A writer named Steven Ruiz has an article in USA Today worth spending some time on. There is the whole body of analytical data that fronts the article. He then documents some modern wrinkles in how the pass rush is now being coached.

He spends a fair amount of time talking about the zone blitz, something that in my eyes is not new, and to be plain, was used at least as early as the college TCU-SMU games of the 1930s, the Sammy Baugh games where SMU constantly varied the pressure Sammy would see (1). Different linemen would fall out of the lines and occupy zones, and the folks rushing would vary. This story pretty much gets told in any biography of Sammy Baugh. It’s not hidden in the depths of newspapers.com.

By the 1940s, you see lineman falling back into zones in books by coaches such as Dana Bible (2). Don Faurot, in his book on the Split T, says when speaking of the pass rush: “rush at least four men. Vary the number constantly.”(3)

Patterns like these continued into the 1950s, where books by guys like Bobby Layne then talk about the changes in how the rush was generated once Tom Landry’s 4-3 came into the fore.

In the 5-2 Eagle, as Layne explains, the rush largely came from the ends and the three linemen in the middle defended the run. In the 1950s era 4-3 system, all four down linemen rushed. All the linemen were tall men, with long arms to obscure the view of the quarterback. They all rushed because the wall of arms was a big factor in preventing downfield vision. And because they all rushed, and the 4-3 was a massively dominant defense, from the middle 1950s to the middle 1970s, the notion of a variable line rush was slowly lost.

So, in the modern context, Dick LeBeau is considered the father of the ‘zone blitz’, the modern incarnation of the 1940s ‘constantly variable rush’. And further, the faked blitz, is no longer just talked about or seen. It’s not, as a 1930s coach might put it, part of the ‘bag of tricks’ a defensive player should have. The creeper, as it’s called, is a coaching point that’s integral to some defensive systems. The idea is of course, not new, as anyone who ever saw the Jimmy Johnson coached Philadelphia Eagles defenses can attest to. The thing that’s new are that these kinds of ideas are integrated into defensive systems, are coaching points. And let’s give Steven Ruiz a +1 or thumbs up for exposing all that to us.

***

Hat Tip to Doug Farrar for exposing me to Steven’s post on Twitter.

Notes and References.

1. Holley, Chapter 4.

2. Bible, p. 156.

3. Faurot, p 223.

Bibliography.

Bible, Dana X., Championship Football, Prentice-Hall, New York, 1947.

Faurot, Don, “Secrets of the Split T formation”, Prentice-Hall, 1950.

Holley, Joe, Slingin’ Sam: The Life and Times of the Greatest Quarterback Ever to Play the Game, University of Texas Press, 2012 [ebook].

I was originally looking for as much information on Robert Neyland’s methods of playing football as I could find. The best reference is probably Andy Kozar’s “Football as a War Game” but finding cheap copies these days is next to impossible. Dr Kozar’s book is made of annotated notes of General Neylands, and originally could be had for $75.00. On Amazon these days, one copy is being offered for a bit more than $2800.00. So, that said, I read Dan Gilbert’s book, which is a decent history of the man but a mediocre football book.

IMG_0335

All that said, it became evident that there was an early standout on Robert Neyland’s teams, and that man was Bobby Dodd. Bobby Dodd was a quarterback on 3 of Neyland’s best teams, and later became a coach with the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. In 1952, Bobby Dodd won a college national championship and in 1954, he wrote a book on football.

IMG_0320

The timing of the book is useful, as it’s between the 1950 publication date of Don Faurot’s book and the 1957 publication of Wilkinson’s tome on defense. Anything that can give me a snapshot in time of what people think is useful, and this gives an opinion of a respected, Neyland educated coach. Interestingly, when Bobby Dodd retired from coaching Georgia Tech, his replacement was Bud Carson, the same Bud Carson who became the well known defensive coordinator for the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers (and where the first versions of the Tampa 2 appeared).

If I had to hazard a guess, from the amount of space devoted to it, then I would say that Bobby understood the 6-2 better than any other defense. It was the first defense he introduces, and in the shifted 6-2, the defense he recommends against the single wing. The next base defenses he introduces are the 5-3-2-1, as he calls it (the 5-3) and the image that follows shows a 5-3 from an offensive context.

IMG_0321

Later he introduces the defense he calls the 5-4-2, and later says the best of them is the 5-4 Oklahoma. For Dodd, it was a defense against the split T.

IMG_0332a

His final base defense was his goal line defense. Against spreads, he gives advice that would feel at home with anyone who has read Dana Bible’s book.

IMG_0334a

There is a lot in Bobby Dodd’s book, that I haven’t covered, as he gives an enormous amount of drill, and then also his philosophy of football, which was that it had to be fun, or else the students wouldn’t enjoy it. In many of the psychological aspects of football, his approach is very modern, and the book would not hurt any coach to have on his bookshelf.

Video has become available, in the right places, of the 1950 Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma and LSU, and early in that video, you see LSU line up with a pair of split ends. And interestingly, the defensive ends of Bud Wilkinson’s 5-2 go out with them.

okie-5-2-1950-sugar-bowl-dends-cover-recvrs

And this is important because the answer to the question of when did 5-2 defensive ends acquire pass responsibilities is, more or less, right from the start. This isn’t a ad-hoc defense that Bud cooked up. Oklahoma was playing this defense all that year (1). You see the 5-2 all through the video, tight and loose. And to the question of which was an older keying defense, the Oklahoma is absolutely older than the 6-1 Umbrella (Oct of 1950, as opposed to the January bowl game), and so is older than Tom Landry’s 4-3 inside/outside.

So where did these stand up defensive ends come from? As far as I can tell, common practice. In the 1950 game, you’ll see LSU on defense with 4 players in a 3 point stance, flanked by two players in a two point stance. That’s a 6-2 defense, 1940s style.

Sugar-Bowl-1950-Okla-Split-t-w-flanker-vs-LSU-6-2-front

And images from the 1945 Sugar Bowl (Alabama – Duke) show it wasn’t unique to LSU.

Ala-Duke-1945-SugarBowl-Ala-6-2-def-standup-defensive-ends

I’ve had coaches I respect tell me that Bud’s 5-2 has antecedents in General Neyland’s defenses. I have seen some video of the 1952 TN team but none that quite shows the kind of flexibility shown by Bud on the first image in this article.

Dan Daly has a new blog and I think people should check it out. Doug Farrar is supposedly working on an article about Clark Shaughnessy and I hope it turns out well. It’s not easy to disambiguate facts in Shaughnessy’s time frame and I hope he does his homework on that one.

Notes

1. Keith, p 55.

Bibliography

Keith, Harold, Forty-seven Straight: The Wilkinson Era at Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1984.

I’ve been lucky recently. Bill Arnsparger’s book tends to cost closer to $100 than a penny, but an inexpensive copy appeared and I grabbed it (even the Kindle version is around fifty dollars). Compared to Homer Smith’s book, this is less a compendium of diagrams, concepts and ideas and more of a handbook on how to organize and play football defense. It is at times synoptic, at times terse, something of a densely annotated outline. Bill is fond of capital letters, acronyms, and motivational slogans. He also needs to learn to spell “Wilkinson”.

img_6719

img_6720

As a defensive handbook, it’s full of fronts, pass defenses, pithy comments, and a fair amount of defensive gold. He talks about which pass defenses should be paired together. He’s good at finding ones whose reads would be the same to a QB but whose collective actions would be quite different (Cover 2 with his Two man coverage, for example).

As befits a handbook, nothing is beyond the ken of the curious mind. It’s in the depth of the material where it can be daunting. It feels like those sophomore survey courses where the instructor tries to teach everything. Clearly, a lot of time and effort have been poured into the collection of material in the book to make it a cohesive and workable system.

His approach to the history of defenses is pretty original. He starts with the wide tackle six, and between what Jones and Wilkinson have said about the wide tackle six, what Jones and Wilkinson have said about four and five spoke contain, what Homer Smith said about the evolution of the 8 man line, and this delightful Rod Rusk quote from Doctor Z’s tome:

We had trouble with Atlanta’s one back. I was very tempted, but I didn’t have the guts, to line us up in an old fashioned wide-tackle, six-man line, an old 6-2 defense. It keeps going around and around in my head. You can do it with nickel people. The defensive ends are strong safeties, then you’ve got four linemen inside them, then the two inside linebackers are, well, inside linebackers. I still might do it. You might see a lot of people going back to old ideas next year.

Is this the time when the modern 4-2-5 was conceptualized? I’m really intrigued by this train of thought.

Later he points out that the wide tackle six, if you put one of the linebackers at the nose on the line, becomes a kind of seven-diamond.

Seven-diamond, as it stems from the wide tackle six. Pull the right tackle and replace him with a linebacker, and you get something incredibly similar to the later 46 defense.

Seven-diamond, as it stems from the wide tackle six. Pull the right tackle and replace him with a linebacker, and you get something incredibly similar to the later 46 defense.

And then talks about how similar this seven-diamond is to the 46 defense.

It's interesting that Bill spends most of his time re: the flex defense discussing the play of the offside (flexed) end.

It’s interesting that Bill spends most of his time re: the flex defense discussing the play of the offside (flexed) end.

Later, he talks about the Tom Landry flex defense, and rather than focusing on the tackle up on the line, he discusses a flex strong and the pursuit play of the weakside defensive end. He never outright says it, but considering that he later discusses the development of his 53 and over/under 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, it’s hard to lose the impression that the weak side end, often handling the weak side A gap in pursuit, was a factor in his later 3-4 setups. Did he see it as a step towards a 3-4? Was the weak side flexed end a poor man’s “3-4 linebacker”?

With the notes I’ve shown so far, I’m really only scraping the surface of this book. I get the feeling a good coach could, in many ways, start and end with this book, and not suffer very much. If you’re a fan, the book is expensive enough that you should wait for an inexpensive copy. A defensive coach might actually find reason to buy this one as an ebook, and keep it around.