The longtime New York high school coach takes us through his tried-and-true method of learning opposing defenses’ behavior in the new Hudl experience.

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When labeling plays in Hudl, we identify four things: 

  • Fronts 
  • Coverages 
  • Reaction by the secondary to motion 
  • Pressures 

This allows us to understand the defensive principles used by coordinators. Paired with the new Hudl Beta tool, the defensive picture becomes crystal clear.

Defenses can only be configured so many ways with their “box” defenders and still be able to defend all the run gaps, which is predicated on the offensive personnel packages. When using the two-digit personnel numbering system, an offense has:

  • Six run gaps in 00 or 10 personnel
  • Seven run gaps in 11, 21 and 31
  • Eight run gaps in 12, 22 and 32
  • Nine run gaps in 13 and 23

In a world before RPO’s, most defenses would “borrow” a secondary player to add into the run-gap defense if the offense ran, or allow that player to defend a field zone if the offense passed. That player is commonly referred to by offensive coordinator’s as the “conflict defender”, as that player is technically being asked to be a half-run, half-pass defender. 

But offenses have become more sophisticated, and defenses have adjusted, so most defenses today no longer have conflict defenders. 

They simply, as Kyle Cogan said in his Blitz ’21 panel, “Sling the Fits”. They vacate the run gap furthest from the point of attack in the run scheme, thereby no longer requiring a secondary player to defend both run and pass. 

But their box structure still dictates their secondary structure. Teams do have options on how they react to motions by the offense, and pressure packages offer a third variation to how a defense is structured on any given play.

With all that in mind, this is how we identify the defense for each play:


Because we are a 10, 11, or 20 personnel offense, we do not face eight or nine-man boxes (since teams only have to defend six or seven run gaps, they don’t need eight defenders in the box).

The configuration of the box defenders is important for us. We need to identify the total number, and amount, of defenders in the box at each level of the defense. This also lets us identify how many pass defenders, and field zones, a team will be able to defend. 

With our offensive line blocking rules, we don’t need to know the techniques of the defensive line, but we do need to know the number of defenders at each level. That’s why we label the different box configurations based on the total number as well as first and second-level defenders.


Defenses today play multiple variations of coverages (Rip/Liz, Palms, Robber, etc.) but they all have one thing in common — the middle of the field is either open or closed. Being able to identify this will tell you the type of coverage a team runs. You can’t play certain coverages with the middle of the field open or closed.

Because all of our pass route combinations simply depend on the middle of the field being open or closed, zone or man, we just need to know the number of safeties in the defense, and if the middle of the field is open or closed.

Reactions by the secondary to motion

Defenses have essentially three options when determining how to defend motion from the offense:

  • “Bump” the coverage, or pass off the motion while staying at the same level 
  • “Spin” the coverage, or transition from one level to the next
  • “Run” the coverage, or have defenders run with the motion.

team will convert to a closed team with motion (Spin), or if they will remain open (Bump). We also want to know if a team is playing man defense, and will be able to determine that if the defense's reaction is to “run” with motion.


My friend Chris “Coach Vass” Vasseur is famous for his catchphrase “The quarterback can’t see with tears in his eyes”. And if you can’t see, you can’t complete passes. So, it’s imperative for an offense today to be able identify the “personality” of a defense's pressure packages.

Referring back to the spatial limitation placed on defense, it is inefficient for a defense to try and rush two defenders through the same gap. Therefore, there are only so many configurations a defense can utilize when creating pressure packages. Those pressure packages are given a name based on the number of pass rushers they are attempting to utilize; five, six or seven-man. In an effort to identify where the extra pass rushers are attacking, we further label the pressure with an inside (i), outside (o), or both (c) tag.

After a record-setting college career that ended with his jersey number retired, Fagan entered the coaching ranks where he found explosive success. From 2006-17 as an assistant at New Rochelle (N.Y.) High School, the Huguenots went 112-16 with nine sectional titles, one state final appearance, and one state championship. As offensive coordinator at Mamaroneck (N.Y.) from 2018-19, he set or tied 10 school records, including yards per game, yards passing per game, yards per rush, touchdown passes in a season, and total yards passing in a season. You can follow him on Twitter at @NZoneFB

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