How Easy Can Defense Get? 30 Minutes to a 4-4 Defense

Many coaches are looking to simplify their defense. No need to look any further than one of the classics, the 4-4 Defense. We get carried away sometimes with the vast array of fronts, stunts, blitzes and coverages that we can run. Our masterpiece on paper turns into a cluster on the field.

It does not have to be that way. I’m going to show you how to get an entire, functioning 4-4 defense installed in 30 minutes of practice time. You could do it all in one day, but I wouldn’t. 30 minutes of install is tedious and boring for everyone.

Today I’m going to give you the first 10 minutes of install. We’ll put the base front in, only. In practice, you will probably want to put this and the coverage in one Day 1, and then put the blitzes in on Day 2. But we’ll get to that.

This was the first defensive scheme I ever coached in, and the first defense I ever coordinated (as a JV Defensive Coordinator). We eventually added in a number of wrinkles as the season went on, but the base was installed during the first 2-a-Day practice. And it never changed.

Our 4-4 Defense was the same in its basic structure as the defense I wrote about in Coaching Football’s 4-2-5 Defense. We used a spot drop Cover 3. The Outside Linebackers, which we called the Sam and Will, were always the contain player. The Mike and Jack Linebackers are the inside Linebackers. They all flop with the strength.

4-4 Defense Alignment

Base Front: The Defensive Line

We keep it simple for the Defensive Line. Once they’re lined up, they do not have to worry about much. Older, more savvy players will be alert for adjustments when we blitz or based on situation. But young kids will learn how to line up once, and then focus on technique.

  • Strong End: 6-Technique, head up on Tight End. 5-Tech is no TE. Responsible for C gap.
  • Weak End: 5-Technique away from strength. Head up on TE if he has one. Responsible for C gap. Quickest DL, usually move a Linebacker down.
  • Strong Tackle: 3-Technique, outside shade of Guard. Responsible for B Gap. Best true DL.
  • Weak Tackle: 1-Technique, weak shade on Center. Responsible for A Gap. Can be a smaller, wrestler-type kid if you are short on true linemen.

You don’t have to flip the Defensive Linemen if you do not want to. If your Ends are similar in ability, there is no reason to flip them. We use the same Defensive Line reads and techniques in the 4-4 Defense as we would in a 4-3 Defense or 4-2-5 Defense.

The Inside Linebackers

Just like the Defensive Line, we want to keep everything consistent for the Inside Linebackers. They do not have to flip, but we generally want the strongest player at the Mike Linebacker position (strong side).

Photo by Ted Kerwin

We have run a more complex blitz package that put a very good athlete at the Jack Linebacker and then used him to blitz from all over the field, similar to a 4-3 Monster package. But you could do that with any player. We chose the Jack so that the Sam and Will always kept their contain responsibility.

  • Both ILB are in a 30-Technique, outside shade of the Guard, with heels at 5 yards.
  • Read through the Guards to the Near Back. If your Guard pulls inside, immediately attack through the A gap where he left.
  • On fast flow (outside), scrape to fit tight to color off the hip of the Defensive End. Do not waste yourself inside on outside run plays.
  • Take on Iso blocks with your inside shoulder, forcing them to your help outside.

You want two guys who are true Linebackers in the 4-4 Defense. They should be tough kids, but also smart enough to recognize tendencies and formations. The Mike is responsible for strength calls, the Jack is responsible for down & distance in the huddle. (Remember defensive huddles? We don’t do that anymore)

The Outside Linebackers

The Sam and Will also have a job that does not change much, though their alignment will change more often. If they are identical, you do not need to flip their sides with strength.

However, the Will Backer is responsible for carrying a vertical by a removed #2 Receiver against Doubles, to help against 4 Verts. But if you are going to run this, you can have a Nickel Package where you can bring someone else in for that situation.

  • The OLBs are always the contain players in our 4-4 defense. Even when they’re blitzing, they blitz to the deepest in the backfield and force the ball to the inside.
  • Base alignment is 1 yard outside of the End Man on the Line of Scrimmage (EMOLS) with their heels at Linebacker Depth, 5 yards. They will adjust the width based on alignments, which we will cover later.
  • Key is EMOLS for run-pass key, to near back.
  • Always keep the outside arm and leg free against the run.
  • Counter-Reverse-Bootleg Player on any play away. We make them freeze and call out “COUNTER! REVERSE! BOOTLEG!” on any run read away from their side, before they can begin pursuit.

Next time, we will get into the formations adjustments. They do not take a lot of time, and each player as a base set of rules they have to know. Each player needs to know about 1-2 formation adjustments. Then we’ll put the blitz package and coverage package together. Finally, I will give you the install schedule to get this whole defense installed in just 30 minutes!

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  • Coach Daniel
  • JasonBlock

    Great article, especially as I’m trying to install a defense in a handful of practices for spring ball! Is there a second part to the article?

  • Coach Daniel

    I like the Robber concept, we’ve been using it in our 2-high 4-3 Defense for a while. Using it with your 1-high safety look, the way that Virginia Tech made popular, is a great way to get the Safety more involved if you want him to be aggressively involved.

    Tim Murphy’s 4-4 Defense, as I’ve seen it, uses an aggressive safety. The corners just know that if there’s any play action, that Free Safety will not be around to help.

  • Coach Roth

    I enjoyed this article I am a 2nd year Defensive Coordinator, with 4 years playing in this defense, and another year assistant Defensive Coordinator. This is most certainly an easy defense to implement with basic gap responsibilities. You can disguise coverage’s in that 4-2-5 type defense, and keep the edge set pretty well.

    We are implementing more robber coverage this season because a lot of the time our safety was just sitting in the middle of the field with nothing to do. So we are having him read the TE in certain situations and if he down blocks then our safety will be the 9th man in the box. While our corners will still look like cover 3 but are really in cover 2. We’re going to see how this works and make changes as needed.

    Another concept is making sure those corners play that inside receiver and make the QB throw over the top. Obviously this depends on what QB you’re playing and if the corners can bait.

    These are just some ideas we’re tossing around before this season begins.

  • http://@coachstauffer Mike Stauffer

    We’re going to put in a “Jump” call where the OLB’s and ILBs jump the routes to the man outside of them. So the OLB would jump #1 and ILB would jump #2 and everything else stays Cover 3. I think we’ll jump just one side of the formation based on tendencies. That’s if they’re hitching us to death or throwing other quick concepts. We can also Rob the FS in different ways…rob the hole, the TE, one of the seams, etc. We could Jump and Rob or just Jump. We’re going to play around with that this spring.

    We’re also testing a Cover 2 where one of the OLB’s lines up as a CB. He’s a flat and force player anyway, so his techniques wouldn’t change much. The Corner would be on the hashes playing 2…not a lot different than his normal techniques.

    We also will have a 3-3 package we’ll run on passing situations taking out a NT and inserting a MLB who can drop in the hole or Tampa drop (at least 18 yards deep in the hole and FS can Rob).

    Don’t know if that answers your question or not, but those are some other things we plan on doing. This is my first year as a DC. Thankfully we have some good coaches with tons of experience willing to “mentor” me till we jump in the fire game 1.

  • Coach Daniel

    Coach Stauffer you were one of the people that got me going in this direction! I’ve been thinking further – can you use a Cover 3 scheme with your 4-4 package, and run something more pass-oriented with a Nickel package, with the coverage technique only being significantly different for those nickel DBs that come in for your OLBs? And maybe some changes for the Free Safety. Or maybe that’s trying to be too smart again?

  • JoacquinWilliams

    Great Article!

  • http://@coachstauffer Mike Stauffer

    Nice article Joe. I think I mentioned to you previously, we’re going back to the 4-4 this year (Tim Murphy’s 4-4 Swarm). It fits our kids, our schedule and philosophy. And, like you said, with a few personnel changes, you can have 5 DB’s on the field and basically still have the same run fits and techniques but with many more coverage options. We’ll spend 80% of our practice working on Cover 3 beaters. It’s gonna be more about us this year (fundamentals & technique) and creating a defensive identity than it is about scheme and seeing how smart we can be. I agree with you, we sometimes get “to smart” for our own good.