Understanding Defensive Fronts In Football

By vIQtory

To win football games, the defense needs to control the line of scrimmage. Understanding defensive fronts and how players align is a major part of controlling the line of scrimmage.

The 3 main defensive fronts that football coaches use are the 3-4, 4-3, and 5-2. The first number relates to the defensive lineman, and the second number is the linebackers.

The defensive line is the most important group of players on the defense. Stopping the offense’s running attack is the primary goal of the defense. The teams who cannot successfully stop the run often lose the field position game and the time of possession game.

Also, generating a pass rush and controlling gaps so running backs can’t run freely requires great technique and a solid scheme.

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Understanding Defensive Fronts

Similar to how an offense has a play script detailing each player’s job, the defensive line has responsibility.

To stop the run, the defensive line must control gaps ( the spaces between each lineman) to understand defensive fronts fully. This forces the running back to slow his feet or run laterally, which is great for the defense.

We’re going to be using the numbering system you learned in the previous lesson ( 1, 2i, 3, etc.) to identify techniques. I know the numbering system for defensive alignments; check out this article on alignments and gaps before you continue reading!

Each defensive position has an alignment and assignment based on the front that they’re in. We’re going to detail the most common fronts used in football.

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Defensive Fronts In Football

Over Front

The over front is one of the more common fronts run out of the 4-3 defense. The 4 defensive linemen will line up in the following techniques:

Defensive Tackles: 1 Technique & 3 Technique
Defensive Ends: 5 Technique

over front

As shown above, the 3-technique will be set to the tight end side. The 1 technique will be set on the opposite side of the center.

Under Front

The under front is similar to the over the front; the only difference is that the 3 technique is now set to the opposite side of the tight end.

Defensive Tackles: 1 Technique & 3 Technique
Defensive Ends: 5 Technique

under front

Teams will shift their linebackers to the tight end side if he’s a viable passing threat and play the 3 technique opposite side.

Field Front

The “field” set is the same as the over/under the front; only the defensive front is set to the field (the side of the field with more space). These fronts are used if there’s no tight end.

Defensive Tackles: 1 Technique & 3 Technique
Defensive Ends: 5 Technique

field front

As shown above, the open side of the field has the 3 technique occupying the B gap, and the opposite side is occupied by the 1 technique.

Boundary Front

The boundary set is also the same as the over/under front, except the 3 technique will go toward the “short” side of the field, otherwise known as the “boundary.’

Defensive Tackles: 1 Technique & 3 Technique
Defensive Ends: 5 Techniques

boundary front

As shown above, the 3 technique will occupy the B gap to the short side of the field and 1 technique to the field side.

Bear Front

The bear front, made famous by the Chicago Bears, requires 3 defensive tackles to occupy the 3 interior offensive linemen ( Center & 2 guards).

Nose Guard: 0 Technique
Defensive Tackles: 2 Techniques
Defensive Ends: 5 Techniques

bear front

The easiest and most efficient way to identify a bear front is to see if the defense has the center and 2 guards covered.

Tite/Okie Front

Moving into the 3-man fronts, the first scheme is the Tite front. The tight front is one of the more popular schemes to defend against the spread attack.

Nose Tackle: 0 Technique
Defensive Ends: 4i Technique

tight okie front

The 0 technique is usually a player that can handle double teams and own 1 on 1 blocking. The 2 4i’s are primarily B Gap players, which can disrupt zone blocking schemes.

Stack/Base Front

The stack front is similar to the Tite/Okie front. However, it has the defensive ends either head up or outside alignment of the tackle. This front is common against spread attacks, with teams who like to throw the football.

Nose Tackle: 0 Technique
Defensive Ends: 4/5 Technique

stack front

Again, this defense typically requires an excellent nose tackle to play 2 A gaps.

What Defensive Front Is The Best?

As mentioned in our defensive formations blog, it depends on your personnel. The best scheme is the one that fits the players, and the coach is the most comfortable coach. If a coach has run a 3-4 scheme his whole life, it may be tough to adjust to the 4-3. It all depends on the coach.

Choosing which defensive front also depends on personnel. If the team doesn’t have enough defensive linemen to play a 5 or 4 man front, it doesn’t make much sense. If the team has many speedy linebackers and defensive backs, it may make sense to play a 3-4.

A coach may play multiple fronts to keep the offense off-balance and use his personnel wisely. Larger teams with more players may have the depth and personnel to rotate players. This gives the coach the freedom to play 3, 4, and 5 man fronts to stop the run and pressure the quarterback effectively.

Next Steps

Defensive fronts are unique to each defensive coach. Football coaches often copy systems from other coaches. They also innovate and create their own type of fronts.

It’s important to know the basics of lining up to control the line of scrimmage. Football games are won and lost based on what team controls the line of scrimmage. Focus on the line of scrimmage before anything else to be successful in games.

Teams who dominate the line of scrimmage will more than likely dominate the game. If you’re looking to study one thing this off-season, make it the defensive line as well as the offensive line. Understanding offensive line plays and behavior will allow you to gameplan and prepare for the next season.

What is your favorite front to play and why? Let us know in the comment section below.

Like learning and understanding defensive fronts? We have courses dedicated to learning these types of fronts that can be found on our courses page.

About the author

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports. Chris has coached football for 12+ years and continues to coach at the high school level. He continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about this wonderful game of football.