Pre-Season Prep

School is out for the summer, my oldest son has already completed one football camp and is off to Linfield College this weekend for his team full-contact camp: that means it is time to buckle down and get ready for the next season of football.

This will most likely be my last season coaching my own son as Matthew will be playing at the varsity (8th grade) level in the Tualatin Valley Youth Football League (TVYFL). It looks like Sherwood will have two varsity teams this year (we’ve had only one for the past 2 years), and I will once again be defensive coordinator for one of the teams. Sadly, my coaching partner in crime for the past 4 years Jim Nappe will be moving down to 3rd/4th grade to coach his middle son. This will mean adapting to a new head coaching style and likely a different offensive coaching philosophy - challenges I’m excited to undertake. In any case, we all know that it is defense that wins football games, right? Right.

During the past few months I’ve focused my learning on how to improve my scouting technique. I read Steve Belichek’s seminal book Football Scouting Methods - amazing what was being written 50 years ago on this topic and how much I still need to learn. I believe I have a solid foundation in scouting opponent’s offenses and arriving at defensive schemes to stop their core strengths. Reading this book gave me insight into how I can better track what I see to learn more about situational tendencies (down and distance, position on field, substitutions). The real value in reading this book was to learn more about how to scout defenses to better prepare an offensive strategy. I’ve avoided this partly because I haven’t been the offensive coordinator, and partly because the problem seems more abstract to me. Defense is necessarily reactive and I think most defensive coordinators in youth football focus on simplicity - running the same base defense and varying things only via different blitz and stunt packages. Given that we execute such a run-oriented offense, I also never concerned myself with coverage strategies other than to look for particularly weak secondary personnel. All this meant that when scouting opponent defenses I would focus almost exclusively on:

  • Base defense, particularly defensive line configuration. Odd or even fronts, gap assignments, etc.

  • Weak / strong personnel to inform our play calling strategy.

  • Unusual behaviors or schemes that mandate a drastic re-consideration of our offensive strategy. For example, one way to make the inside game of the Wing-T break down quickly is to blitz both A gaps hard consistently. We have a way to respond to this, but if we don’t know ahead of times it can wreak havoc on our inside trap plays and sweeps where we pull guards.

The book has given me new insight into methods for analyzing opponent defenses more methodically - now hopefully I’ll have the time to actually conduct the necessary analysis to take advantage of these lessons!

I’m getting ready to embark in some deep study to get ready for our the defensive schemes I expect to employ in the coming year. Sherwood High Schools runs a 3-5-3 as its base scheme, and I’ve had success running a mix of this with a split-6 defense (which at various times can look like a 4-4, 6-2, or a wide tackle 6). I like having a mix of even and odd fronts, and when we combine this with some aggressive stunting it can make it difficult for teams to effectively prepare their blocking assignments against us.

We are going to see stronger passing teams this year, and I need to significantly improve my understanding of coverage schemes. I will likely lean heavily on the high school approach here and hope to find an assistant that has some depth in this area and is willing to really own this area. Last year I kept things simple with just cover-2, cover-3, and man-to-man options.