An Xs and Os Primer: Ohio State's DL Positions

By Ross Fulton on July 18, 2013 at 2:00p

With the college football season approaching, it is a good time to take a step back and provide a basic understanding of every position Ohio State will put on the field this fall, explaining the techniques and skills necessary for each position.

In today's football it is no longer descriptive to say someone is a "defensive tackle or defensive end." We need to go a step further to understand what Ohio State and other coaches are looking for when they recruit and place people in positions.

Today I want to start with a unit group where this micro-analysis is particularly important, the defensive line. 

One Gap

To understand the positions on Ohio State's defense we must start with the explanation that the Buckeyes (and most other college teams) play a one-gap defense (as opposed to two gaps). As the name infers, every front seven defender is assigned one gap that they are responsible for.

Against a traditional 21 package (2RB, 2WR, 1TE), a one-gap defense allows you to cover all seven gaps at the line of scrimmage with one man each and still employ four defensive backs. A one-gap defense also allows the defense front to play more aggressively and not have to try and control an offensive lineman to control two-gaps.  

The one-gap approach facilitates Ohio State shifting its defensive line from head-up over offensive linemen to playing in the gap between them. The Buckeyes will either shift their defensive line over towards the wide-side of the field and/or the offense's strength, or under, or away from the strength. The linebackers then shift strong or weak to compensate. 

For instance, the Buckeyes base from a 4-3 under. The defensive line shifts weak and the linebackers adjust to the strength.

Here is is from game film:


But Ohio State will also play an over defense, particularly when they are in nickel defense.

Runnin' Techniques

In theory, a team could have a left and right defensive tackle and have them shift one gap over either. But that is not what most one-gap teams, including Ohio State, do. Instead, they have one defensive line position that will always play the same position and will flip sides depending upon the over or under call.

For instance, one defensive tackle always aligns between the center and guard. He knows that if the call is under he is going to the side that the defense is called. If it is an over call, he is going away from the defensive call. The same principle is true for the defensive lineman that lines up between the offensive guard and tackle, and on down the line. 

The defensive line positions are designated by the techniques they play, referring to the gap where the defender lines up. The gaps are numbered from the center outward. Even number techniques mean that the defender is aligning straight across from the offensive linemen. Odd numbers denote that the defender will align in the gap between two offensive players. An "i" technique falls in between, where the down lineman aligns on the eye of the offensive lineman.

1, 3, 5 . . .

As a four down linemen, one-gap team, Ohio State's four defensive line positions are a 1-technique (or nose guard), a 3-technique, a 5-technique, and a 7-technique (Leo or Viper). The terms go beyond nomenclature to signify a specific type of player the Ohio State coaching staff is looking for. 

In the 4-3 under, the nose guard often plays to the offensive formation's strength – the side the offense tends to run the football. Ohio State wants a plugger, someone who is stout against the run, can take on double teams, and make a pile if need be. Tommy Schutt and Joel Hale will likely fill this position.

The 3-technique also needs to hold the point of attack. But as an interior linemen often away from the formation they should have a quicker first step, able to split the guard and the tackle and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. As I have previously written:

The '3' technique is a crucial fulcrum for this defense. From the under, the 3 is to the boundary. When an offense puts their formation strength to the boundary and runs that direction, the 3 must control the line of scrimmage and redirect the running back.

Then, when OSU is in its nickel over, the 3-technique is to the field and again in the crucial position to reset the line of scrimmage against front side zone plays. [Jonathon] Hankins filled this role superbly. He was unblockable at times and opposing offenses often had to game plan to double-team him or run away or outside.

The task now falls to Michael Bennett. He is a more natural fit for this position than defensive end (where he played last season) because he is quick off the ball but does not have the sustained speed to play the edge. The key for Bennett is whether he is big enough to maintain position at the point of attack. Schutt could also play 3-technique in certain situations.

The 5-technique (or strongside) defensive end requires a skill mix between a defensive end and tackle. He is the bigger of the two defensive ends. The 5-technique often lines up to the offense's strength between the offensive tackle and tight end. He must first and foremost be stout against the run, able to handle double teams, and not give ground. At the same time, a 5-technique must have sufficient speed to maintain leverage and track down backs outside the tackle box. Adolphus Washington has the ideal skill set for the position but must demonstrate consistency. Incoming freshman Joey Bosa is another prototypical strong side defensive end.

The Viper is a hybrid between a defensive end and outside linebacker. Ohio State's Viper aligns in a 2-point stance even though he is a defensive lineman. The Viper often aligns away from the offensive strength, outside the backside tackle or end on the line of scrimmage. The Viper is smaller than a 5-technique, and he must be long and athletic, with a greater emphasis on pass-rushing ability. The Viper is also occasionally called to drop into coverage. As with Washington, his sophomore counterpart Noah Spence is a prototypical fit for the position, and will look to build upon an impressive freshman campaign.

In short, each defensive line position is specialized and requires a specific skill-set. It is these positions that the Ohio State coaching staff is looking to recruit and fill.          

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