How to Stop the Run in Rural Football

This article will focus on how to stop the run in rural football.

Specifically, we will look at the two Base Gap Control Defenses that we used throughout my 24 year career at Gold Beach High School.

Our base coverage is Cover 3 with a single high Safety. I realize for many of you a single high Safety would spell disaster in today’s sophisticated passing attacks. 

However, if you recall part of my reasoning for staying with Cover 3 as our base coverage is the style of offenses we would be seeing in rural Oregon. While we do have and play several other coverages, we start with Cover 3.

We play an Even Front/Over Front that we call 43. Meaning 40 Front and Cover 3 behind it. 

We also plan an Odd Front that we call 53. Again, meaning  50 Front with Cover 3 behind it.

We love the idea of stemming between the two Fronts and other variations. My focus for this article will be to detail these two Fronts and how we line up vs. various formations and how to stop the run.

How to Call the Strength

As you would guess it is the same regardless of Front or Coverage – we make two strength calls.

The first one a Rip or Liz call sets our front seven and the second one a Roger or Larry call sets our secondary. The Mike and Sam Backers will set the Front and all of the Front should echo the call. Our Free Safety will set the secondary and all of the secondary should echo the call.

Front Strength Set Rules

Set strength to TE/Y, if 2 TE set, set to wide side TE/Y or if in the middle of the field a Liz call because most offenses are right handed;

No TE/Y we will set it to the two receiver side.  If a balanced 2×2 set rule we will use same logic as with 2 TE/Y.  Set strength to wide side or if in middle to defense’s left or Liz;

Trips with no TE/Y we set the strength away from Trips.  This allows us to shift our linebackers and coverage towards the Trips.

*In rural football Trips are still primarily used to get you to take people out of the box so they can run at fewer in the box.

When in doubt, set strength to field or Liz.  DO NOT BURN A TIME OUT!

Secondary Strength Set Rules:

It’s simple: set secondary to the side with the most receivers.  

Additional Alignment Rules:

If #1 Receiver is outside #’s move to inside alignment. In today’s game I’m toying with inside all the time.

The Whip or Weak OLB Alignment Rules in 40:

  • If on the same side as Panther/SS and only two receivers move to on LOS and rush – unless scouting report overrides the rule.
  • If Trips to your side – play coverage.
  • If aligned on TE/Y move up to LOS and use TE/Y to collapse C Gap.

Most of you have seen these defenses in your careers and understand the idea of Gap Control Fronts.

You are probably thinking “Is Coach Swift going to share anything new to help me because both these Fronts are great but certainly nothing new?”

Well, hopefully some of the following specific teaching points and cues we use will help you find something of value in this article.

Let’s now dive into some of these nuances and details.

Defensive Lineman:

You’ll notice we have strong side and weak side defensive linemen.

In my career at Gold Beach we have played a left and right side more often then we have a strong side and weak side. 

When we can and feel it will help us, we flip flop our defensive line. I believe in my 24 years as head coach at Gold Beach we have flip flopped for three reasons.

The biggest reason we have for NOT flip flopping is our rural setting – our kids play both ways. I try to play my best linemen on the left side offensively. That way we can play our best linemen on defense to the opponent’s right side, knowing most offensive coordinators are right handed.

We will always use the strong and weak side identifications on defensive diagrams and in teaching so our kids understand the defense in more depth.

All of our defensive linemen play a play shade on offensive linemen. We have experimented with playing the End/Weakside DE in a 6 technique but have found they usually go too deep allowing run plays to come underneath them.

We wanted the offensive line shaded so we can strike them and use their body and our body to cancel or close a gap. This also ensures we don’t get too deep before finding the ball. 

While we do not intentionally protect our linebackers this does help them fulfill their roles in our defensive schemes.

In 2004 one of our community’s special people would come to our practices and shout “Build a wall Panthers!”  This is exactly what we want to do – Build a Wall on the heels of the opponent’s offensive line.

Inside Linebackers – Mike and Sam

Our Mike Backer is our Plug or “Close the Window” Backer. He is also our only two gap player in our 40 Front. If the near back shows flow strong, the Mike will “plug” the strong A.  If the near back shows flow weak, the Mike will “plug” weak B.

We work a lot on not running or plugging into a pile of bodies, but instead we want to “plug” open windows/gaps. While we anticipate it to be strong A or weak B things can and do change in the battle on the line of scrimmage.

The Sam is our sweeper or clean up player.

While lined up with his crotch in Strong C Gap he will only fill the C Gap if the Stud End cannot close it with the offensive TE.

We work hard on finding that instinctive tackler who is good at angles and staying inside out on the ball. This is where our bow hunters usually end up because of the knowledge of speed gauging and keeping angles. If the flow is strong, he checks the C gap.

If the gap is closed, then he slides into O Gap inside out knowing the Strong Safety/Panther is our run contain OLB and will force the ball back to Sam.

Outside Linebackers – Panther/SS and Whip

Both of our OLBs are Strong Safety type kids.

They align a little deeper to help them with pass responsibilities and also to allow them a little time to pick the correct angle to contain the ball on the run. They have to know our Ends are our “force” or “edge” guys and if everything goes right the ball will give ground to bounce wide to them.

When the ball goes away they are searching for that cut-back lane to fill.


Both of our Corners are secondary-contain run supporters in action or flow at them. If flow goes away they take a deep pursuit angle and check for the trickery of halfback or double pass.

Our Free Safety after glancing to #1 on the side of flow is an alley player.


Even though we live in the “age of the pass,” you must be able to stop the run if you want to have success.

When you’re defending anything, from the Double Wing to the Spread, having a consistent plan that allows your players to execute well is your highest priority.

This article was originally published in Headsets: Volume 1, Issue 2.


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