Hokie Football 101: Defensive Line Basics

In a recent post, VTGuitarMan asked "What defines a nose tackle? In my naive view, I always equated NT with the middle guy in a 3-man front, lined up over center. I'm guessing that's not true, or otherwise Foster's scheme modifies that terminology." As always, I am more than happy to oblige with an answer.

First, it is important to understand the difference between the name of the position and technique. The Hokies have four defensive line positions in their system.

  1. The Stud Defensive End: Stud is the Virginia Tech term for the left side defensive end. The stud end will align across from the general area of the right offensive tackle.
  2. The Defensive Tackle: Defensive Tackle is the Virginia Tech term for the left side defensive tackle. The defensive tackle will align in the general vicinity of the right offensive guard.
  3. The Nose Tackle: Nose Tackle is the Virginia Tech term for the right defensive tackle. The nose tackle will align in the general vicinity of the left offensive guard.
  4. The Defensive End: The Defensive End is the Virginia Tech term for the right side defensive end. The defensive end will usually align in the vicinity of the left offensive tackle, and will most often be on the blind side of the quarterback.

Now, most fans associate the terms defensive tackle, defensive end, and nose tackle with alignments of a defense. We think of ends being out on the edge in a 4-3 and over the tackles in a 3-4. We think of nose tackles lining up over the center, while the defensive tackles line up over the guards. But, inside the locker room, the positions are just names for the side where each defensive lineman plays. The term "technique" actually describes where they align. And, while the Hokies do have some alignment tendencies, they vary wildly depending on the defensive call, the opponent's tendencies, and Bud Foster's ideas on how to best utilize the talent he has available.

The technique each defensive lineman plays on a particular play is labeled with the gap number they align in. Let's take a look at a typical Virginia Tech defensive front alignment with each gap labeled to explain.

Each gap is labeled. The Stud End is playing a six-technique; six meaning he aligns on the outside/right shoulder of right tackle. The Defensive Tackle is playing a three-technique; three meaning he aligns on the outside/right shoulder of the guard. The Nose Tackle is playing a one-technique; one meaning he aligns on the inside shoulder of the left guard. The defensive end is playing an angled seven-technique, meaning he is aligned well wide of the left tackle, and he is angled at 45 degrees with an aiming point at about a yard and a half behind the center.

Depending on the defensive call, players will move around. Against spread teams, the stud end (last season James Gayle and Tyrell Wilson) often moved outside to play a seven-technique; while the defensive tackle and nose tackle often both played one techniques. The defensive end also can play a six-technique. But the stud and defensive tackle are always the left side of the defensive line, and the end and nose are always on the right side of the defensive line (usually the quarterback's blind side).

General school of thought is that offenses tend to run more to the right, so the Stud and Defensive Tackle positions generally have to be a little better at the point of attack and disruptive going straight ahead. The Nose and End tend make most of their plays moving laterally, chasing down plays from the back side. Keep in mind, these tendencies can change game to game based on the opponent's tendencies, but usually Bud Foster plays his best all-around defensive end at the Stud position.

As I wrote in my "Breaking Bud" film review of the Pitt game, Foster will move guys around to break tendencies and surprise the offense. On rare occasions, Foster might flip his ends to get his best pass rusher on the blind side. But, it is very rare. For the most part, Stud and DT are left and Nose and DE are right all game long.

I welcome your questions and feedback. If you would like specific tutorials on terminology, alignments, and responsibilities for a particular position, please let me know!

Contact the editor about this post anytime by phone: (703) 646-1931 or mail: 3057 Nutley St Suite 633, Fairfax, Virginia 22031.

Comments

Oh man, I didn't know any of this and thought I did.
Now I do, and I'm sure of it.
Chalk up another one to you guys.

Thanks

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

Great explanation, French - clear and concise. Thanks, as always. When I eventually make it to a TKP happy hour/tailgate/whatever, I owe you a beverage of your choice!

Why not Apple Pie moonshine? Best of both worlds!

Thanks French. The diagram you embedded is very helpful too. I really had no idea what the number in front of "technique" meant until now.

Agreed. I'd just smile and nod and be like "Oh yes, three technique. Mmmhm. One of my... favorites?"

It was a catch

"Yeah, three-technique, four-technique...whatever it takes."

"I think we can all agree that the 'three' is the most... techniquiest. Of the... techniques?"
-Something I probably said once as it rapidly dawned on me that I was in over my head.

It was a catch

And here I was thinking that the "technique" was in reference to their stance, whether one hand on the ground, standing, or two hands on the ground.

You're thinking of 2-point (no hands on ground) vs 3-point (1 hand on ground) vs 4-point (both hands on ground) stances.

Legend tells of Sam Rogers once taking the intimidating "5-point" stance in a pick-up game.

Men cried in shame. Women swooned. The earth sprouted a mighty oak the following spring.

In my experience "points" describe a stance.

Two-point stance: no hands are on the ground, hips are in a power position

Three-point: one hand is on the ground

Four-point: both hands are on the ground

And here we see the rare and elusive Exumtaur practicing the one point stance

exum

Isn't that the six point stance? You generally see the 1 on conversions.


-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

I understood that points were in reference to stance, but I had some thought that there was a connection between technique and stance. Like a 1-technique would be in a 3-point stance, a 7-technique would be in a 2-point stance...stuff like that. The diagram makes it all simpler.

We need to have a caption back to that Bud picture. Bud training future linebackers in the 0 point stance.

...with an aiming point at about a yard and a half behind the center.

Excellent...
(cue Mr. Burns)


-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

This is fantastic! Now I can understand your reviews so much more clearly. Thanks a million.

VT 2016
Go Hokies

Doesn't the End always line up to the weak side of the formation? I thought it wasn't necessarily right and left every single time, but they switched sides based on the formation the O was showing. Yes? No?

They used to flip flop, but they have not flip flopped any since I have covered the team. The DE will adjust his alignment, stance, and alignment if the strength of the formation comes to his side, but the stud and end do not flip.

As best as I can tell, the secondary, mike and backer flip pretty consistently. The rover and boundary corner are on the boundary, the free and field corner are on the wide side of the field. The backer is to the boundary and the mike is on the field side or over the center. But Foster always has curveballs based on the talent he has available.

Examples: when Boyd and Street lined up as twins to the field side for Pitt, Kyle Fuller abandoned the boundary and moved to slot. Also, vs Pitt and Miami the whips often played to the boundary, even though the whip usually aligns to the wide side of the field.

Viva El Guapo

Clarification:
You mentioned that Foster usually puts his 'best' DE in the Stud position.
Is this an evolution?
I remember specifically Cornell Brown and Corey Moore pass rushing off a wide set from the blind side, only to switch to the strong side on subsequent plays.

I'm pretty sure I remember French saying this. It was Worilds last year and he had that busted shoulder, so Bud stopped flipping the Ends to keep that shoulder protected. Kept it like that since then.

Do we tend to adjust the formation when playing against 1 and 2 man TE sets? I am thinking of the problems we had somewhat last year with BC's jumbo formation.

Those problems go away if guys fill their gaps and make one-on-one tackles (not naming names, but....)

The whip played to the stud end side a bunch against Pitt, Miami, and BC, who all used power sets. BC's unique nine man line stretched things out and put tremendous pressure on the alley players (safeties) to make tackles. They missed a few.

Viva El Guapo

I love this site.

"Sure, I've been called a xenophobe, but the truth is, I'm not. I honestly just feel that America is the best country and the other countries aren't as good. That used to be called patriotism." Kenny Powers

French, does VT/Bud still refer to the gaps, a 'A', 'B', 'C', 'D'?

"And it is caught, it is caught for a touchdown"

A 101 on the linebackers would be pretty helpful. So many different names and I'm not completely sure of the responsibility of each. Just a suggestion

-Stick it in

Agreed. Was thinking the same thing. I know that in a nutshell Whip and Backer are on the outside and Mike is in the middle. Also know that Bud doesn't really use the Whip that much anymore, goes with a Nickel. But I don't know a ton about what each guy's assignments are for any given play, etc. I think French has probably hit on this a time or two before in the past but a nice little, basic 101 breakdown would be great.

In fact, doing one for each position group throughout the spring/summer might make for a nice little series. Might realize I don't know as much as I think I do about some units.

It'd be great to finally understand what each of the linebackers are supposed to do because I feel like they are the hardest to grasp

-Stick it in

To be fair, that'll be tricky. Tech's linebackers are asked to know/do a whole lot. A guy in my bible study is a backup LB for Tech. He says he loves playing for Foster and he's an awesome coach, but there's a lot to learn. Bud expects them all to learn it in about 2 days, and even after a couple years he doesn't quite get everything.

if we're on the subject of linemen, i'm unclear to me as to what it means when someone is "eagled up."

it's also interesting about the stud lining up on the right tackle, since most teams line the best lineman up on the other end. i always thought bud did it because the left tackle is oftentimes gonna be the best pass blocker, so line your best pass rusher on the other tackle and have an advantage. i guess that's not the case?

"We're your family right?!? You love your family right?!?"-Dadi Nicholas
"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

Eagle weak means your defensive tackle is lined up on the shoulder of the center that is closest to the weak side of the formation. Eagle strong means your defensive tackle is lined up on the shoulder of the center closest to the strong side of the formation.

A cocked nose tackle is when the DT lines up angled at 45 degrees towards the center, but their butt is angled out in front of the guard.

Viva El Guapo

As for the stud end, I have often wondered what the logic is there. I think the pass rush plays a part. I think also he wants that end to be able to stunt out to the nine gap and set the edge strong side. But, I have never heard Foster explain his preference. He is hosting a coaching clinic next week, but since I am a) not a coach and b) not in Blacksburg I can't attend.

Viva El Guapo

I'll likely be in attendance and I'll ask him if given the opportunity.

I asked Coach Wiles about this today. I asked, "how do you decide who's a Stud and an End?" His response was that it doesnt' really matter anymore. For the past season or two (and now) they just play with a LE and a RE. If a guy's a little bigger, they might put him at one spot, but for the most part, it's not a huge deal. I think the logic is that the best pass rusher will play opposite the opposition's RT, but other than that, they expect their ends to do pretty much the same things. I also heard some great info about what/how exactly they teach their DL (and got a DVD of all of their position drills too). So French, if you want to talk more, Joe has my email.

As far as sides, the stud end (usually our best DE) will be on the left side of the defense, which is the right side of the offense. So yes, generally Bud will put our best pass-rusher over the offense's worst pass-blocking tackle. However, against Bama Collins had a great night against one of the "best" LTs in the country, which I found to be awesome and hilarious in equal measure, simply because of how overhyped Kouandjio was/is.

EDIT: French has better answer, obviously.

I friggin LOVE this site!!!

Thanks French!! :D

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