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Little League Football 4-3 Defense Assignments

Base Rules for a 4-3 Defense

The 4-3 defense is a great defense for any level. By using four defensive linemen and having each of these linemen responsible for a gap the linebackers can play downhill and control the box. In this article we will look at the alignment of the base 4-3 and the responsibilities of each position group.

4-3 Defense System in Youth Football

The Defensive line  

In the 4-3 it’s critical that the defensive line is able to control their gap. The defense is based on each lineman being responsible for one gap and controlling that gap. In the 4-3 there are four linemen each with a specific alignment and role.

Diagram of D Linemen vs. 1 TE Set

The linemen will pick the strength based on the Tight End. This will dictate their alignment and create a strong side and a weak side. On the strong side of the line there will be the Tackle and the Strong End. The Tackle will align on the outside shoulder of the Strong side Guard. He is responsible for controlling the B gap. The Strong End will align on the outside shoulder of the Strong side Tackle. He is responsible for controlling the C gap. If there is a Tight End he can move his alignment to the inside shoulder of the Tight End but is still responsible for the C gap.

On the backside of the formation the Nose and Weak End are responsible for shutting down the A and C gaps. The Nose will align in a Shade technique on the Center. This means that he will set up on the weak side shoulder of the Center and control the backside A gap. The weak side end will be responsible for the C gap. If there is a second Tight End added to the formation he will get help on his outside so he can keep his focus on the C gap.

The Linebackers

The linebackers are the strength of the 4-3. This defense is built to have players that can make plays and adjust to the stop the offense. There are three linebackers Sam, Mike and Will. Each of these has a specific role.

The two linebackers who have the most responsibility in stopping the run are the Mike and Will linebackers. The Mike or Middle Linebacker is responsible for the strong side A gap. This must be a player who is willing to come downhill, take on a block and make the tackle. The Will or weak linebacker has one of the toughest jobs in the defense. He is responsible for the backside B gap. This is a favorite gap for offenses to attack so the Will must be able to stop any run threat inside to the B gap and also must be able to scrape outside to help the Weak End on any outside run.

Responsibilities vs. Iso

Strong Iso (to TE side)

Weak Iso (opposite of TE)

When there is any running play with a lead blocker the linebackers must work together to stop the run. If the offense runs an Iso to the Strong A gap the Mike must come up and take on the blocker while keeping his outside shoulder free. The Will should help him out by scraping over and filling inside of the lead block to make the tackle. If the offense runs a lead play at the weak side they will switch roles and the Will linebacker will take on the blocker while the Mike scrapes over to make the tackle.

Diagram of Sam Alignment vs. Spread

The third linebacker, the Sam, is what makes the 4-3 unique. In the 4-3 the Sam does not have a specific gap inside the box. This allows him to be the D gap defender so he can force any outside run in. He can also play any 2 WR sets to the strong side which is very useful as more offenses go to Spread sets. If there is a Tight End the Sam will come down and align on the Tight End’s outside shoulder. This lets the Strong End stay C gap responsible while still accounting for the extra gap.

4-3 Defense System in Youth Football Zone Coverage

The Secondary

The 4-3 Secondary can take many different forms. Just like most secondary units it consists of two safeties and two cornerbacks. The safeties are designated as either Strong (to the Sam linebacker) or Free while most of the time Cornerbacks are responsible for given sides.

Cover 2 Responsibilities

The weak side secondary has to find a way to get an extra defender to help the Weak End stop the outside run. There are multiple ways of doing this. Some teams will go with a Cover 2 look where the Cornerback is now responsible for any D gap run and the Safety plays over the top.

In cover 2, the Cornerbacks will be contain players on run support, safeties stay deep half.

Cover 4 Responsibilities


If the defense wants to get the Safety more involved in the run they would go with a Cover 4. In this coverage the Safety is responsible for the D gap and the Cornerback has the Deep Quarter.

In cover 4, the safeties have contain on run support and the cornerbacks play deep. 

Cover 3 Responsibilities 

The third way defenses can cover add a secondary player to the box is by running cover 3. In this coverage the Free Safety can come down to linebacker level just outside of the Weak End. This adds a defender against the run and can be an effective way to deal with a Tight End to the weak side.

(See Also)Cover 4 Zone- Pattern Reading Concepts 

(See Also)Understanding Cover 2 Zone 

(See Also) Zone Blitz- 4-3 Defense 

After being focused on offense the last two seasons and reading Football Principals and Play by David Nelson, I assigned myself the Defensive Coordinator role this season, so I would focus my efforts on Defense for my tackle pee wee football team.  Coach Nelson is right, if your opponent doesn’t score, you can’t lose.  And as many youth football coaches have learned, defense is easier to teach than offense.  My goal is to go undefeated this season, by implementing a sound defensive strategy.  We had a top 6 defense last year in our league based on total points allowed, but I want to be number one this season.

This off season I have read several books on defense, Coaching Youth Football by Reed, Football Principals and Play, Winning Youth Footballby Cisar, The Complete Guide to Installing the 44 Split Defenseby Roman and countless articles in American Football Monthly and youth football websites.  After much research, I am going to use the 6-2 Wide tackle defense as my base youth defensive formation.  I ran this last year as a variation to my base 6-2, but after reading and watching Coach Cisar’s book and video, I think the 6-2 wide tackle should be my base and move to a 6-2 Tight formation in short yardage situations.   The 6-2 is also easy to move into 4-4 and Gap 8 Defensive formations for pass and Goal line situations.

In my new 6-2 base defense, the defensive tackles will align in the C Gap just inside the Tight Ends shoulder pads.  This will give the D-tackle a great attack angle to beat the O-tackle into the C Gap.  I want the D-tackle to blow past the offensive tackle and be behind the O-tackle before the play develops.  I am thinking about using skill players as d-tackles upright in a two point stance to take advantage of their quickness.  Most youth offensive lineman will stand straight up before moving forward to block, so we should be by them as they are standing straight up to block air.  Since most youth offenses run Gap On Down or Angle blocking schemes this might give us advantage to bull rush the gap, because the O-tackle should be worrying about the B Gap.  We should be past the Tight end before he can get an angle block on us to the inside and thus free up our D-End for contain.  Yes, this will put a lot of pressure on my two linebackers in the B gap, but I have two very strong LBs.  Plus I am hoping the D-tackles can make B gap tackles if they are able to blow into the C Gap and scrape down for B Gap runs.   Here’s what it will look like.

6-2 Base Defense – Wide Tackle

So what do you think?  Let me know.  Have a great season!

Update 6/7/16

Check out my new video on the 62 Defense that I run.

For all my videos check out http://www.youtube.com/c/StephenParker

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