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The Delaware Wing-T: Defining the Defenses

H.R. “Tubby” Raymond

If you are going to write a book about an offensive system, then you have to write at least a little bit about the defenses you are going against. Tubby Raymond devoted two chapters to defenses. The first categorizes them by formation, strengths and weaknesses, while giving the reader a method of describing and labeling features of those defenses. The second offers very specific ways the Wing-T can be used to put these defenses in conflict.

The second chapter is good enough for its own article, so I’m making the first one do the same. This post might be a little short, and it’s unfortunately very dry, but it will help the next one make sense.

A Study of Defenses

The first thing Raymond does to help offenses understand defenses is to count defenders. They are counted starting on the center’s play-side (the direction the play is going).

If the play s going right, count to the right, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
H.R. “Tubby” Raymond

It may be the era this book was written in or a product of the offensive system itself, but Raymond is always talking about attacking the flank. By that he means that he wants to get the ball out wide, away from the scrum in the middle.

Because of this, the defenders he focuses on are the 3rd, 4th, and 5th defenders.

The third man (3) must be considered as the contain of that flank. The fourth man (4) must be considered as the force of that flank and may also be assigned to cover the flat. The fifth man (5) will cover the deep corner of play patterns while the sixth (6) man will be interpreted as pursuit.

“Contain.” “Force.” Not mentioned here by name, but “Alley.” These are names I’ve heard given to certain defensive roles against the running game. I struggle to define them because, like lots of concepts in football, there is no universal language. Another reason is because defensive methods (obviously) evolve through the years, some intentionally “forcing” a ball carrier back toward the middle of the field, some intentionally “spilling” a ball carrier wider and wider until defensive support or the sideline stops the ball.

But I digress.

For our purposes (and as best I can tell), the fourth man forces the ball carrier back inside and prevents him from getting the edge. The third man contains, meaning he prevents the running back from escaping the force player by cutting back toward the middle. The fifth and sixth men are primarily pass defenders, but they play a role against the run as well, primarily as support should the ball carrier evade the first two defenders.

Raymond goes on to lay out his way of categorizing defenses.

There are three categories of defenses: three deep with an eight-men front; four deep with a seven-man front; and an unbalanced defense formed by the rotation of a four-deep defense or by moving a three-deep alignment over. Within each category, the spacing may be "odd", with a defensive man on the center, "even" with defensive men on your guards, or gapped with defensive men playing seam. The secondary coverage in these three categories may be played three deep "zone", four deep zone, or man, or in any combination of these three secondaries.

Did you get all that? Defenses can be any combination of

  • 3-deep/8-man front or 4-deep/7-man front or unbalanced
  • Odd-front or even front or gap front
  • Zone or Man

It reminds me a lot of a Myers-Briggs personality test. In fact, Ted Bartlett of itsalloverfatman.com came up with one such test for defenses back in 2013.

These days, defenses are just as likely to go “odd front” one way and “even front” the other, zone on one half of the field and man on the other. But this method of thinking about defenses is still useful for getting a grasp of what strengths and weaknesses a defense might have, even if those weaknesses are mitigated by being “multiple.”

Raymond ends the chapter by describing the strengths and weaknesses of 3-deep and 4-deep defenses, along with various adjustments he’s seen from those base looks. He starts with the basic structure of the front.

H.R. “Tubby” Raymond

As seen above, 3-deep defenses have two defenders outside the tackle box to either side, but only four men inside to face the five offensive linemen. 4-deep defenses have five men inside, but only one outside on either side.

A 4-deep defense’s secondary works in independent safety-corner pairs. Though the corner will generally play the flat/force role, the safety can do the same while the corner plays deep. He notes that because each half, left and right, are independent, they might not react much to offensive flow.

The corner and safety can easily swap responsibilities as the force defender in a 4-deep defense.
H.R. “Tubby” Raymond

A 3-deep defense’s secondary is primarily concerned with pass coverage as it relies on the 8-man front to handle the run. However, it’s the outside linebackers who generally have responsibility of the flats, so the dual responsibility still exists.

In the next chapter, Raymond gets into how exactly to attack these defenses, especially the dual responsibility defenders, both with the running game and the passing game.