Monte Kiffin's Defense: Understanding TheTechnique Numbering System

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone starts somewhere. Before scoffing at the notion of reviewing 'Football 101,' remember that at one point in our lives, none of us knew these things. In that spirit, I want to encourage everyone to share their football knowledge with each other. This discussion is focused on learning, so let's all try to contribute positively, and not to be afraid to ask each other questions.

Over the weekend, I introduced a few pages from Monte Kiffin's old Buccaneers defensive playbook. Two things became immediately clear:

1: BTB readers have a keen interest in learning about actual NFL schemes and terminology

2: We, the writers, have an obligation to provide a more solid groundwork so that all members can enjoy and participate in these discussions

With those things in mind, the first topic that needed immediate clarification was the designation of defensive 'techniques,' or assignments. For your perusal, I offer a (hopefully) simple diagram:


I think it's essentially more beneficial to think of the two sets, even and odd, as distinct sequences. As you can see, from the inside out, both the even and odd techniques increment in correct numerical order. It's only when the two are combined that the sequence appears to be nonsensical.

The logic behind the numbering systems is actually quite accessible. Arif Hasan at the Daily Norseman explains:

When Bear Bryant reportedly standardized the system at Texas A&M, the goal was to create a terminology that not only easily defined alignment, but also function. Anyone given an even number technique had two gaps to control, and they were lined up over an offensive lineman. 0 over the center, 2 the guard, 4 the tackle, and 6 the end. By extension, the 8 is outside the tight end, and not shaded over a player ("nose over air"). The odd numbered techniques were designated by taking the lineman corresponding to one number below, and lining up on the shoulder closest to the C gap. They generally attacked one gap.

How an 8-technique playing 'over air' has 2-gap responsibility is more easily understood with the help of my diagram. In many situations, most often the goal line, two or more tight ends may line up on the same side of the formation. The 8-technique then is responsible for engulfing the H-Back, or the flanking tight end, and stopping runs to both sides of that man.

That is, of course, irrelevant now. Kiffin's defense does not use even techniques. In fact, when Kiffin wants a player to line up head-up on the tight end, he doesn't call it a 6-technique - he calls it a 'stack.' 6-technique would be a misnomer because it would imply two gap responsibilities, when, in reality, the stack is a slightly offset 7-technique that only ever worries about the C-gap (inside the TE). The positioning serves to disrupt the Tight End's route, and potentially neutralize blocking for a toss or screen.

Despite whatever your preconceptions may be, this particular old man is not the conservative type when it comes to defensive line play. While the reckless, crazy Rob Ryan was content to set Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman down as 2-gap barriers on the line, the boring old man Kiffin would prefer to send four dynamic pass rushers directly into the backfield on every single play. We may pay the price for this newfound aggressiveness. My bet is that the price will be surrendering >4.5 yards per carry on the ground. The coverage is designed not to give up the big play. It seems to be an appropriate level of risk and reward for today's NFL.

Now, let's take a look at the other gap/hole identification system (the offensive version). This image is taken from Kiffin's playbook:


This system is used only to describe offensive plays. These numbers do not represent defensive assignments. The gaps, however, are universally declared, A through E.

What these numbers represent is typically the second digit in any offensive run call. I'll use my high school system as an example. At my school, we ran essentially a double wing offense. The two flankers (wings) were considered running backs, and were numbered 2 and 4. The tailback was number 3. If we ran, say, a 21 dive, it would be back number 2 (number 1 is the quarterback, by the way; think fractions, where quarterback = 1/4 back = 1 out of 4 backs) running through hole number 1. 'Dive,' the style of run, determined the type and position of handoff as well as the blocking scheme.

It's important for defensive players to have an agreed upon terminology for opponents' offenses so that they can more effectively communicate what they see happening on the field, even if their nomenclature doesn't exactly match the enemies'.

Finally, a little something about Kiffin's philosophies, again from Kiffin himself:


Next time, we'll take a closer look at these and other philosophies Kiffin lays out for his defense.

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