The heart of the never ending chess match between an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator is captured well in this quote:
Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy. -Sun Tzu
Many offensive coordinators start their philosophy with “establish a strong downhill run game.” Their strategy is to find the easiest North-South path to the end zone. Defensive philosophies usually come in threes: Stop the run, limit big plays and create takeaways.
One of the runs which provides multiple formation advantages while remaining simple for the offensive line is the inside zone play. It’s become a staple in spread 10/11/12 personnel offenses and is often paired with a read game and/or RPO.
The inside zone requires sound run fits in order to stop it, but when combined with the read game and RPO putting a defender in conflict, the defense is often put in vulnerable positions. Again, the offensive coordinator’s objective is to run downhill and conflict defenders.
Of course, the defensive coordinator’s objective is exactly the opposite of this. However, traditional fronts are being attacked and weakened by the dual strategy (downhill + conflict) of the offensive coordinator and his offense.
Enter the Tite Front
The old 5-2 defenses of the past called it “Double Eagle.” It was used in the NFL by Fritz Shurmer and Buddy Ryan in the 90’s. Ryan’s became the “4-6” or “Bear” defense, so the concept isn’t new, but in an era of offenses using RPO and downhill inside zone running game, the tite from which utilizes the 4i defensive end has come to the forefront of the game.
To answer the question, “What is the Tite front?”, Tyler Manes, defensive coordinator at Southwest Florida Christian Academy (FL) provides a clear definition in this video:
In 2017 Iowa State utilized the Tite front and went from 103rd to 32nd on defense. It’s become a staple of many of the top 25 defenses in the country, and you see it under the Friday night lights as well.
Like the quote from Sun Tzu, the Tite Front allows the defense to attack the offense’s strategy of establishing a downhill run game while removing defenders from conflict. The goal of the Tite front is to plug up the inside gaps and force offenses to run laterally before they get downhill.
In a Tite front, the B gaps are closed. The gaps that are open are the C gaps outside the offensive tackles. This allows Linebackers to have time to commit to stopping the downhill run thus taking them out of conflict.
While the Tite front has become popular in the SEC with Alabama and LSU utilizing it or the Big 12 with Iowa State bringing it to the forefront, it has been around longer than most realize. Two D3 programs in Ohio have utilized it for years and have been effective with it.
Allen Moore has been using it for over a decade at Otterbein University, Branden Jakubcin uses it at Heidelberg University, and while he was the defensive coordinator at John Carroll University, LA Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley utilized it as well.
Stopping the Run/RPO (removing conflict defenders)
In football things follow a pattern which starts with the offense coming up with a new and innovative way to attack the defense. Regardless of the type of system an offense uses, the concept that has proliferated at all levels over the last decade is the RPO.
The concept hinges on putting a defender in conflict with dual responsibilities. Defensive coordinators in response have been scheming to take their players out of conflict.
Allan Moore, defensive coordinator at Otterbein has been utilizing the Tite Front for over a decade. In this short video, Coach Moore explains why to run the 3-4 Tite/Reduced Front. If you are looking for a front that shuts down the run, then this is it.
Moore starts with a 4-0-4 front with the ends head-up on the tackles and the nose head up on the center. It all starts with a 3 man rush and Coach Moore builds four, five, and six man rushes from playing the run and pass. In this video he explains one of the first calls they install, “Base Pinch” which moves them into the B gaps.
Stopping the RPO (removing conflict defenders)
Branden Jakubcen, Defensive Coordinator at Heidelberg University coaches in the same conference as Coach Moore. He’s been utilizing the Tite front for years as well. In this video he shares their Tite base alignment as well as sharing their blitz and stunt package and how they utilize it to attack offenses.
Coaching the 4i
The key to being successful at any aspect of this game is having a full understanding of the “why” behind it and the “how” of the techniques needed on game day.
Kevin Lewis, defensive line coach at Furman delivered a clinic talk on coaching the 4i defensive end. He shares the philosophy behind utilizing the 4i and breaks down reactions and techniques for defensive lineman.
Coach Lewis shares the thought process for the 4i defensive end here:
Coach Lewis covers the technique for taking on different blocks like reach, cutoff, down block, combos, and base blocks. Teaching his linemen to react and defeat the various blocks they will face helps Furman be successful in running the Tite front. His entire course “Philosophy, Technique and Play of the 4i Defensive End” gives you the “how” behind the technique.
Using the Tite Front can be an easy way to shut down the inside zone, make zone reads harder for the quarterback, and make teams that predominantly run zone offenses bounce their plays outside to the open defenders. Run the Tite Front and control the outcome of the game.
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After 27 years of coaching at both the collegiate and high school level, Keith Grabowski took on a new role in helping advance and grow the game of football. One of the most prolific writers on scheme, technique, and program building (American Football Monthly, AFCA Insider, X&O Labs and USA Football), Grabowski also hosts a daily podcast, "Coach and Coordinator" on which he interviews the most knowledgeable head coaches, coordinators, and position coaches from professional, college, and high school football.