key is to get comfortable crowding the target (ball) with a high tail and exploding up into the target which would be only a foot away.  The closer the nose is to the ball, the greater immediate threat he becomes to the center's snap (and the ability for the offense to account for both A gaps). While it is best to rep this against a 1-man or 7-man sled, this can be repped against a wall, a goalpost, or any other solid, stationary target. Focus on hips and (palms of the) hands. It isn't enough to just fall into a target, it is important that the first movement has the player striking the target with both hands as his first 6" step hits the ground.  This contact should force the hips to roll forward, raising the chest into the target.  

The next step would square up the weight of the nose, both feet underneath the frame of the body, building momentum to extend the arms from the hips. It wouldn't be unusual to spend a full week of Indy time repping just stance, strike and extension.  Once this is consistently achieved, speed up the reps to instill a footwork rhythm of your linemen; we're not just coaching the technique but also the tempo it has to be achieved.  They should have a muscle memory BANG-BANG response of get-off-to-extension. What the coach is going for here is to make this reaction so ingrained in the player that they aren't thinking of how to get to a leverage position, but they can be fully keyed on their read response. 

Since the double-team is the primary threat to the nose, this should be the focus of work for the nose to recognize.  The rule is to "fight the pressure", though there are a couple of techniques to use to be effective. The bare minimum would be to post the center, then immediately drop the near knee of where the pressure comes. At worst, this creates a pile of the guard and center to the point of attack (closing the running window) and at best, it propels the nose into the running lane to make a play on the ball.  I feel this is an effective technique for beginning players because it is simple to teach and actually benefits the linebackers.  The worst thing a coaching staff can do is be adamant that the nose must hold the point against two blockers when he hasn't been sufficiently trained to succeed against that matchup.  By dropping the knee, you ensure the player stays low and cuts the playside guard.   You can rep this halfway and be satisfied with creating a pile in A gap on first down block pressure. Once your kids get good at 1) stance 2) strike 3) extension and 4) knee drop/pile, then begin fully repping the drop and seat roll into the running lane. What this looks like is the knee goes down and the hips turn to plant the butt on the ground (back is to the blockers).  

When this takes place, the nose is compacting his body once again to coil out of his original stance. Once the nose hits his butt, he should pull his near elbow violently back. This is the same motion as "starting the lawnmower" to spin the flywheel from a pull cord. This  pulling motion should be violent enough to swing the hips 180 degrees into the gap so that you end up in a 4-point stance in B gap.

Your nose should be competent enough to start if they can consistently perform these basic components.  The only other blocks you will deal with is a reach or a pass set. Obviously, on reach the nose will get his extension on the center and fight laterally to keep outside leverage on the ball.  On pass set, the nose should at first be instructed to only bull rush with a rip escape.

  1. Coiled stance/ crowd the ball
  1. 6" punch / beat the snapping hand
  2. Extension / elbows
  3. Run the knees, keep feet moving….what to do now?
  4. Fight pressure / drop or squeeze gap
  1. First step wins


Now that we have covered basic components of the position, you can gain the most out of the position by advancing their skill sets.  The get-off and leverage is vital to success on the line.  The zero technique has the advantage of squaring off against an offensive player preoccupied with snapping the ball. Foster a competition during pre-practice for the nose to grab / trap the center's snapping hand in his crotch.  This instills in the nose the aggressive, crowd-the-ball stance and focusing on the target of the center's arm below the elbow.  Without the ability to keep the nose at bay, the center is immediately beat and could potentially foul the exchange.  The more of an immediate threat the nose is to the center 's first step, the more the nose can pressure the center's performance of snapping the ball.

Improving the stance and strike repetitions would also include a gap step escape.  Again, the repetitions are to enforce technique and, more importantly, the tempo the linemen executes each movement. Add the rip and swim moves to the nose' s repertoire, so that the progression goes stance, explosion strike, full extension, and escape. The coaching points for the each are as follows:

  1. Extension, trap near wrist/elbow with outside hand
  2. Outside foot steps outside the blocker's body to set the base
  1. Inside foot crosses the blocker's body and sets just outside the gap foot. The target is to get hip-to-hip with the blocker.
  1. Punch the inside arm into the gap to lift the blocker's gap arm out of the way.  Violently rip the bicep to the earhole of the blocker.

  1. Extension, swat the near forearm down with the outside hand
  2. Outside foot steps outside the blocker's body to set the base
  1. Inside foot crosses the blocker's body and sets just outside the gap foot. The target is to get hip-to-hip with the blocker.
  2. Jab the inside hand just outside the neck of the blocker to swim over his shoulder.  Keep the arm tight to the body, don't wind up.  The action should be to throw the punch (outside) the face of the blocker and, "stab him in the kidneys with an ice pick".

Improving the double-team

When your nose starts showing an aptitude to keep his feet and maintain leverage on the center, you can get more out of him by teaching him how to split the double team.  When the nose extends on the center (post) and feels pressure from the driving guard, he can drop his hips from the center and turn his butt into the guard and shuffle laterally, turning away from the pressure.  This will tie up both guard and center and keep the nose in position to still play playside A gap and any inside cutback. The key here is to not let the guard and center get hip-to-hip to work an effective double-team.  If the nose stays square, the driving guard can squeeze his hips inside and get on track with the center.  When the nose kicks back his hips, much like an offensive baskteball player backing into a defender, he's performing an action not unlike an offensive tackle that is getting beat by a bull rush who would drop his hips, spread his legs to gain low, stopping leverage on a rusher. With the guard tied up past 5 quick steps of the nose, the playside inside linebacker should have a clean window into B gap to make a play.  This technique is also effective versus zone combos where the drive blocker would slam the nose then work to the second level after the backside reacher can overtake the nose. This "turn away butt block" would prevent any zone combo from getting free.

Reading the center's first step

They key to coaching tempo so well that your players end up with what will seem like a long time once they've made that first step. In their mind, they will want to go from stance-to-escape within a full second and a half.  This amounts to 3 quick steps of the nose's feet from their stance.  For them to stay ahead, they will have to anticipate what body position the center wants to work toward.  What I have found was fighting the very first step of the center as a sign of pressure (i.e. reading the center's feet for 2-gap). 

If a center wants to post for a double team to his right, he will step with his right foot.  If a center wants to reach the nose to his left, he will step with his left foot. After snapping the ball, the center has to make up for that 1/2 step he lost during the snap motion.  He won't be skip pulling to the perimeter and if he false steps, he would create an open window along the offensive line.  The point being, the center is rushing to get caught up with the track his fellow linemen are on.  If the nose attacks the center's first step he will more than likely be correct on which gap is threatened.  The whole sit and wait to get creamed by double-teams is a nebulous read for the nose.  If you wait until the guard makes contact on the down block, its often too late to make a move. 

The nose would have an explosive get off, gain extension (regain base), then once the center makes a move to fight for the leverage he needs, THEN the nose attacks that move because we really don't care about dealing with the center (we want the ball) and because we're posting and not just shooting, we're keeping the ILBs free of trash.

This isn't shooting gaps as a nose, it is premised on posting that center, as you normally would.  This extra step advantage would provide the nose the ability to break any double team before it gets unified, giving the nose a one-on-one matchup he can win.  How this is coached is to work against another player's movement with the first step (left, right, retreat) as the trigger to (balanced strike extension and half-man escape) indicate which side the nose should work his escape. 

Here are some additional readings on the (true) 3-4 defense

3-4 Defense Article from NFL Magazine

North Iowa 3-4

Drills for 3-4 Linemen

Marvin Lewis 3-4 Clinic

Pete Jenkins on using 2-gap linemen

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