Linebacker Technique: Freshman Keith Simms Attacks the Blocks Correctly

As a fan, there are plenty of moments of dejection and frustration watching the Oregon defense, yet there are examples of hope on the horizon from Oregon’s younger defensive players. Following the new FishDuck.com method of showing what went wrong and how the same action is applied correctly – I am excited watching the play of Keith Simms, the freshman Middle Linebacker (MLB or Mike) from Washington D.C. (6’3″, 235 lbs.) and how he may impact future Duck defenses.

Once again we fans owe a lot to the Grizzled Ol’ Coach, Mike Morris, who spent one of those legendary “Skull Sessions” with me in the infamous FishDuck.com ManCave to educate us all on the correct way to play defense. While it is not pretty right now on the scoreboard, it is true that some of Oregon’s front seven young guns are showing signs of life.

Let’s learn more Football!

Not a good alignment...

From Video

Not a good alignment …

What you see above is the alignment that made former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti (who was calling the game for ESPN) and the GOC very frustrated as the Ducks lined up that way through most of the first half. It appears the slot receiver for Cal at the top of the screen is uncovered. For deep patterns he is being covered by the safety you see deep (about the 34-yard line), but for short pass patterns the OLB (red arrow above) has responsibility, and that is impossible with how far inside he is aligned.

Note the OLB with the green arrow above: his alignment is correct. He is still inside the slot receiver but is much wider. Thus he can cover short routes and his fill his gap on the LOS (likely as the “force” player or the edge-setter on that side of the ball).

This is better alignment!

From Video

This is better alignment!

Note the green and the red arrows above pointing to the OLBs who are ideally lined up on the inside shade of the slot receiver (green question mark above), so that they can go into coverage and move quickly up to the LOS in run support.

You see the twin safeties (green double arrow above) in a very deep position. The yellow arrow above is Simms, the featured player in this analysis.

Cal is doing a Power-Play!

From Video

Cal is doing a Power-Play!

Now you can see how the OLB (red arrow above) is pointing to the slot receiver to tell the deep safety to pick him up as the OLB is running up to fill his assigned gap in run support. Note also (yellow dotted line/arrows above) how the pulling guard of Cal and the middle linebacker, Simms, are headed for a collision. The Oregon Mike must fill that B-gap! Remember our “gaps” analysis from last week … I told you it would come into play!

The GOC says Keith’s footwork is good but could have charged the gap a little faster. Coaches want the MLB to meet the blocker at the LOS.

Crudbeans. The wrong shoulder!

From Video

Crudbeans. The wrong shoulder!

As you can see, the OLB (red dotted line/arrow above) is there for his gap, and Simms is in his assigned gap, but he attacked the wrong shoulder of the offensive lineman. If instead Simms had taken on the guard’s right shoulder with his right shoulder … the gap would have been plugged, and the RB would have to bounce outside into the defensive end or the unblocked Duck OLB.

By taking on the wrong shoulder of the offensive guard? The rookie MLB made the block easy for the guard, and the gap is wide open for a 15-yard running play.

Please note the technique of Simms. He did not take on the guard head-to-head, as he is outweighed by the equivalent of a small black bear. He took on the shoulder, he took on one side of the massive offensive guard, got his head on the side of the gap he wanted to defend, and it is perfectly executed. Problem is, it was the wrong shoulder of the offensive guard.

Note the running play above was not successful because Cal blew the Ducks out, or even executed better. The success was due to the wrong choice by an Oregon player, and the linebackers (in green) have made a ton of them and given up touchdowns accordingly, as detailed before. It doesn’t help that the 1-technique (remember your techniques!) got his butt kicked by the Cal left guard, but please note how well the other defenders covered their gaps correctly.

It only takes one on the LOS to make a wrong choice for a play to go against the Ducks.

Better alignment to start with...

From Video

Better alignment to start with …

Coach Morris felt that the defensive alignment you see above is “what the Cover-2 defense could and should look like at Oregon. No slot receiver is left uncovered and the OLBs (yellow arrows above) have good inside-out leverage on the slot receiver.” Remember in Cover-2 the deep safeties will help with the slot receivers. The OLBs with the dotted green lines/arrows above is able to help in underneath routes from the slot receiver while still positioned to assume his assigned gap in run support. The player circled in green is Simms on this play.

The beginning of the combo block by the Cal center.

From Video

The beginning of the combo block by the Cal center.

Above we see a superb jump toward their assigned gaps by OLB De’Quan McDowell (No. 54 and lower dotted green line/arrow) and Simms, before the Cal running back even has the ball. Note the yellow arrow above as the Cal center is beginning to block Oregon freshman defensive tackle No. 71, Wayne Tei-Kirby (6’3″ 315 lbs.) from Pocatello, Idaho.

Is Simms going to attack the correct shoulder of the center?

From Video

Is Simms going to attack the correct shoulder of the center?

The drama on the football field occurs every play in the trenches … but we never see it in real-time. Will Simms attack the oncoming Cal center on the correct shoulder and fill his gap (see double yellow arrow above)? Note the Cal offensive guard (single yellow arrow above) has taken over blocking Tei-Kirby, but Wayne has his head in the gap and is defending it well! (We have examples from recent past games when it was not correctly done by Duck defensive tackles.)

Also note how the Cal running back is headed for the open gap, the one Simms is supposed to fill (red arrow above).

Speed is even better than technique!

From Video

Speed is even better than technique!

Who-hoo! The Cal center (yellow arrow above) whiffed on his block of Simms, because the freshman attacked the gap so rapidly that he didn’t even have worry about which shoulder of the center to take on. That, my friends is what Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso used to do so well for our beloved Ducks! Linebackers want to avoid taking on blocks by using their speed and instincts to beat offensive linemen to the gap before the running back arrives.

Note how Simms (No. 24 and green arrow above) is right in his gap, and the running back now has to pivot to the other gap … which is filled beautifully by McDowell (green dotted line/arrow above)!

Damn, this is great to see! Above is an example of how defense can work at Oregon, as freshmen Simms and Tei-Kirby protected their gaps wonderfully. No. 11Justin Hollins, has his outside gap defended while No. 74 Elijah George and McDowell penetrated theirs. If the Ducks did it once …

Yes, the title was a bit of a misnomer, as I did not actually show Keith Simms doing the technique correctly – but that was a function of running out of time/space. I wanted to show the “speed” example, since so many other young Ducks were defending their gap in the proper way, and it became that much more enjoyable to watch.

There is hope on the horizon, Duck fans!

(A special thanks for all of the time and information given by the GOC for the benefit of us all!)

“Oh how we love to learn about College Football!”

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for FishDuck.com
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo from Video

Disclaimer: Every writer on FishDuck.com is allowed to express his or her opinion in their articles. However, the articles do not represent the view of the other writers, editors, coaching consultants, management, or the principals of FishDuck.com. — Charles Fisher

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