Safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers focused his talk on defending empty formations.
He showed a picture of Jack Tatum and said now rulemakers are legislating toughness out of the game, which he doesn’t like. That makes it harder for safeties to protect their home – the middle of the field.
They coach from a foundation of four things – toughness, tackling, turnovers and effort.
Defensively, coaches need to identify their players’ strengths and play to them. They also have to identify what type of quarterback they are facing and how the offense wants to attack.
Defending sideline to sideline is kind of a myth.
A lot of spread teams like to throw inside, but anyway they are often only going to go to a few certain spots. Identify decoys and ignore those, such as a traditional running back split out wide.
In playing zone concepts, he explained they will play a one-high defense to take away short and underneath throws. They want to deny those and move the quarterback off his spot with the pass rush, even if that is only three guys. Then the QB has to resort to throwing it away or going wide, where they should have someone establishing leverage and others rallying to the ball.
Two-deep zones limit inside coverages, and linebackers become key to guarding the voids that develop.
When he moves to man principles, he had a power point with actual pictures of bullets serving as presentation bullets, so that was cool.
They play man to man to do one of two things – force tight, accurate throws or sack the quarterback.
They are still conceding decoys in man or zone. They don’t expect a team to throw wide to the field without rolling that way, something that tips off the defense and gives it time to react.
Offenses with a running quarterback can present an extra threat, so he advised using a safety instead of a linebacker as a hole defender.
If blitzing an empty set, you have to give the players confidence they are going to get there. It takes guts to put yourself out there, but you’ve got to do it, and hitting the quarterback takes its toll on him.
They showed a clip of a blitzer making Taylor Martinez throw badly off his back foot in last year’s Nebraska game, to which Withers quipped, “I’m sure that’s on their clinic tape of how to throw.”
Finally, if the offense stops using empty sets and adds a running back, that means you’ve won as a defense.
Whatever you do, he stressed you have to commit to what you are.