Written by Michael Florek
Dallas-area HS football coaches tinkering more than ever to defend spread offenses ... what's the secret?
Adamson football coach Josh Ragsdale had doubts about whether one of his safeties, Marcos Navarro, was a varsity player as a junior.
Then the coaching staff turned him into a smaller but quicker outside linebacker who could help defend the spread offense. He leads the team in tackles.
Whether it’s a converted linebacker like Navarro or someone who plays a hybrid safety/linebacker position like Prosper’s Money Hunter, coaches are combating the spread offense by putting more athletes closer to the line of scrimmage.
“[Quarterbacks are] so daggone good nowadays with their accuracy they will pick a zone apart,” Euless Trinity coach Steve Lineweaver said. “You better have some speedy athletic cover guys, and not just the four standard defensive backs. You better have a linebacker or two that can cover just as well.”
For coaches, it’s sacrificing size for more speed. Inside linebackers become defensive linemen. Outside linebackers move inside. Safeties become outside linebackers. Cornerbacks become safeties.
Plano East has had four players bump up a position closer to the line of scrimmage. Its two inside linebackers, Jackson Garrey and Austin Corbett, played outside last season.
“Our goal is to try to have 11 that can run on the field, at least five flat or better in the 40,” Plano East coach Johnny Ringo said.
With a majority of the area running some sort of spread offense, most defenses face it in practice every day, which makes it easier to face a spread team, according to Ringo.
After building defenses designed to the stop the spread, other offenses are causing more trouble.
“Teams that line up and run the Wing T or they line up and run a bunch of triple option at you, it’s almost like you’re cramming for a test when you play them,” Prosper coach Kent Scott said.
Defenses on teams that don’t run a spread offense still see it often. While Lineweaver admitted a disadvantage when preparing for a spread, he has a spread offense unit in practice. And despite Trinity’s power run offense, he’s incorporated elements of the spread into the game plan.
Despite having two fast edge rushers in Sam Tevi and Gaius Vaenuku, whom Lineweaver said are a key component in stopping the spread, Trinity has had mixed results. DeSoto scored 42 points against Trinity. Colleyville Heritage scored just 16, its lowest output of the season.
This year, Adamson moved out of a spread offense to a more traditional run-based offense because of a lack of depth at the skill positions. Ragsdale said the lack of practicing against the spread hasn’t hurt as much as he thought. The defense he’s used for the last six years is designed to be flexible enough to deal with a high-tempo spread offense. It just requires athletes.
“You sit there and go wow, this kid could be a great receiver, this kid could be a great offensive lineman or a great tight end but they’re needed where they’re at defensively,” Ragsdale said. “It’s tough to be effective defensively when you don’t have athletes on the field.”
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