The Swarm Mentality is something we try to instill in our defenders from day 1. This is our identity and it is something we demand of our defenders. If our players aren’t willing or aren’t able to get to the ball carrier then they will not be playing very much defense for us. These are the 6 elements to our swarm defensive philosophy:
Here are the 6 Elements to our Swarm Defensive Philosophy
Stop the Run- Swarm & Pursuit
In youth football it is all about stopping the run. If you can’t stop the run on the youth football level, you will not win very many games. Stopping the run starts with being aligned properly. You cannot allow the offense to outnumber or outflank you to any side. We focus on and practice alignment every single practice. After the defense gets aligned properly, it comes down to being disciplined in gap responsibility and attacking on ball movement. Post snap, it’s all about playing with safe and proper tackling technique while swarming the ball carrier. If we don’t have at least 5 defenders around the ball carrier we grade that play a F (during film sessions).
Swarming to the ball carrier applies not only on run plays, but on pass plays as well. Taking proper pursuit paths will also take away cutback lanes, while closing the distance and taking away the space for the ball carrier. The Swarm mentality is something we practice every day with our pursuit drill. The Pursuit Drill is one of the best drills in football. It practices alignment, attacking on ball movement, it practices pursuit, pass coverage, blitzes, conditioning, and it helps instill the Swarm Mindset. Out of the 6 Elements to our Swarm Defensive Philosophy, this is probably the most important and a great starting point.
Keys for Stopping the Run
1. Alignment. Get aligned properly and quickly!
2. Discipline- attacking on ball movement and gap integrity.
3. Defeating blocks.
4. Anchoring gaps (defensive linemen). Also known as launching.
5. Proper pursuit paths.
6. Everyone to the ball carrier! Swarm. Swarm. Swarm.
Related Content: Pursuit Drill for Youth Football
Eliminate Big Plays
We pride ourselves on not giving up big plays. In 2018, we had a couple teams move the ball on us here and there. However, we bent but didn’t break. It is unlikely that a youth football team can go 8-10 plays and score without making a mistake, taking a penalty, or turning the ball over. We pride ourselves on making everything very difficult for the offense. We are strategic with our slants and blitzes, we stay in our base cover 3 zone (3 deep defenders), we align properly, and we swarm to the ball carrier.
Having a defense that flies to the ball carrier will help contain stud running backs and it will demoralize opposing offenses. The trademark of any good defense is their ability to get to the ball carrier. Hustle alone will allow you to play good defense and deter big plays. If your defenders hustle to the ball carrier and play technically sound, you will have a solid defense that does not give up big plays.
Keys to not Giving up Big Plays
1. Aligning properly. Do not allow yourself to get outnumbered to any side.
2. Playing Cover 3. This will keep 3 defenders deep and will allow you NOT to get beat by play-action.
3. Relentless pursuit to the ball carrier. Gang tackling, taking away cutback lanes.
4. Proper and safe tackling techniques.
5. Swarm. Swarm. Swarm.
Pressure the Offensive Line
We love the 3-5 Stack Defense for several reasons. It can easily align to any formation the offense comes out in. It also puts a ton of pressure on the offensive line because of the multiple slants and blitzes. Let’s be honest, how many offensive line coaches teach or even know how to teach their offensive linemen to pick up slants/stunts and blitzes? Many offenses don’t even have blocking rules and coaches will just tell their kids to block and drive the defender that is in front of them. This is why stunts/slants work so well on the youth level.
Related Content: Defensive Line Slants- Razor & Laser
We love to slant our defensive linemen and force these offensive linemen to move on the fly. Most of the time if they pick up the slanting defensive linemen the linebacker coming opposite will have a free rush. Defensive line slants are difficult for offensive linemen to pick up on all levels of football. Defensively, we want to frustrate the offense by throwing multiple slants and blitzes at them. We want to make them look then react, rather than just getting off the football and winning first contact. D-line slants are very underrated and underutilized on the youth football level.
The last 3 seasons we’ve put much more emphasis on forcing turnovers and it has made a huge difference. The last 5 games of our 2018 season (playoffs and regionals) we generated 16 turnovers. A couple of them were unforced (fumbled handoffs or snaps) but the vast majority were forced by our defense. We have a saying we talk about all the time and it is – “second man in”. This means the second defender that gets to the ball carrier will go after the football. We work on the punch and club for knocking the ball out. Between the ball stripping techniques and our swarming defense, we will usually force at least 3 turnovers a game. If we can get 3 or more turnovers, we will most likely win the game.
Related Content: Making the Strip Drill Application
When your defenders swarms to the ball carrier you will naturally get more turnovers. This is because you will have the numbers advantage around the ball carrier, so you will be more likely to jump on a fumble based on all the players around the ball carrier. It’s important that you hammer home the fact that they need to get to the football on all passing plays as well, especially your secondary players. Say your defender tips the ball up and your safety was running to the pass he could have an opportunity for a pick off of the tipped ball. Plus, you’d want defenders around so that a tipped pass off of your defensive back doesn’t fall right into the receivers hands.
Win Field Position Battle
Winning the field position battle is critical. When you eliminate big plays, swarm the ball carrier, and generate turnovers you will win the field position battle. As I said earlier, it’s hard for any youth football offense to go 8-10 plays and 60+ yards and score. With that said, we really focus on forcing turnovers to flip the field position to benefit us. We do our best to give our high-powered offense the shortest field possible. The more we can play on our opponent’s side of the 50 the better. Special teams also plays an important role when it comes to winning the field position battle. We want to be sound on all kick offs, punt, kick returns and punt returns. If you can flip the field position advantage via special teams that can be the difference between winning and losing. Commit the time to special teams and it will pay off for you. Special teams are a major aspect of football and it is an aspect that is greatly overlooked on the youth football level.
Related Content: Importance of Winning the Field Position Battle
Take Away the Offense’s Bread and Butter
From a game planning standpoint, we focus on stopping our opponent’s best plays. We want them to have to get out of their comfort zone and beat us with plays that they aren’t as comfortable running. Time after time we will see offenses fall apart because we completely take away what they like to run. We work very hard to get game film on all our opponents. Scouting is something I feel youth football coaches do not do enough of. When you know what is coming you can prepare your players for it. If you don’t scout you come in with a clear disadvantage. If you want to take away your opponent’s best play you will obviously need to scout them. My suggestion is to figure out how you can get film on all your opponents.
Related Content: Defending the Power in Youth Football
Those are the 6 Elements to our Swarm Defensive Philosophy. We work like heck on being good at all 6 of those elements. At the end of the day, defense is what wins championships and we commit a ton of practice time to playing fundamentally sound defense week in and week out.