10 ways to make your defense better

This kid was one of the most instinctive, talented linebackers I have ever coached. Saw things on the field that we didn’t even see on film.

That’s why this particular game was so unusual. Our best player… completely lost.

We got his back-up on the field during the next offensive possession to find out what was happening.

(High School football, you don’t leave that stud not he sidelines long.)

“What’s happening out there!?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re doing.”

Holy crap. This is our best player. And our smartest player.

See, the opponent had some really strong tendencies. We could predict what they were going to do.

So we did what coaches do best. We mucked it all up. Overcomplicated the whole deal.

Installed a bunch of new stuff. Automatics. Fronts. Blitzes.

On paper, this was an awesome plan.

The problem? It took the best kid on the field, and made him a statue.

I’m not talking about playing slow. I’m talking about playing dead.

At halftime, scrapped all the new ideas. Went back to the base defense.

And managed to squeak out the Win.

The coaching staff did all we could to work ourselves out of that victory, though. The best thing you can say about our coaching job that night, was we saw our own failure. Then made the change.

There’s a big lesson in this story…

The fastest way to becoming a bad football coach is to get too complicated. The best defensive game plan is the one your kids can execute.

That’s why I put together The 4-2-5 Defense System. On it’s own, the 4-2-5 Defense is a great defense. But there’s a heck of a lot you can’t get from just downloading some playbook.

You’ll get your kids in trouble if you just start pulling pages out of other playbooks. Everything doesn’t fit together or your staff isn’t confident in teaching the players.

Then you just end up with a cool playbook and a lot of losses.

(Unless you have great players. They fix everything)

OK, so one fast way to become a bad football coach. Anyone can do that.

Here’s 10 ways to be a better defensive football coach for your players:

1. Keep it Simple.

That’s number one on every list of coaching advice. Should be, anyway.

Simple is relative. A spot drop Cover 3 is a great coverage, but if that’s the only thing you have at a high level? Might not be so good.

Run what you need to run to stop who you need to stop. Every situation is different, that’s where coaching comes in.

One of the things I do you in The 4-2-5 Defense System is help decide what you need in your playbook. More importantly, what you don’t.

2. Focus on Teaching.

A lot of coaches are great at the X’s and O’s. That’s where I’m best.

The playbook doesn’t matter if your kids can’t run it, though. When you have the playbook right (i.e. simple), the next step is to become a better teacher.

Always look for a better way to say the same thing. Or multiple ways to reach multiple kids.

Photo by USAG- Humphreys from Flickr.com / CC BY 2.0

3. Empower your Players.

One of the best strategies I’ve learned in recent years is to let the players coach each other more.

I’ve known since college, that the best way I learned was to tutor other students in my class. It works in football, too.

Coaches tend to be very coach-centric in our approach. Let go. Let the kids have ownership. The teacher and the student are getting better when you let that happen.

4. Keep Your Players Healthy.

If you’re running a good off-season program, your kids are a lot bigger and stronger than they were even 10 years ago.

If you run a Junction Boys style practice every day, what do they have left on Game Day? Find a better way to make your kids tougher.

5. Accept Responsibility.

Are your kids soft? Maybe, I don’t know. But what good does it do to blame them?

I hear it from coaches all the time. Players are soft. They lack focus. Lack discipline.

You’re a football coach. You want tough, focused, disciplined players? Stop blaming the kids. Stop blaming the parents. Stop blaming society.

Find a solution.

Control what you can control. Changing your mentality on this will instantly make you a better football coach.

6. Plan Better Practices.

If you’re just winging it, start planning. If you’re planning, do it better.

Your practices should be based on the future. What do you need to see in the next game?

When you look at last week’s game, or last season, focus on the problems you need to fix for next year. Better tackling? Better alignment? Better pursuit?

Then look at next week’s game. Put your game plan together. Identify the fronts, stunts, coverages you’ll use. And the technique and skill needed to execute that scheme.

Build a practice plan around that. What do we need to get better at for next week? That’s all that matters.

Side note: This is why I don’t like the concept of Every Day Drills. Which leads us to…

7. Run Better Drills.

Football drills are for solving problems. Not just taking up practice time.

Every Day Drills have become really popular. They make the coach feel good because the players learn the drills, and after a few weeks they look awesome executing them.

But if you’re not raising the bar, who’s getting better?

Create your drills to solve a problem you’re seeing on the field. It’s OK if Monday’s individual period looks a little sloppy. You care about looking like a genius on Friday.

And if you’re running a drill that you don’t see on the field… throw it out!

8. Defend What They Do Best.

Top 3 runs, top 3 passes. It’s that simple.One of my past head coaches gave me a great piece of advice. You can’t stop everything.

Focus on stopping what they do best. Don’t overload your player with a bunch of What If’s that aren’t on the film.

You can create a plan be if you suspect they’ll make some changes. Or just to have in the back of your mind in case. Just don’t put it on your players.

One coach I worked with would draw up every single pass play he saw on film for his secondary. There’d be like 40 route combinations.

If you’ve ever coached the offense, you know there are not 40 route concepts. It was usually 3 or 4 concepts. Everything else was tags and screw-ups.

Focus on what matters.

Photo by Shannon Tompkins on Flickr.com / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

9. Blitz with Purpose.

Defensive Coordinators can get blitz happy, but don’t let it burn you.

Yes, blitzes will get your players excited. But it can become a crutch for them too.

You want your players to believe in the base defense, above all else. Blitzes are fun, but preach that you can stop anything when you line up and play your defense.

The 4-2-5 Defense System features a pretty in-depth blitz package. But we only carry 2 or 3 exotics in a game.

And those blitzes are getting called for a specific purpose. Something we see on film. Not just to ‘get the kids excited.’

10. Establish Your Identity.

Don’t jump around trying to run every shiny object that comes up.

At the heart of The 4-2-5 Defense System is a core philosophy. The System provides the framework. The scheme itself isn’t nearly as important as that framework.

It’s how you teach your run fits. How you match the coverage to the front.

The framework of the System determines how you plan a practice. Prepare your drill work. Game plan for your best opponent.

You can adapt all kinds of new ideas to the System. Just adapt them to fit within your existing framework.

New fronts. Blitzes. Coverages. If it’s a sound adjustment, you can usually fit it within the philosophy of The 4-2-5 Defense System.

That’s the great thing about running a defensive System. It’s not a set of rules. It’s a guide to coaching a great defense.

The 4-2-5 Defense System can truly help you become a better football coach.

Read the original article in Joe Daniel Football and find out more about the 4-2-5 Defense System.

Joe Daniel
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