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The Promotion & Instruction of Youth Football
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The Three A’s of Defensive Football

The Three A’s of Defensive Football

Defensive football has become more of a challenge over time and this is seen on every level of football from youth to the pros. The challenge of a defensive coordinator is how do you get your players to play fast, play aggressive, and play against every offense that you could possibly see with keeping your scheme simple. These principles cover any defense for any level. My goal as a defensive coordinator was always to play fast without thinking. Once a player thinks too much – it’s game over. Here are The Three A’s of Defensive Football.

The Three A’s of Defensive Football- Coach Mike Wilson

Players have a simple acronym to follow for each down they are on the field – the 3 A’s.

Alignment – Lined up properly to the offensive formations

Assignment – Know and Execute your assignment

Attack – Play full speed and attack with the proper pursuit angles.


Any defense needs to have rules on how to align to offensive formations within your base defense. As a coach, we have to create a language that is able to be communicated to the players and allows you to be flexible to defend any offense you might see week to week.

defense run fits

In our base, starts with a Front Call and one of the first calls installed is our OUT front. In this front our ends align in 6 techniques. We number our alignments as seen below, just one step in building our language. We find this much easier than other numbering systems and our nose can shade the center with a strong or weak designation.

defensive line techniques

Our Nose aligns in a 0 Tech and our Sam aligns in a 40, which is a 4 technique off the ball. Our Will would normally be in a 40 but since he has an extended # 2 receiver, he makes an OUTLAW call and apexes between the OT and SLOT. These are our base alignment rules and OUTLAW refers to the Will going OUT and the DE going in. The Mike aligns along the mid-line of center usually behind the nose.

After the front call, is our stunt/blitz call, and ended with our coverage call. In this case, our base coverage is PALMS. These would be topics for future articles but the Hawk (K), Corners, and Safeties alignment will be dictated by coverage and formation.

As a defensive coach, you need to be sure that you can align against any offensive formation with the proper rules for formations like Trips, Empty, and Unbalanced formations. It starts with your base and extends from there.


This is a simple assignment sheet for our defensive front 6 for the OUT front with cover three coverage assignments. Defensive players must know who is their KEY or who are they reading for run or pass? They must know what to do in three scenarios – run to them, run away from them  and pass. This is what allows the players to play fast without thinking – this is something that do every day, every play in practices and games. These are needed for all of your fronts and we also create these for our secondary for each coverage.


The last principle in our 3 A’s is to attack the opposing offense. This is done by getting all 11 defenders understanding their proper pursuit angles and practicing hustling to the ball in every phase of practice in order to get it to translate to the game. There are plenty of pursuit drills out there but I have come to believe that you have to teach your players leverage and the proper fits for plays. You also have to commit yourself to teaching tackling and great leverage leads to better tackling. Here is an example of proper run fits out of a four-man front:

Attacking 4 man front

Players need to understand how they fit v. the run or after a pass has been completed. These are just terms that I have used in the past. Come up with ones that make the most sense for your players.

Here are the explanations for the fit terms above:

pursuit on defense

3 as of defense

This can be done with pursuit drills, individual drills, group drills and during full scout team phases of practice. You have to teach pursuit all practice long and just not having your players running to cones along the sideline – teach them the WHY! This will enable them to play at a much faster speed without thinking!

Playbook: 4-2-5 Defense Playbook for Youth Football 


Football comes down to which team can execute their scheme flawlessly compared to the opponent that night. Players of all ages need rules to fall back on at all times, we as coaches have to develop systems that are flexible and puts our players in the best position as possible to succeed. A typical coach in high school or youth football could easily see a spread offense one week and a Wing-T offense the following.

Your base defense must be able to defend both without changing everything and becoming a defense of the week. This usually ends up in players being confused on gameday and failing to execute what is needed to win. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, I will be more than happy to help.

Mike Wilson

Head Coach, A.P. Schalick High School, N.J.

Twitter: @wilson2882

Email: [email protected]