Fat Camp: Gaps and defensive techniques

Football is more than--as Lawrence Taylor once said--a bunch of crazed dogs.

It's a bunch of crazed dogs defending territory.

This territory is represented by gaps and techniques, both of which we are going to explore today.

If you've ever wondered what a 5-tech is, or if you've been mystified by the term gap responsibility, never fear.  You've come to the right place.

After today, the crazed dogs will seem a little less chaotic.  Additionally, you won't find yourself zoning out when players, coaches, and coordinators speak of gaps and techs.  Finally, since we use a lot of this terminology here at IAOFM, your level of appreciation for our work will also increase (we hope).

Most important, however, is that you can impress your father-in-law on Sunday by saying some gibberish like, "The callside end played the 9-tech, but didn't maintain his D-gap responsibiity on that play.  That's why they gave up the big run."

Gaps and Techs 

One way to think of gaps and techs is to think of chess.  A chessboard has 64 squares.  Each square has a specific coordinate.  At the beginning of the game, the pieces are lined up in a defined way.  Once the game begins, however, the pieces are deployed in an almost unlimited number of ways.  Yet, the underlying infrastructure of the board never changes.

For linemen and linebackers, the underlying infrastructure doesn't change either.  That infrastructure is visually represented through gaps and techniques.

Here is what their chessboard looks like:

The techniques are the numbers.  They are, in simplest terms, where the linemen and linebackers line up to begin the play.  So when you heard all of the talk about Marcus Thomas being a great 3-tech earlier during free agency, all that meant was that Thomas specialized (in theory) in playing the spot just outside of the offensive guard, or where you see the number three on this diagram.  

The gaps are represented by the letters.  They simply show an area of responsiblity for a player.  For example, you often hear defensive ends talk about maintaining D-gap responsibility on rushes to the outside.  This just means they are responsible for maintaining (i.e. destroying anything that moves) those rushing lanes.

It's important to note that the techniques have generally--although not always--helped players remember their gap responsibilties.  If they are lined up in an even technique (heads up), they are generally going to be responsible for two gaps.  If they are lined up in an odd technique, they are generally going to be responsible for one gap.

If we use the Marcus Thomas example again, and we assume a base 4-3 defense, we'd say that Thomas would line up at the 3-technique and he would be responsible for maintaining the B gap.  This would be the case on any base call using the 4-3 (not including stunts, slants, etc.).

Simple, right?  While this might look confusing at first, once you spend a little time with this visual, you'll never watch football the same again.  The quarterback breaks the huddle, you silently call the strong side of the field in your head (more on this in another Fat Camp piece), and then you immediately look to see the techniques of the linemen and linebackers.  From there, you'll have a good idea of their gap responsibilities.  It's a technique I use myself in order to prepare each week for my Gut Reactions.

It should also give you a quick and dirty understanding of why it's so damn hard to play the 3-4 defense in the NFL.  Aside from having one fewer lineman on the field, the linemen that are there generally are forced to play even techniques and have two-gap responsibility.  This invites double teams.  Further, it places a premium on strength, shedding, and the ability to react to the flow of the football.

The 4-3 defense runs contrary to many of these concepts.  Speed, penetration and quickness are the norm.  So is the one-gap system.

Over the next several weeks, we'll explore further each of these techniques, from the grunt 0-tech all the way to the 9-tech.  We'll examine their gap responsibilities, their offensive keys, and how they do their jobs.  If we have time, we'll also move into the play of cornerbacks and safeties.  Hopefully, by the start of the season, the way you view the Broncos will be heightened.

TJ Johnson can be reached through telegraph, ESP, Spanish interpretor, or via email: tjthedudejohnson@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter if you want to see him mock "the man."  He assumes you are following It’s All Over Fat Man on Facebook and Twitter, but if you are not, that’s nihilistic, man.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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Fat Camp