The Quad-Front defense originated from Coach Watts and many guys on his staff during his stint with UC Davis are now coaching in the Big Sky Conference, where the new-age RPOs have become ubiquitous. The final product of Coach Watts and his staff’s evolution created a defense with more layers to defend offenses, increasing unpredictability of alignments and the “pictures” they presented to offenses. This was mainly out of split-safety Quarters coverage. Once coach met and networked with Coach O, he began to play three-down with single-high safety structures. This allowed his defense to keep the layers and solid perimeter edges. Coach Watts’ Quad-Front defense has an overhang for the QB and then an overhang outside the No. 2 for the throw.
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One-high defenses facing a 2x2 set put defensive ends in conflict against zone-read runs. The defensive end has to be able to defend the cutback of the RB into his C-gap, while maintaining his BCR responsibilities on the QB (using a “Surf” technique). Using the tite front, the player is now off the ball and defends from depth. He can evaluate who has the ball while still sitting in the “RPO” hole. Another challenge for four-down, one-high defenses is the bubble to the RB, which allows the tackle to get up on your inside LB. The tite front aligns two players on those tackles, getting rid of all B-gap bubbles. Doing so allows you to squeeze and constrict the interior fits. The stacked LB over the center can fold all the way back and become a “bonus” player, stealing gap.
Alignment Against Four Open Receivers
The down safety into the boundary and the Sam LB mirror each other with outside leverage of No. 2. The Mike LB will apex the tackle and No. 2 strong, with 3-4 yards depth; the Jack LB is his mirror image opposite. The Will LB is stacking the RB’s alignment, aligning him in position to defend frequent speed-option schemes offenses tend to use against bear fronts.
Mike/Jack are keying flow.
The inside stacked LB will play “running back” in a sense, finding the window and matching the RB. Against “fast” flow, he will try to fill in that first cut of the RB. His rule is to maintain inside-out pursuit. To ensure that LBs play fast and instinctively, Watts’ coaching staff does not give them rigid run-fit rules that would tie them down from making plays.
Both outside shade players (Sam LB and down safety) maintain their leverage. This is a great adjustment from traditional 4-3 Quarters, where if No. 2 pins that overhang player, he can maintain the edge of the defense. This goes back to giving your defense layers against modern offenses.
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As a base, Coach Watts will play an eight-man spot and drop three-deep coverage, understanding that they will lose some pass rush effectiveness. The nose “pushes” into the frontside A-gap often, unlike “lagging” in traditional tite front schemes. This is to dictate that the guard honors the block on the nose every down. Changing fits and not staying static is a key to any defense now that they have more perimeter defenders and a lighter box, which builds “tools in the toolkit” to attack offenses and make them play “left-handed” and uncomfortable.
Trips Check in Quad Front
Small adjustments and overlapping responsibilities get defenses to play fast. The Jack LB to the single-width side helps the corner take away easy access throws from the single-receiver side. The strong safety will buzz (rotate) down to the three-receiver side, aligning outside of No. 3. The down safety will now rotate to the MOF. The one-high structure can spin without giving up weak run support. Diagram below:
Principles of a Fast Defense
Tackling and effort to the ball have to be an emphasis for teaching/coaching, from the top (head coach) down to the players. Coaches get what they practice and emphasize, therefore Coach Watts and his defense work tackling and pursuit drills every day, regardless of time of year or practice structure. The heart of a great defense is tackling. It minimizes yards after contact, explosive plays, long drives and conversions. Emphasizing tackling has to be a shared coaching and team effort, sacrificing individual drill time to be great at tackling.
An age-old cliché from coaches that they “shouldn’t have to coach effort” is not a belief of Coach Watts: they emphasize and stress maximum effort in all team activities. “You can’t rely on your players to just play with maximum effort all the time,” Coach Watts says. “It is human nature to drop your effort level to what is being asked of you.” Fresno State demands high-level effort every day in practice, as players will play in the game as they practice during the week. Coach will practice with two whistles, to ensure his defense is running and displaying effort through the whistle.
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A pursuit drill Coach Watts uses to emphasize maximum effort is to have the player who “tags off” on the ball carrier in a team drill raise his hand. The team’s remaining defenders will sprint to the player with his hand up, and the defense will break down a huddle on him. The main coaching point is to teach players to trigger to the ball and play through the whistle. It becomes very clear when players are not giving the expected effort, as they are not in the huddle and visible loafing while others are breaking the huddle. It builds accountability within teammates, as players are running to their fellow teammates. Now they are policing within themselves. When it comes from peers, it’s often more effective and addresses the issue of loafing.
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