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Florida State football scheme review: How does Adam Fuller’s defense work?

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An attack mindset on defense

Memphis v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Originally published Mar. 2020

Florida State defense used to be a source of pride for fans.

Defensive play in the past was full of big hits, man to man defense, and sacks a plenty. The last few seasons the team has gotten away from that transitioning in and out of various defenses, getting away from consistent execution.

Enter new defensive coordinator Adam Fuller and his 4-3/4-2-5 defense that uses hybrid players at all levels, with the overall goal of making the entirety of the scheme accessible to the talent on the field.

Diagrammed below is the new FSU base defense.

And a game capture:

So what is all of this? Lets begin by talking about the front four.

The Front

The “F” listed above is the fox position. The fox is a standup defensive end who is an edge setter. The fox will be used on run stunts inside at times and can also be dropped into coverage occasionally. The fox typically aligns to the boundary. This position will rush the passer like a traditional hand down defensive end.

Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller talks about this position as a “hybrid player” and it is apparent on film they want a player here who they can create match-up problems with. This is a player they want to be able to play games with to confuse the offense.

You have two defensive tackles that play a traditional two and three technique. The two tech aligns on the insider shoulder of the guard. The three technique will align on the outside shoulder of the guard. The three technique will be aligned to the boundary side.

The defensive end will align as five technique, if there is not a tight end, or a 6 technique, if there is a TE. This player will be to the field side and has a traditional defensive end role. The end is a C gap player/edge setter and will rush the passer on passing plays. This position can also drop into coverage at times.

How will they attack? These players will do different stunts exchanging gaps to defend the run or blitz. Based on film, the front wants to get into their gaps and control it as opposed to over-penetrating.

One stunt we will see them do is called the “Texas” stunt (see below). This involves the fox looping inside while the three tech loops outside. It is a popular stunt throughout college football and one designed to create a negative play. Coach Fuller is aggressive on early downs with his front movement to try and get the offense behind the chains.

Lets take a look at Alabama running it.

The Linebackers

There are two traditional linebackers in DC Adam Fuller’s defense. These are classic 4-3 names, Mike and Will, that align inside the box. The Mike LB will align as a 20i technique (over the nose of the guard) and be a B-gap player in the base set. The Will LB will be a 40 technique in the base defense (inside eye of the tackle) and be responsible for A gap. It is important to note that as teams align in varying formations that these players will move to different spots.

The purpose of this is a basic understanding of alignments and assignments.

The Mike and Will have coverage responsibilities that will be dictated by the call. If the defense is playing quarters they will have underneath zone responsibilities (walling off crossers/flat coverages). If the defense was in man they will typically be responsible for the #3 WR or green-dog (delay blitz if their assigned receiver stays in to block). This should paint a basic picture of a LB usage in pass coverage.

The hybrid LB/S is called the stud. The stud position will align to the field predominantly in the defensive formation. This is a player the staff wants to be able to play the run like a LB but cover like a DB. The stud will walk out in space and leverage the number two receiver if one exists.

If the nub side of the formation (one WR or TE) is to the field then the stud will line up in the box in a traditional LB alignment (40 technique). When aligned out wide the stud will be a D-gap/force player looking to turn everything back inside. The stud will be heavily used as a blitzer as well. Fuller will often bring field pressure with the stud to create negative plays.

See the overload blitz below.

The Secondary

Fuller operates out of a four shell (two corners and two high safeties) look. This is pre-snap though as he has shown he will roll to a one high safety look post-snap. A one high safety look means they will roll one safety down into the box to play the run or cover.

Fuller uses the safeties in a multitude of ways in his defense so lets start there. The two safety positions are the bandit (or buck) safety and the field safety. The bandit will be paired with the fox and align into the boundary for the most part. The field safety will align to the field as its name states.

Depending on the coverage these players will have any number of assignments. They are primarily alley run players (meaning they fit outside of the tackles looking to turn things back in).

The cornerbacks will align boundary and field as well. You often times put your best CB into the boundary because these are some of the easiest throws for a college quarterback to make. Based on what coverage is being run the CBs will align shaded inside, shaded outside (zone concept), or head up (man concept) and they will either be off or pressed.

All alignments are dictated by the coverage that is being run. In Fuller’s man concepts he likes to have his CBs pressed but in cover four he likes to play the boundary corner pressed and the field corner off. These are some things to keep an eye on pre-snap that may give you an idea of what is coming coverage wise. An important note is these things can vary based on a players strength, the matchup, and scouting reports.

Expect to see the secondary blitz ala Jalen Ramsey in the Jeremy Pruitt days. Fuller is not bashful when it comes to bringing field or boundary pressure with his secondary players. On first down especially there are a number of instances where Fuller anticipates run plays and will bring the safeties down into the box and have them rush. These players have to be tough and physical if they expect to play for Fuller.

The secondary will base out of cover four but Fuller will use any number of coverages. Based on film study he will use cover four, cover zero, cover one, cover three and then he will do split field coverages. Split field coverages are when you run one coverage to one side of the defense and something else to the other.

Summarizing

This is a defense that Seminole fans will be proud of. Fuller will be getting back to the attack mindset that fans came to love with Mickey Andrews and then Jeremy Pruitt. You can expect to see players coming from all angles at all times. Fuller clearly believes that you attack the offense and to not let the offense attack you. This is a very basic breakdown of what to look for when the Noles line up on defense and hopefully gives the reader an idea of what they can expect.