Most three deep, three under pressures like the NCAA blitz, require five rushers and six cover defenders. But within each pressure, like a multitude of adjustments based off how the offense presents itself. Washburn University Co-Defensive Coordinator Zach Watkins has the ability to bring 4-7 defenders and still play zone coverage behind it and he does so by adjusting his pressures off offensive formation and ball location. In his clinic report, Coach Watkins details the three coverage structures- 6 drop, 6 rush and Trap 2- he uses in each of his three blitz patterns- Florida, Kansas and Texas. Keeping these patterns consistent allows for the same pressure out of both 4-3 and 3-3 and 3-4 looks.
By Zach Watkins
Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers
Washburn University (KS)
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It is always important for a defense to mix up and disguise what they are doing. This is especially true when blitzing. If a blitz is given away early or executed too late, its effectiveness will most certainly be lost. We mix in all kinds of blitzes in our defensive package. We will bring anywhere from 4-7 guys, as well as changing up the coverages behind those blitzes. We feel that you must switch up the coverages to be effective.
In the past few years, we have started to use more zone blitz concepts within our scheme. We have found this to be difficult for an offense to read pre-snap, effective at pressuring the QB and provides certain advantages to us in game planning.
When To Call Zone Blitzes
All downs are possible for us to run our zone blitz packages. Passing situations are obviously more conducive to having success with the blitz, but the run fits are sound for those times we don’t call it at the perfect time. 3rd and long situations (6+) work well, especially with the 1 back sets we most often see. We always want to try to create a 2 for 1 for the RB in their protection so that we have dictated our play for the offense to adjust to.
Pre Snap Alignment
We try to confuse the offense and dictate the protection by “stemming” around pre snap. This includes sugaring our 7 underneath players (DL, LB’s and strong safety (SS)). We will give the same 10x2 high shell look every snap with our free safety (FS) and stud ($), regardless of blitz or coverage (Diagram 1). Our corners can show any leverage and depth, as long as they are in position to play the zone that is called. By maintaining this two high look with the safeties, and with the underneath LBs/SS in our 4-2-5 scheme moving around, we believe it makes it difficult for the offense to diagnose what we are doing. This alignment also gives our guys confidence in their blitzes because if they have stemmed around often enough, their blitz should be disguised.
Within our blitz package, we have the ability to bring anywhere from 4-7 guys and still play zone concepts behind the blitz. All of our zone blitzes are states. This helps our players to categorize the blitzes within terminology of the rest of our defense. I will detail three base zone blitzes that we use, Florida, Texas, and Kansas with the different zone coverages we play behind them, 6 Drop, 6 Rush, and Trap 2. We can also “pop” (single blitz) any player who is not a DL and play zone coverage behind it.
Below, I will detail one blitz with all the coverages, and then expand to other blitzes. For the purpose of simplicity, I’ve drawn each diagram to show the field to the right and boundary to the left. We also play man free (Cover 1) behind these blitzes, but I’ll detail the zone concepts for this article.
POPS (Single Blitzers)
In addition to full scale blitzes, we often “pop” one LB or safety and play 6 Drop, 6 Rush, Trap, or man free behind it. Diagram 14 shows the Mike LB on an A gap “dig” blitz.. Diagram 15 shows the SS on a “smoke” blitz.
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- An analysis (including player responsibilities in rush/cover) of Coach Watkins Florida pressure and how it can be run as both a three deep, three under pressure and with two trap coverage.
- An analysis (including player responsibilities in rush/cover) of Coach Watkins Texas pressure and how it can be morphed into a 30 package pressure with two trap coverage.
- An analysis (including player responsibilities in rush/cover) of Coach Watkins Kansas pressure which allows a high safety to be involved in a zone blitz.
- Plus game cutups of these pressure concepts.
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In my opinion, whatever your players can do effectively is what you should be doing the most often. Mixing in zone blitzes in our game plan each week, our players don’t feel the “pressure” that often comes with playing man to man. Zone blitzing has helped us effectively pressure the QB without having to playing man every time we blitz. Our 4-2-5 base with some odd front variations allows us to be very multiple in what we do both in blitzes and coverage. Our players thrive on being able to mix the coverages in with different blitzes and they look forward to these blitzes being called on game day.
Meet Coach Watkins: Former Ichabod All-American Zach Watkins returned to the Washburn sidelines in spring 2014. He served as the Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Safeties coach in 2014, before making the move to Co-DC/STC/Linebackers in 2015. From 2011-2013 he was an assistant coach at Fort Hays State where he was Special Teams Coordinator, coaching the defensive line for two seasons and the inside linebackers for one. Watkins spent one season as a graduate assistant at Northwest Missouri State coaching linebackers prior to joining the Tiger coaching staff. He has coached six Ichabods to all-MIAA honors.
Key Statistics: Washburn finished the 2015 season ranking in the top 4 in the MIAA in sacks gained, rushing defense and total defense. Washburn was 3rd in the MIAA in interceptions for TDs and 2nd in return yards per interception. WU finished 5th overall in pass defense efficiency.