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Selecting Defensive Players and Adapting to Changes for the Small School

By: Jim France – Manchester HS Football Coach since 1971


The game of football has changed very quickly over the last decade and it has had a great impact on the smaller division schools created by limited personnel. The football programs that have adapted to this change quickly in a game have created greater opportunities of winning the battles that take place. Here is a brief example of how Manchester Local Schools adopted to the changes that occur in a game defensively when teams have changed from a conservative running approach to a wide open, let it fly, attack without having to substitute personnel. Manchester has traditionally run a 5-3 run stopping defense quite successfully. They have had 17 playoff appearances, in 2010 they were a regional runner-up in division IV, and used the following method to help them.

Manchester is a very small division 4 team both in number of boys (220 in the school) on the team there are less than 45 on varsity and in physical size none of the front 5 lineman are over 175 pounds.  They have been able in the past to stop running teams because of the stunting and blitzing front 8 that will generally over match in sheer numbers the opponent’s offensive front line. This edge however began changing about 3 years ago as more teams started using the spread offense to take them out of their 8 in the box alignment. Manchester’s alignment up front consists of 2 defensive ends that attack, 2 tackles, and a middle guard who also are on the attack and 3 linebackers that will either attack or drop to play pass when needed but who are always the leading tacklers against the run as one is always blitzing. With the advent of the spread Manchester’s linebackers were being taken more and more out of their position to help cover passes and gave the team more of a sit and read 5-2 look. With small players this type of defense suffered in getting pressure against bigger linemen. The only way to keep all 3 linebackers in tan attack with blitzes was to change to a 4-3 but this required getting new personnel into the game and with the advent of the no-huddle it could not be done.


The solution has been to change the approach of how to use the defensive ends from continuous attack to having one being designated a rush end and one being designated a pass control end. It also meant that you had to have one tackle learn how to play as a defensive end and the middle guard had to learn tackle techniques and responsibility when a shift came. The defensive end playing as a pass end now has to learn techniques as a corner of strong safety and he has to have the speed to do so. He must spend time practicing both as a defensive end and a corner/strong safety in practice. The changes in the game can be made without taking out personnel and the calls are made by the players based upon the offensive formation. If a team goes spread and then shifts back to a heavy running set at the last moment then the change can also be made to switch back in order to match the offensive strength. The linebackers never have to switch and can attack, the defensive backs can play their traditional man or cover 1 and all players feel comfortable with their assignments. By making this adjustment of having a rush end and a cover end the idea of attack and using gap defense has once again been the trademark of Manchester. This change requires planning of personnel to make sure you have the speed and ability for each spot, size along with numbers of athletes available, has precipitated the adjustments.