Brain training for defense

The quarterback position grabs the spotlight when it comes to virtual reality training in football. The fact of the matter is that every position can benefit from this technology. I would venture to bet that if you set up a “brain training lab” with a VR simulator, you would be able to fill the schedule with players ready to learn and practice in virtual reality simulations. 

Football is a game of patterns of movement. While technically there’s a seemingly infinite number of possibilities, the number of patterns each position needs to develop visual acuity for is truly limited. For example, a middle linebacker is responsible for diagnosing the blocking scheme and either fitting the run or getting into his pass drop. Taking a typical running attack, the linebacker would need to recognize and fit power to, power away, counter to, counter away, inside zone to, inside zone away, lead to, lead away, sweep to and sweep away, pass protection, and of course any play action off of those runs. On plays diagnosed as pass, the linebacker might need to drop to defend a seam, a drag, a spot, and a shallow route. That’s still a lot on his plate as far as recognition, but it is a limited set of possibilities. 

Practice over the course of the week might allow him to see 8-10 live repetitions of each possibility. Over the course of the season there is certainly a cumulative effect on learning. How can the learning and visual recognition be accelerated?  The answer lies in virtual reality simulation. 

Putting these plays into a VR simulator, the player can go through a weeks worth of practice reps in minutes. He can get all of his pre snap recognition work and calls or checks made as well as being able to see the play develop and see where he is supposed to fit or drop. No, he is not hitting or working block protection, but that’s not the point. He is training his brain to play faster so that the physical skills and fundamentals learned on the field can be performed at a fast pace on the field. To put it plainly, brain training enhances the players’ ability to play fast. 

Eon Sports VR has just released a VR quarterback trainer. However, they do have packages that allow the coach to create simulations for every position. 

Check out what they have to offer here:

Pete Carroll’s “Heads Out” Tackling – A Must See For Coaches

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Pete Carroll was asked a question about “Hawk Tackling” at media day.  Here is info on his tackling system.

Having spent the last five years as a an offensive coordinator, my view on tackling was “avoid tackles.”  Now that I am involved with coaching my 11 year old son, my concern with proper tacking form is much more focused.  I had learned about Heads Up tackling over a year ago, and the system teaches some sound principles.  However, Pete Carroll recently released a video on tackling that takes the head completely out of the tackle.  As he explains in his video, it is based on the techniques used in rugby tackling in which the head is completely removed from the tackle to avoid injury.  As I did my own research into rugby tackling technique, I found that this tackling is built around safety, and especially putting less stress on the head, neck and spine.

Comparing the  coaching points found in rugby tackling videos with Carroll’s, the terms and techniques used are very similar.  One of the best videos that show the comparison is a video featuring rugby coach Pete Lam.  The techniques and explanations he uses in his video provide great rationale behind why this type of tackling is sound.

Both the Carroll and Lam spend time talking about tracking.  Carroll uses a visual which he refers to as the strike zone.

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In other words, the strike zone is the area between the shoulders and thighs.  Lam tells his players to focus on the core.  He begins with a simple demonstration on why a tackler must focus on the core of the ballcarrier.  Focusing on the core allows the tackler to get in close enough to make a safe tackle.

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Lam then makes a point similar to a coaching point made in the Heads Up program about the position of the arms.  Again, his simple demonstration makes it clear to his players that this is a strong position which prevents injury.

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Face up is another coaching point.  In the next set of photos, the difference of face up and face down can be seen, not only that it causes a problem with tracking, but that it puts the spine in a dangerous position.

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Lam continues the explanation of his tackling technique in the video.  It is a great introduction into the tackling that Carroll shows in his video.

One key point that is worth emphasizing is that Carroll never talks about “head across the front” as a coaching point. This is a coaching point that has been around a long time and can still be heard on practice fields everywhere.  In theory, the idea is that getting the head across the front provides a better leverage position to stop the momentum of the ball carrier as it gets more of the players body in front of the ball carrier.  The pictures below show that this coaching point can put the head and neck in a very vulnerable position.

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In studying rugby tackling, this technique is not taught.  The technique involves getting the right shoulder to the ball carrier’s right shoulder, or the left shoulder to the ball carrier’s left shoulder.

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The Seahawks teach the same technique as you can see in screenshots of their drill and screen shots of the examples they use in the video.  More often than not, you will not see the head in front, but rather the tackle made with what Carroll refers to as “shoulder leverage tackling.”

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Rugby coach Wayne Smith explains this type of shoulder technique and its safety as well as other techniques that Carroll is using in the video below:

Pete Carroll states in the beginning of his video, “[We want to] maintain the physical integrity of the game while developing safer tackling techniques. We desire to play the game as tough as it is meant to be played while also making the game safer.”  The techniques shown do not make for a softer type of play.  You can see from the examples that there are some physical hits being made.  What’s great about these techniques is that they can be done in shorts and t-shirts.  This means that working on tackling technique can be done year-round making the game both better and safer.

Our great game of football is under attack. It is our duty as coaches to become better teachers of the game, and strive to coach the best and safest techniques. Carroll’s tackling video is a great starting point.


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Stunt 4-3 Defense

In 1999, I had the opportunity to learn the Stunt 4-3 from Don Richardson.  Don was the defensive coordinator at the time at Amherst Steel High School where I was an assistant.  He knew the defense inside and out and learned it directly from George Perles and his staff when Perles was at Michigan State.  When I became a head coach at the high school level, it was the defense that we used.

While many teams don’t necessarily run the stunt 4-3 as a system, some of the components have been integrated into many defensive systems.

I spent the day talking football with Don today, and he had a great quote.  “I hate the damn guy who keeps running his best play.”  Don’s point was that many coaches will grow impatient and stop calling a play that’s effective for them because it gets shut down a few times.  If it’s your best play, you need to stick with it and keep calling it.  I’ve learned a lot of football from Don and I’ve always viewed him as a mentor.  It was great to talk some ball with him again.

Don is still running the stunt 4-3 and has added adjustments and evolved the defense to stop today’s offenses.  It was always great defense for us even with average personnel.

Here are some resources and articles on the Stunt 4-3:

Here’s our defensive playbook.  I’m not sure how it got on the web, but it’s out there now.  We used Power Point and hyperlinks to create a very dynamic playbook.  It looks like someone got it mid change before we finished bringing it to a different school.  Half is in our previous team’s colors.

On page 114 is an article by Perles.

The 4-3 tilted nose tackle: history, scheme and the Buccaneers

’76 Steelers

Super Bowl X Pittsburgh vs Dallas


My iBook 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays provides concepts that can be utilized in any offense, not just the pistol. I have received some great feedback from coaches who adapted all or some of those ideas in 2013. Get 101+ PRO STYLE PISTOL OFFENSE PLAYS for your iPad or Mac from the iBookstore

Linebacker Downhill Shuffle Drill

This post is by Mike Passerrello. Mike was on my coaching staff at two different high schools and he has coached at the college level as well. Mike is a great defensive mind. His bio is below:

Head Coach Firelands High School 2011-Present
2011 First Time in School History Playoff Qualifier
First 10-0 Regular Season since 1973
Conference Coach of the Year
County Coach of the Year
Division 3 Northeast Ohio Coach of the Year
Broke 35 Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams Records since 2011
First time in 14 years Firelands has won 3 game or more in consecutive years

Downhill Shuffle Drill
One of our number one linebacker drills is what we call the “Downhill Shuffle Drill”. It is a great drill to use from summer until the end of the season. The basics are explained in the next slide but as the season goes on the variations are endless. Depending on what we will be facing from our opponents I am able to add a variation into this drill to better prepare the players for Friday night. In the past few years I have been able to add up to 15 different variations to this drill but to maximize our practice time the players know when I say, “Downhill Shuffle Drill” they line up and are ready to go waiting to see if we are doing the drill or adding something new to it.


Variations of the Downhill Shuffle Drill

1. When Coach blows whistle the LB and RB will turn up field and it turns into an eye opener drill.

2. When Coach blows whistle the LB and RB (now is a FB) will turn up field and it turns into an Iso Drill

3. After the second cone the RB as the ability to try and cut back on the LB. The LB must fill and make a great open field tackle

If you have any questions or would like to know more about the different variations of the drill you can contact me at