Phone: 614.871.9220

Maximizing your Defense Practice Time

By: Tim Smith, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Dover High School (Ohio)

At Dover High School, it has been our philosophy to build a defense that allows our athletes to “Play Hard, Play Fast, and Play Together”.  We constantly stress that it is absolutely critical for our defensive players to get to the ball.  This is something that is evaluated during all phases of group and team defensive drills.  In order to play with this tenacity, players must be able to think and react quickly.  As many wise coaches have stated, if you’re thinkin’, you’re stinkin’.

Recognizing offensive formations and proper alignment are the first objectives of our defense.  To ensure communication among all players, we implement a series of basic calls that help our players make any necessary adjustments.  Obviously, this requires effective teaching on the coaches’ part and plenty of repetition.  One way we have streamlined this process is by devising a drill that we refer to as “Pre-Practice”.  Basically, this a formation recognition period, and because it is more of a mental exercise, it usually occurs before we warm-up for a defensive practice.  Although this is not a new idea, we have expanded this drill in a way that utilizes nearly every player on our squad.  In addition, all coaches are involved in some aspect of the drill.  This allows us to maximize teaching in a minimum amount of time.

We begin by dividing our personnel into 2 groups – Shell (LB’s and DB’s) and Interior (LB’s and DL).  This drill has 4 stations running at one time on different areas of the field.  At Stations 1 and 2, two Interior groups are reviewing stunts and blitzes, while at Stations 3 and 4, two Shell groups are reviewing formation adjustments and coverages.  Any extra players that are not in one of the Shell or Interior groups are used for scout teams.  The table below shows how we organize the various units.

*It is important to note that we use colors to designate each unit (Crimson = Varsity 1st Team, Silver = Varsity 2nd Team, Red = JV 1st Team, & Gray = JV 2nd Team).

Defensive Pre-Practice Stations
Station 1 – Interior Station 2 – Interior Station 3 – Shell Station 4 – Shell
Crimson LB

Crimson DL

Red LB

Red DL


Silver DB

Silver LB

Gray DB

Gray LB

Station 1 – Interior Station 2 – Interior Station 3 – Shell Station 4 – Shell
Silver LB

Silver DL

Gray LB

Gray DL

Crimson DB

Crimson LB

Red DB

Red LB

We typically schedule 15 – 20 minutes for this segment, so we will rotate groups between 8 – 10 minutes.

As you can see from the table, LB units will be able to work with Interior and Shell groups at some point during the drill.  We also design a script and formation cards in order to maximize the efficiency of this drill (see the sample below).

Formation / Motion Hash Defense Checks / Notes
1 Ram Offset Weak L 50 Read – Cov. 5 Check Calls & Zones
2 Lion Offset Strong M 50 Fire Go – Cov. 0 Check Man Resp.
3 Deuce Lf. Zap Rt. R 53 Gray – Cov. 5 Bump & Roll
4 Trips Split Rt. M 70 Fire Go – 0  (Disguise) Check Man Resp.
5 Power I Rt. Fox Lf. M 50 Read – Cov. 5 King Check

With some creative planning, we can review our base defensive calls and our blitz schemes versus various offensive sets, shifts, and motions in a way that is coherent for our players.  This system also gives us the opportunity to give certain players reps at different positions if necessary.  For example, I usually have a defensive back that needs to know how to line-up at both corner and safety.  I can have this player work at corner with the Silver DB’s at Station 3, then go to safety with the Crimson DB’s when we rotate LB groups.  This is definitely an added bonus when it comes to cross-training some of your personnel.

Our Pre-Practice is a perfect place to introduce and review special formation checks as well.  During pre-season camp, we install a few automatic checks that our players must master.  During the regular season, we may have to design a few formation checks for opponents we face each week.  The following diagrams show some of our automatic checks.  In most cases, we use a basic cover 3 shell to help simplify our alignment.

When teams try to catch us off guard with an overload or empty set, we expect our players to react quickly and make the automatic adjustments.  We feel that the greatest benefit of this Pre-Practice drill is being able to prepare 4 defensive units all at one time.  This has been especially effective with our JV squad.  Even though they do not receive as many team reps during the week, they have consistently played with superior execution due to the expertise they gain as a result of Pre-Practice.

During each game week, we incorporate this drill on a daily basis so that our defense can perfect alignment and communication.  On Monday, coaches will take some time to review the opponent’s main formations, discuss tendencies, and highlight their favorite run and pass plays.  However, by Thursday, we expect our varsity players to make adjustments and calls, disguise coverages, and execute stunts with precision.  We believe this solidifies their confidence in the defensive schemes and gives them to best chance to “Play Fast” on Friday night.