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The Flexbone Offense: How to ID the Defense

Posted by AJ Forbes on

In the flexbone offense, the first part of the pre-snap process is identifying the defense.

This identification process breaks down the defense into the front and the coverage shell. By establishing rules for identifying defensive structures, players are given a clear picture that lets them think less and play faster.

This article is taken directly from our video series: The Modern Flexbone Offense: The Complete Series.

Watch the video below or keep reading to learn more.

Defensive Fronts

Because the Quarterback has the best view of the entire defense, he calls out one of the five defensive front structures to the rest of the players in the box. He has to look at if there is a 0-tech Nose Tackle on the Center, where the first and second Defensive Linemen are along the line of scrimmage, and where the Linebackers align at the second level. These guidelines allow the Quarterback to establish the count, rules, and communication for the rest of the offense

The first 8-man (or “Rover”) front that flexbone offensive coordinator Scott Dieterich covers is the “40” front, which most people will see as a traditional 4-2 defense. Key indicators to identify a “40” front is that there is no 0-tech Nose Tackle on the Center and no Mike Linebacker lined up in front of the Center (00-tech). Dieterich emphasizes that they see a shade on the Center differently than a 0-tech Nose Tackle, which is pictured below in his example of a “40” front. The “Rover” description is used to include the overhang defenders that are capable of inserting themselves into the run fit.

8 Man Rover vs Flexbone
The second 8-man front is the “30” front. A “30” front consists of three Defensive Linemen with stacked Linebackers behind them and overhang defenders on either side of the box. Dieterich explains that his teams look at the “30” front through the eyes of a “40” front where they take the first down defender on either side and stack them over the ball. He says that has been the best way for his players to understand this particular structure.
8 Man 30 Front
The “5-1” front–also known as the “Bear” front–is the final 8-man front. While it may be tempting to associate the “5-1” with the “30” front, the structures are different enough that Dieterich created a different category. The best way to identify the Bear front is to see five defenders up on the line of scrimmage with a 0-tech Nose Tackle and 00-tech Mike Linebacker.
5-1 Bear Front

The first of the two 7-man fronts is the “4-3”, which can sometimes be referred to as a “6-1”. Key indicators to identify this front are four Defensive Linemen with a Mike Linebacker lined up right over the Center. The two Outside Linebackers can be in any number of alignments, whether it be on the line of scrimmage outside of the Defensive Ends or off the ball in the box.

4-3 Front vs Flexbone

The last front that Dieterich referenced is the “50” front, also known as a “5-2”. This structure consists of a 0-tech Nose Tackle with two off-ball Linebackers in the box. Dieterich refers to both of these 7-man fronts as “Safety” fronts, which refers to the fact that there are no overhang defenders outside the box.

5-2 Front vs Flexbone

Perimeter Shells

Rather than teaching different coverages, Dieterich focuses on teaching shell structures and alignments. This provides schematic flexibility for the offense and simplifies the learning for the players.

The “shell” structure of the secondary generally refers to the number of deep Safeties. A 1-shell describes a defense with one high Safety who usually aligns in the middle of the field. A 2-shell describes a structure where there are two deep Safeties. Lastly, a 0-shell structure indicates that any Safety in the game (if there are any at all) is playing at Linebacker level with no deep help. 

When looking at the Corners, Dieterich outlines two different looks that he identifies. The first is an “off” look where the Corners are playing off of the line of scrimmage and give the receiver space to work with. The second look is a “press” technique where the Corners are on the line of scrimmage and within arm’s reach of the receiver. 

Defensive Line Alignments

Dieterich has a system in place that allows his players to communicate with him how the Defensive Line lines up. In addition to the traditional alignments where Defensive Linemen aligned in a shade are given an odd number and a head-up player is given an even number, there is a more generic vocabulary. 

A “tite” technique describes a Defensive Lineman being aligned closer to the Center, while a “wide” technique indicates that a Defensive Lineman is aligned further away from the Center. The term “Bear” is something that Dieterich uses when talking about a 5-man front where the Defensive Tackles align on the Guards. Conversely, “True” is used when talking about a 5-man front where the Defensive Tackles line up on the Tackles. 

Defensive Stunts

Like everything else within Dieterich’s system, he uses clear phrases that make complicated concepts easier to understand. When discussing defensive stunts, he uses the phrase “stunt the front, blitz the back”. Anything that occurs within the box (i.e. Defensive Linemen and Linebackers) is considered a stunt while anything coming into the box from the back end is considered a blitz. By categorizing stunts and blitzes this way, players can better rely on their techniques and rules to pick them up. Additionally, the scheme itself provides answers that take stunts and blitzes into account. The only time a stunt becomes a concern is when Linebackers and Defensive Linemen exchange gaps.

There are two ways that an offense can discourage the defense from stunting. First, pick them up. It may sound simple, but if a defensive coordinator continues to make a call and that call doesn’t work, there is a high likelihood that it will stop being called. Preparation during the week is what allows offenses to do this. The second method is controlling the cadence. Change up the tempo of the snap and don’t let the defense time up the cadence.

Want More?

Watch more clips from this presentation on The Flexbone Offense HERE.