Best Defensive Scheme For a Youth Football Team to Run
I believe the best defense to run for youth football is a 4-4 defense. That means four defensive lineman with four linebackers and three secondary players. I would play a cover-3 look behind that with two corners and one safety. The most important thing to teach youth players is how to line up and then run to the football and tackle. So keep it as simple as possible so they can focus on those two things and not complicated schemes. It is a great defense to stop the run because you start with 8 men in the box. Against a pass heavy team you can easily adjust one of your OLB’s to move back and play 2 safeties.
How to Personnel
Defensive Line (Tackles and Ends)
Your are going to want to put your bigger players at defensive tackles. Their job is to control their gap and keep the offensive lineman off of the inside linebackers allowing them to run free and make plays. A lot of times a defensive tackle doesn’t have to make the tackle to be successful. Sometimes just getting penetration and making the running back adjust his course is enough to mess up the offensive’s plans. I like to put taller, faster kids at defensive end. In a 4-4 the ends jobs are to get to the QB or at the very least get their hands up and knock down passes. The ends have to be tough guys too because a lot of teams run counter plays where they are pulling the backside guard to block the end out. He also need to be disciplined with all the teams running zone reads with the QB now. The offensive reads the end on those plays. He must be able to read his keys and do his job. All defensive lineman are run first players.
We call these the Mike (middle) and Will (weak side). The Mike is the QB of the defense. This is what Ray Lewis played. He makes the strength calls and makes sure everyone knows what we are running. He needs to be your best tackler and tough enough to take on lead blockers and still make tackles. The Mike and Will are the same positon basically only difference is the side they line up on and that the Mike is making all of the calls. Both of these guys are run first, downhill players.
We call these the Sam (strong) and Rover. The Sam may be your best overall defensive player. A lot of youth teams run a lot of sweeps and they run them to the wide side. This is where the Sam will be lined up. He should be fast and tough and obviously a good tackler. Your Rover can be a hybrid linebacker slash safety type. He will be doing a lot of blitzing and sometimes will also drop back and play safety. In our base defense the outside line backers are reponsible for turning the play inside on a sweep. They cannot lose containment and let a running back get outside of them. They must turn them in to the inside linbackers. They should take on all blockers with their inside shoulder on the outside shoulder of the blocker. These guys are run first, downhill players also.
These guys should be excellent cover guys and should be the fastest kids on your team. They are pass first players.
The safety is the centerfielder of the defense. He is pass first and keeps everyone on the field in front of him. He should also be a good tackler because he will be unblocked on running plays and has a good angle to come up and make tackles.
We always call our strength to the wide side of the field. We do this as soon as the play is over because so many teams no huddle now. Our Sam and Mike always go to the strength. Our inside linebackers line up 5 yards off the ball over the offensive guards. Our outside linebackers line up 4 yards out and 4 yards off the ends. We will widen between 2nd and 3rd receivers if the offense lines up in trips to one side. Our corners and safety are 8-10 yards off the ball.
Once it is determined that it is a pass play the defensive line’s job is to rush the QB and hopefully get a sack. Our base coverage is cover 3 meaning the corners and safety and the deep thirds of the field. Outside linebackers drop to the flats 10-12 yards and collision any receiver they encounter. The inside linebackers will drop 10-12 yards to the hook zone and work out to curl.
In summary, I think the most important thing for youth players to learn is tackling and running to the football so you should keep your defensive scheme simple. If kids are thinking about where to line up or are confused on where they go after the snap they are going to have a hard time reacting to the football and making a tackle. If you can get your kids running as a unit to the ball and making plays you won’t have to come up with elaborate schemes and blitzes to stop the opposing offense. You can add some simple blitzes with the linebackers as you go along. I will talk about those in another article.