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Inside Fuller’s Mind: Breaking down FSU defense

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An XsandNoles deep dive into how the Florida State defense ticks

CREDIT: Seminoles.com, FSU Sports Information

Below is the full written script for the video above.

Florida State’s Defensive Coordinator Adam Fuller’s first year in Tallahassee was rocky, to say the least.

However, in my mind and more importantly the mind of head coach Mike Norvell, the verdict is still out on his long-term prospects.

This video isn’t looking to answer the question of his ability. In fact, it's not really a review of his performance at all. This video is merely here to inform you of his playcalling style and help you understand his defense a bit better so you can be better equipped to answer that question for yourself in the coming season.

Now two things have to be addressed before I jump into things. Firstly, if you didn’t watch my last video, which I’ll link below, on coverage basics you might be lost a little in the coming discussion. I would recommend checking that out and coming back here.

Secondly, this video (or, written deep dive below if reading is more you thing) is really just taking film from one game against current Miami OC, Rhett Lashlee, back when Fuller was the defensive coordinator at Memphis. While this is too small a sample size to make any definite conclusions, it is enough to get a general idea of things and these are all things that I’ve seen him run last season. Plus, it was one of few games that I had access to the all-22 camera angles to double-check my initial thoughts (which I was advised not to show for copyright reasons) and there are way fewer restrictions on AAC film compared to the ACC.

With all that said let's jump in.

Aggressiveness

If I had to choose one word to describe Adam Fuller’s defensive philosophy it would be aggressive. When most people think of aggressive defense their minds generally jump to blitzes and Fuller does not disappoint in that category.

Man Free Green Dog

This is perhaps Fuller’s most called coverage. Pause the video if you want to guess what it is for yourself. The first thing to look for is the safeties. There's a single deep safety which means either man-free or cover 3 but the head-up defenders across the board can make us pretty confident we’re seeing man-free.

Man Free does several things for Fuller that seem to be core tendencies of his. Firstly it shows his faith in his men to win man matchups with minimal help behind them.

Secondly, it allows him to bring pressure- mostly in the form of green dog blitzes where one of these linebackers reads the running back and has the choice to blitz if he sees the running back stay in for pass protection.

Thirdly it allows for a diversification of pressure packages. You also have the option to drop one of these guys into a robber or rat zone if you find the offense is eating you up on short inside breaking routes.

This play specifically shows a theme that was consistent with FSU’s defense last year. These linebackers are slow to get pressure on the pocket. As a first-year defensive coordinator, these things are more excusable but it's something to watch out for as time goes on.

Fire Zone

Man Free is something Fuller feels comfortable calling in many situations but he can also bring pressure in another way. He likes to call fire zones when he has a bit of a cushion to work with. Fire zones basically refer to spot drop zones behind pressure. These are inherently less risky in the sense that you have more deep defenders and you’re not relying on press man across the board but they are also less aggressive. Generally, you only bring 5 with a fire zone and you risk giving up an easy short to intermediate completion as you’ve make wider gaps within the zone.

Short Yardage

Another niche area to look at before we jump into general coverage concepts is how Fuller handles short yardage.

Stick Coverage

He will occasionally run what’s sometimes referred to as stick coverage which is basically a coverage that's trying to take away short passes to the first down marker. Notice how after the snap these safeties crash down to the line to gain to try to take away these easy throws to the middle of the field. Of course, all of this help in the middle of the field means that the corner to the wide side of the field has no help, but like I’ve said before, Fuller trusts his men in man coverage.

This play brings me to a hotly debated subject when it comes to really any defensive coordinator who may receive criticism and it's one that plays a central role in this play. This field corner is alone on an island. That was a conscious decision to take away the easier throws in the middle of the field. Since he has no deep help he plays off man.

Every defense gives something up. In this situation, Fuller decided to take away the middle while preventing getting beat deep outside but had to give up some cushion to do so. This type of thing is everywhere in football. There isn’t a team in the country that won’t occasionally have a man playing off on a third in short. It's fair to disagree with the call but it isn’t one that is completely without merit.

Banjo Goaline

On to the goal line. His go-to goal line coverage introduces something that will be a recurring theme in this video. Man Match coverages. Fuller loves calling Banjo at the goal line. Banjo just implies that the defenders will share two receivers. The inside guy is responsible for the receiver that goes inside and the outside guy takes anyone that goes out. This is the most basic form of man match.

I’ve also seen Fuller call bracket coverage which is nice if you’re more worried about one specific receiver, usually the slot. The bracket allows you to double him with nickel and the safety while leaving the corner alone on the outside receiver.

2x2

Cover 3

A lot of what Fuller calls in regular down and distances falls into this man match category but he still will call some spot drop zone stuff occasionally. Let's take another quick quiz.

Pause the video here or take a break from reading if you wanna test yourself.

This is a bit tricky notice this corner backed away pre-snap and this safety is cheating up. While this might initially look like a two-high coverage it's actually cover 3 with the safety rolling in the box. Cover 3 is just a solid coverage to have in your back pocket and remains one of the most called coverages in football.

Palms

But Fuller does like to run some man-match stuff. He does this using split field coverages which basically just means that one side of the field can have a totally separate and unique coverage call to the other side. So let's take a quick look at what he might call to 2 receiver sides.

Palms is a natural place to look after we just discussed banjo. In banjo, two defenders share two receivers but in palms, 3 defenders are over 3 receivers. It's kind of a man match version of cover 2. This might sound silly but like to think of these man match coverages as shapes. Palms is simply a triangle.

Just like banjo, the corner is waiting for someone to come outside. If no one does then he sticks to the outside receiver.

The nickel waits for the first man inside, if that's the inside guy he carries him in but if not he waits for an outside guy to come. If no one comes he waits to see if a runningback leaves the backfield his way.

The Safety is watching the inside receiver and taking him if he goes deep. If he doesn't he helps out with the outside receiver.

All of these cover 7 man match defenses have rules like this and its not important for you to know these things but it does help to know some to help identify certain coverages.

MOD

Mod is another commonly called man match coverage in Fuller’s defense. Mod just means man on deep. Its a type of man match cover 4 and it tends to look like an upside-down triangle. Mod stands for Man on deep and basically just means this corner is man on this outside receiver if he goes deep. If not he stays deep and outside just like he would in cover 4. The nickel is taking the first man inside and the safety is waiting to see if he can help #2 deep.

3x1

That covers a lot of how Fuller handles two receiver sides so lets take a quick look at some 3 receiver coverages he uses.

Solo/ Poach

Before we jump into different kinds of man match coverage against 3x1 sets the first question you have to ask is how you want to handle this backside safety. You really have two options. You can include him on help with the backside receiver or you can do what's called solo coverage.

Solo basically means you’re trusting this backside corner on an island (see a theme here) and you’re allowing this safety to help more with the three-receiver side. You’re basically hedging your bets that your corner can be solid enough to divert attention away from him and towards the more dangerous side of the field. Without a true boundary corner last year FSU definitely struggled in this area.

To see what solo looks like in action you just have to watch the weak side safety. Notice how he immediately turns his hips to the strong side? Since this corner is now on an island it's imperative he has good technique. Here he doesn’t. Since Fuller almost always plays mirror technique instead of jamming when they play man it's important that the defender keeps his hips in front of the defender as long as possible. Basically presenting a wall to disrupt the route. In this case, and it's something that has been a tendency last year as well, this defender opens his hips early which is commonly called “opening the gate” which allows this receiver to get into his route unimpeded.

Back to man match coverages. Now, you can imagine that there’s a lot of ways that you can split up these three receivers with 4 defenders. One that I feel I have to cover quickly despite the fact that fuller doesn’t run it often is stubbie which is probably the most common cover 7 concept in college football.

Basically, all it is is palms over the #2 and #3 receivers so you still see that triangle but and they play MEG or man anywhere he goes on the outside receiver. Generally, with cover 7 concepts you want to divert resources away from the outside receiver. It's by far the hardest throw and honestly a lot of teams never get the ball out there which leads us to Fuller’s favorite form of man match defense. Stress coverage.

Stress

Stress is a great coverage at most levels of football. It covers everything well except for the hardest throw in football: the outside fade or comeback. Basically what happens is the Mike and safety bracket (remember that from earlier?) or double team the #3 receiver essentially trying to eliminate the easiest pass out of trips. That means that you only have 2 defenders for these last two receivers. The sam takes whichever receiver runs short while the corner takes whichever runs deep with a priority on the #2 receiver. The problem comes if #1 also runs deep. If that happens corner would have to adjust in air to any throw outside but presumably against college quarterbacks he will have time to do that.

Let's look at how you can identify Stress. Firstly you see telltale signs of a bracket on #3 with both safety and mike eyeing him immediately. Then you see this kind of over-under with the #2 and #3 receivers. One important thing I haven’t mentioned yet with these coverages is the need for underneath defenders to contact vertical receivers. Note here the sam backer gets his hands on this receiver in order to slow him down and force him towards his deep help.

Final Remarks

These concepts are complicated and honestly, some of them are at the leading edge of football strategy. If there are some things you had trouble grasping please ask some questions in the comments below. If you understood everything immediately you have a much better football mind than I do.