Tag Archives: Duke 4-2-5 defense

Duke Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles sees progress with the Blue Devil defense

DURHAM - Blue Devil Nation was on hand for Duke Football's preseason media day and spoke with Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles about the new-look Blue Devil defense. It's no secret that the Duke defense struggled in 2010, but Coach Knowles feels the new 4-2-5 scheme better fits the Duke personnel. Under the leadership of Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher, the defensive unit is working hard and improving every day in training camp.

Why the 4-2-5 Defense?

Since arriving at Duke in 2008, Coach David Cutcliffe has emphasized speed. One of his first comments on recruiting was, "We're going to start with people who can run." The 4-2-5 defense is flexible and emphasizes the use of speed. Simply stated, the defense removes a bigger player (linebacker) and replaces him with a faster player (safety). Of course it is actually a bit more complicated.

Football terminology can be confusing as the average fan attempts to determine exactly who are those linebackers named Mike, Will and Sam everyone keeps referring to and why the weak safety doesn’t spend more time in the weight room with the strong safety. Obviously, I’m just trying to be funny and probably not succeeding, but the point is I know how confusing the terminology can be due to the number of articles I read while preparing to draft this article.

Moving on…

Gary Patterson, the current head coach at Texas Christian University, and previous defensive coordinator at the University of New Mexico, has achieved much success with the 4-2-5 defense. In 2010, TCU finished the season 13-0 and defeated Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl.

Patterson provides an in depth explanation of the 4-2-5 defense in this 1997 article written when he was the defensive coordinator at New Mexico.

The 4-2-5 Basics

The base defense uses eight men in the box to stop the run coupled with zone pass coverage such as the Cover 3. Achieving success with the 4-2-5 defense requires a team to commit to stopping the run first. Brian Billick explains the eight men in the box concept, on a white board with diagrams, in this video clip on You Tube.

Applying pressure via the blitz is the second objective. The defense is flexible and allows a team to bring pressure off the corners or inside without sacrificing pass coverage. The defense utilizes pressure to create turnovers.

Limiting big play opportunities is another feature. The use of five defensive backs makes it easier to disguise coverage and confuse the offense by showing blitz and zone coverage simultaneously.

Finally, the 4-2-5 attempts to force the offense to adjust to the defense. An offense that is adjusting is typically adjusting away from its strength. Influencing an offense to abandon its strength is a major accomplishment.

To summarize: stop the run, pressure the quarterback, do not give up big plays, and force the offense to adjust.

Cover 3 Zone

The spread offense is prevalent in today's college football landscape and the 4-2-5 in conjunction with the Cover 3 Zone is well suited to stopping the spread. Therefore, it is important to understand the principles of the Cover 3 Zone.

The Cover 3 Zone splits the top of the field into three deep zones, which frees up the strong safety to provide run support on the tight end side of the offense. The Cover 3 Zone provides the defense with an extra man in the box to stop the opponent’s running game.

Between five and 14 yards from the line of scrimmage, where receivers run outs, curls, hooks and slants, the two inside linebackers and the strong and weak safety provide coverage support. This underneath support allows the cornerbacks to focus upon any receiver who goes 14 yards beyond the line of scrimmage between the hash marks and the sideline with the free safety responsible for the middle of the field.

Let’s clarify each player’s pass coverage responsibility:

Cornerback (2): the deep outside from the hash marks to the sideline. The cornerback cannot allow a receiver to beat him on the outside because he receives no support in this area.
Free Safety: the deep middle between the hash marks and to provide inside support to the cornerbacks. The free safety must play as deep as the deepest pass route takes him.
Strong Safety: stopping the run and underneath pass coverage in the flats.
Weak Safety: stopping the run and underneath pass coverage in the flats.
Linebacker (2): stopping the run and underneath pass coverage in the hook/curl zones.

For more on the Cover 3 Zone, this article at the Clemson Tigers blog “Shakin’ The Southland” provides some nice details.

While the Cover 3 Zone is effective in conjunction with the 4-2-5, it is not the only option. The defensive package will contain lots of blitz options with those options mixing up the accompanying coverage assignments. Cornerbacks with the ability to play man-to-man really open up the 4-2-5 defense’s flexibility.

Blitz Packages

There are innumerous blitz opportunities in the 4-2-5 scheme with the inside blitz and double edge blitz being two examples.

To execute the inside blitz, the two linebackers blitz while the strong side defensive end (tight end side of the line) checks the tight end while executing a run/pass read, if the defensive end reads pass, he drops into middle coverage with primary responsibility for the tight end.

The inside blitz is strong against an inside run (between the tackles) or play action pass play, but it is vulnerable to a quarterback who sprints out of the pocket to the strong side.

When the double edge blitz is called, the weak and strong safeties blitz and the two linebackers takeover responsibility for pass coverage in the flats with the nose guard dropping into middle coverage after checking the center and executing a run/pass read. The vulnerability area for this blitz is the flats, while the strength is containing a mobile quarterback.

For more details, go here, for verbiage with diagrams. Ah, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Cover 2 Zone

The Cover 2 Zone is effective against Pro Set two running back offenses. In the Cover 2, the strong safety and free safety are each responsible for half the field deep. The cornerbacks are responsible for the flats, and typically play the wide receivers bump and run. The Cover 2 Man is another variant where the underneath defenders play man-to-man.

The linebackers are responsible for the hook/curl zones. The Cover 2 is strong against short routes and timing routes, but can be exploited by crossing routes or by sending two receivers deep on the same side of the field.

For a more detailed analysis of the Cover 2 Zone, I’ll once again refer the reader to the “Shakin The Southland” website and this article plus this You Tube video or this You Tube video featuring Bill Billick. I guarantee this is good stuff so be sure and click on the links.

Duke Specific Analysis

It is time to focus this article by discussing some Duke specific details. First, safety is the deepest position on Duke’s defensive roster, and Matt Daniels is the defensive leader so running a scheme which features the safety position passes the common sense test.

In 2010, Duke struggled to stop the run giving up 208 yards rushing per contest so a defense designed to stop the run first makes sense. The extra man in the box coupled with a blitz package oriented to stopping the run will prevent opponents from successfully running the ball straight up the middle play after play.

In 2010, Duke struggled to pressure the quarterback, recording only 12 sacks so a defense that includes multiple blitz packages and a commitment to applying pressure makes sense. Focusing upon pressuring the quarterback on pass plays will result in improved performance by the cornerbacks and free safety with the added benefit of increased interceptions.

Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles possesses extensive knowledge and experience with the 4-2-5 so he will be able to teach the players how to execute the intricacies of the scheme.

The Blue Devils are poised to take a big step forward in the rebuilding process and that big step could include winning the requisite number of games to qualify for a bowl game. For Duke to become bowl eligible in 2011, the defense must step up and perform much better than they did in 2010.

To determine if the switch to the 4-2-5 defense is a successful move, fans need to view defensive statistics with a critical eye: rushing yards allowed, sacks by and turnover margin will be key indicators of whether or not the scheme is fulfilling expectations.

BDN Football Friday previews the 2011 Duke defense

This is it, baby. The last Football Friday before training camp opens. Get excited, Blue Devil Nation! Football season is here. This week, BDN’s Bob Green looks at the 2011 Blue Devils’ bowl hopes, and we also previewed the October matchup with ACC favorite Florida State. As promised, we’ve got an in-depth look at the 2011 Blue Devil defense this week, so without further ado…

BDN Duke Football 2011 Team Preview: Defense

It’s no secret that the Duke defense struggled mightily in 2010. Simply put, the Blue Devils were unable to stop opposing offenses, placing nearly impossible pressure on the offense and first-year starting QB Sean Renfree to outscore opponents. The experiment with a 3-4 defense was short-lived and essentially doomed the Blue Devil defense. Without a clear defensive scheme or identity, Duke’s defenders often appeared out of position or overmatched. On the whole, the effort was there, but the execution was inconsistent. Jim Knowles takes over as Defensive Coordinator in 2011, and Rick Petri joins the staff as Defensive Line coach.

Defensive Line

Losses: Patrick Egboh, Wesley Oglesby, Eriks Reks

Key returners: Charlie Hatcher (R-Sr.), Kenny Anunike (R-Jr.), Curtis Hazelton (R-Jr.), Justin Foxx (R-So.), Syndey Sarmiento (R-So.)

Newcomers: Jamal Bruce (R-Fr.),Will Bryant (F-Fr.), Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (R-Fr.), Steven Ingram (R-Fr.), Dezmond Johnson (R-Fr.), Nick Sink (R-Fr.), Jamal Wallace (R-Fr.), Lucas Fisher (Fr.), Carson Ginn (Fr.), Sam Marshall (Fr.), Mario Sanders (Fr.)

2010 Review: Simply put, the Duke defensive line was unable to stop the run and failed to pressure opposing quarterbacks. After showing improvements between 2006 and 2008, the defensive line began a two-year slide in 2009. The line came up with just 19 sacks in 2009, allowing 153 yards per game rushing (4.0 average yards per carry). The numbers declined again in 2010, finishing with just 12 sacks and giving up 208 rushing yards per game (4.8 average yards per game). Those numbers finished last in the ACC and 113th in the country. Overall, the group battled through injuries and midseason schematic changes, but failed to find consistent success.

2011 Outlook: With seven redshirt-freshmen, along with four true freshmen, entering the depth chart this fall, this will be the deepest line Coach Cutcliffe has had at Duke, at least in numbers. With a preponderance of youth and inexperience, the hope is that Coach Petri, who is known as a great teacher, can accelerate the growth of this group. Overall, the unit should have improved size and speed relative to recent years, but significantly less experience. While projected starters Hatcher, Foxx, Sarmiento, and Anunike are expected to play the majority of snaps, they will be frequently rotated with several of the first-year players. Much like the Duke running game, the Blue Devil defensive linemen have to find ways to improve over their 2009 and 2010 numbers. Reports indicate that the talent is there to improve and compete, and now the players will have to go out and execute if Duke hopes to become bowl-eligible in 2011.


Duke hopes that Kelby (left) and Kyler (right) Brown will anchor the 2011 linebackers


Losses: Adam Banks, Abraham Kromah, Damian Thornton

Key returners: Austin Gamble (Jr.), Kevin Rojas (R-So.), Kelby Brown (So.)

Newcomers: C.J. France (R-Fr.), Kyler Brown (Fr.), Britton Grier (Fr.), David Helton (Fr.), Jon Woodruff (Fr.)

2010 Review: The Blue Devils’ defense has seen their leading tackler come from the linebacking corps in seven straight seasons, and that tradition continued in 2010 with Abraham Kromah. Kromah was an unsung hero on the Duke defense, finishing with a team-best 123 tackles, which was good enough for 2nd in the ACC behind BC All-American Luke Kuechly. Even with five of the top six linebackers returning in 2010, freshman Kelby Brown proved to be too good to keep off the field. After burning his redshirt against Alabama, Brown was the biggest surprise of the year on defense, earning freshman All-American honors and leading the country in fumble recoveries per game. Injuries slowed the linebackers as a whole, and Brown saw his breakout season come to an early end with a knee injury against Georgia Tech. Departing seniors Kromah, Damian Thornton, and Adam Banks leave big openings on the depth chart heading into 2011.

2011 Outlook: Though the success of the Duke defense will begin (or end) with the defensive line, the linebackers also present question marks heading into the 2011 season. Kelby Brown is the only returning player with significant starting experience, and he is recovering from season-ending ACL surgery. The newcomers are likely to push Gamble and Rojas for playing time, and that competition should be interesting to watch starting on Monday. If Kyler Brown can replicate some of his brother’s freshman success, or if France, Grier, Helton, or Woodruff can contribute ahead of schedule, then this group again could be a pleasant surprise for the 2011 Blue Devils.

Duke safety Matt Daniels is poised for an All-ACC senior season


Losses: none

Key returners: Lee Butler (Sr.), Matt Daniels (Sr.), Jordon Byas (R-Jr.), Walt Canty (Jr.), August Campbell (R-So.), Anthony Young-Wiseman (R-So.)

Newcomers: Chris Tavarez (Fr.)

2010 Review: It's hard to say that any position group had a good year among the 2010 Duke defense, but the safeties probably contributed the most to the small success that was had. Daniels, Canty, and Butler all finished in the top 7 in tackles for the 2010 defense. The safeties produced some of the defenses' biggest plays in 2010, and that play-making ability ultimately led the staff to end the season with primarily a 4-2-5 scheme. In a tight fourth quarter at Navy, Matt Daniels forced a key fumble to secure the Duke victory. In a game where the offense struggled against Boston College, August Campbell's school record 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown ignited the Duke team.

2011 Outlook: The deepest position on the Duke defense by far, the success of the 4-2-5 scheme will rely on safeties to become key playmakers. Duke will return all of their safety playmakers from 2010, though they will be without redshirt-freshman Issac Blakeney for academic reasons. Even without Blakeney, this will be the deepest and most experienced group among the Duke defenders. Senior Matt Daniels is poised for an All-ACC campaign, along with fellow senior Lee Butler. Byas, Canty, and Campbell are all capable of significant improvements over their 2010 efforts. If the Duke cornerbacks can provide good coverage, the safeties should find themselves in position to slow oppfisher rushers and make plays all over the field.


Losses: Chris Rwabukamba

Key Returners: Johnny Williams (Sr.), Tony Foster (R-Jr.), Zach Greene (R-Jr.), Ross Cockrell (R-So.), Garrett Patterson (R-So.)

Newcomers: Jared Boyd (Fr.), Tim Burton (Fr.)

2010 Review: Cornerback seemed to be a feast or famine position for the 2010 Blue Devils. Missed coverages, poorly-read throws, and converted third-and-longs plagued the Duke corners all year. That being said, senior Chris Rwabukamba was the top coverage guy, forcing opponents to look elsewhere. Cockrell and Williams, two of the team's top athletes, but both playing their first year of college defense, struggled mightily. Overall, Duke finished last in the ACC in pass defense. Cockerel was just the second freshman to lead the Blue Devils in interceptions, giving fans a glimpse of his potential coverage ability.

2011 Outlook: This is another group that needs to show significant improvement in 2011 for the Blue Devils to win. The inconsistencies and missed coverages seen in 2010 cannot happen if Duke is going to be able to improve on their ACC-worst pass defense. If the corners are unable to shut down opposing receivers, the Duke safeties will be unable to be aggressive against the run. Cockrell, Williams, Greene and Foster are likely to start the year at the top of the depth chart, but any struggles will give an opportunity for highly-touted freshman Jared Boyd. Collectively, Duke has some of their best athletes at cornerback, and those athletes will have to play with more confidence and poise than 2010.

Next week

Practice kicks off on Monday! The Blue Devils will practice every day next week, putting on pads for the first time on Friday morning. BDN will be your best source for coverage inside Duke's training camp, as the Blue Devils prepare for the 2011 season. WE ARE DUKE.