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Gap-8 v1.01: Written by Derek Wade, September 20 th 2000.
All text © 2000 Derek A. Wade.
All images and media © their respective creators. All rights reserved.
This is an introduction to the Gap-8 defense. This presentation is
written with the youth coach and his players in mind, and is designed
to cover the most important aspects of using the defense.
This presentation will cover the following topics:
1) Defensive line up against typical youth offenses.
2) Defensive rules for lining up.
3) Defensive responsibilities for runs and passes.
4) Pass coverage rules.
5) Position techniques.
Additionally, this presentation
includes a special section on
drills for coaches. These drills are
intended to give the players
practice at specific skills that can
be directly applied to using the
defense in game situations.
To jump directly to the drills section, click here.
To jump to the table of contents, click here,
or on any picture.
Otherwise, click anywhere
on the screen to learn how
the Gap-8 defense operates.
Further sources of information on
the Gap-8 are accessible from the
Table of Contents.
Welcome to the Gap-8 defense! Defenses are ordinarily named for the number
of down linemen and the number of linebackers in the defensive set. The Gap-8
is named in a slightly different fashion: we name the defense based on the
number of men responsible for defending the areas between the offensive
players; the gaps.
The offense is the green circles. The defense is everything in red. The offense
is lined up in a formation known as the Even Wishbone, a common youth
football offensive formation.
Now let’s meet the positions!
These are the down linemen. They are named that for two reasons: They play
on the line of scrimmage, and they begin every play in either a three or four
point stance, which means they are down below the other defensive players.
Each down lineman has a specific name and responsibility. We’ll go into that a
little more later on. For now, just remember that when you see a triangle, that’s
a person who plays on the line, in a specific down position.
Be sure to pay attention to where the down linemen are positioned. They are
not lined up facing the offensive players, instead, they are lined up between
the offensive players. We’ll go over that in more detail a little later too.
This is a linebacker. Since we are looking from the offense’s point of view, and
most offenses are “right handed” this is the weak side linebacker. We’ll call
him “Willie.”
Notice that Willie is lined up directly across from the end man on the offensive
side of the line of scrimmage. Since that man is ‘tight’ to the line, he is the
tight end. Remember that the last man on the line of scrimmage is eligible to
catch passes. Willie is there to make sure that he doesn’t.
Willie needs to be up in a two point stance so he can see and react. He’s got
to be a fast, strong player with good instincts. He’s got two jobs in this
defense: Stop the run, and prevent that Tight End from catching a pass.
Willie is responsible for defending any runs that attack the gap just inside him
(towards the Center, where the yellow bar is).
This is the second linebacker used in the Gap-8 defense. Notice that he is on
the right side of the offensive line-up. We’ll call him the strong side linebacker,
and name him “Sam.”
Sam is also lined up in a two point stance on a Tight End. If that tight end
goes out for a pass it is Sam’s job to cover him and keep him from catching
the ball.
Sam is usually the defensive captain. It is his responsibility to make certain
that the defense has the right number of people on the field, and that they are
in the right spots and doing the right things. If your coach has the defense flip
sides then Sam and Willie are usually the players who flip. Sam usually makes
that call for the defense.
Like Willie, Sam must be able to cover the receivers and stop the run. The gap
Sam has to cover is marked with a yellow bar.
These are the Cornerbacks. Sometimes the Gap-8 is called the 8-2-1 defense,
like it is shown above. In that case, the Corners are the 2 in the 8-2-1.
Like the Linebackers, they have to cover receivers. In fact, the Corners are
usually smaller, faster Linebackers. Their job is to stop the deep pass first,
and then react and support on the runs.
Cornerbacks and Linebackers must communicate with one another. They
must each know which offensive receiver they cover, and how to respond to
motion by the offense.
Corners usually don’t switch sides to cover the strengths of the offense, but
some coaches like to cover the other team’s best receiver with their best
Cornerback. Your coach will make sure you know what to do.
This is the Free Safety. He is the last man on the field and the 1 in the 8-2-1. It
is very important that this player is a strong, fast player with good instincts
and sure tackling skills.
Primarily, the Free Safety is a pass defender, but he has to be ready and able
to make a tackle on a runner who gets past the defensive line.
The Free Safety must also communicate with the other backs. When the ball
is snapped it is his responsibility to read the play and inform his teammates
whether it is a run or pass, and where the ball is going.
The Free Safety must never, ever let an offensive player get behind him. He’s
the last line of defense for his team.
We’re back to the down linemen. Each one has specific things that they have
to do on every single play.
These two guys are the defensive ends. Their job is one of the most important
on the field, and they have to do it right, every time.
The instant the ball is snapped, both ends must immediately penetrate to the
depth of the ball. They have to take an “L” shaped route to the ball carrier.
The reason for this is to put the ends in a position to stop sweeps. If the
Defensive End starts to shortcut to the inside, then the offense can run outside
him. Defensive ends must be absolutely disciplined to do it right.
Defensive Ends must also trail sweeps away from them through the offensive
backfield. The reason for this is to prevent reverses.
The Defensive Ends are very important to the Gap-8. Because there are so few
players in the defensive backfield it is important to keep the offense from
getting across the line of scrimmage.
One of the plays that offenses do well at the youth level is the sweep. Another
is the reverse. Stopping these two plays is the Defensive End’s primary
In order to make sure the Defensive Ends get to their sweep stopping spot as
fast as possible, they need to line up one yard outside a tackle or end, and one
and a half to two yards outside a wingback.
The Defensive End must not be touched until he’s in the offensive backfield.
Don’t try to hit the Tight End, and don’t let anyone block you.
The Defensive Ends must take an “L” shaped route to the offensive backfield.
Defensive Ends must be highly disciplined.
If a player consistently fails to take the proper route, then he must be replaced
by one that does the job correctly.
If a sweep comes towards you, you must take on the blockers and make a pile
that the runner can’t get around. Don’t let him make it past the Tight End!
Also, if a sweep goes away from the Defensive End, he must stay in the
offensive backfield and follow the play as deep as the deepest offensive player.
This is to prevent the offense from running a reverse right back into that
Defensive End’s area.
Your coach will give you plenty of chances to practice against sweeps and
reverses. Make sure you work hard to defend them right!
These two guys are the defensive tackles. There is both a right tackle and a left
tackle. Because we are looking at the defense from the offense’s point of view,
the right tackle is on the left, and the left tackle is on the right.
Both tackles have to be disciplined, just like the defensive ends. When the ball
is snapped, both tackles must blast through their gaps (marked by yellow
bars), but they can only go one step.
The reason for this is to defend against Off Tackle plays. The tackles must
remain in their gaps and tackle the ball carrier, or any offensive player
pretending to be the ball carrier and trying to get through their gap.
Remember: penetrate only one step! Find the ball carrier and protect your gap!
These two players are also defensive tackles. From the offense’s point of view,
the player on the right is the “Strong Tackle” and the player on the left is the
“Power Tackle”.
The job of the two inside tackles is a tough one. On every play, they must
explode through their gaps and tackle the ball carrier, or any offensive player
pretending to be the ball carrier and trying to get through their gap. Unlike the
outside tackles the inside players can, and should, penetrate as deep as the
deepest offensive player.
These two players must be both physically and mentally tough. Because they
play “in the trenches” they are vulnerable to double teams by the center and
offensive guards. Strong players who aren’t afraid to hit are the best sort for
these positions.
All the defensive linemen should rush a passer with their hands in the air to
block his vision and distract him, just like Joel Steed is doing in the picture.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the individual
positions and their responsibilities, lets see what happens when
the ball is snapped.
The defensive backs won’t move, just the linemen. We’ll get
more into what the backs do later.
Click on the screen to start the animation.
If you would like to see the animation again, click here.
Otherwise, click anywhere on the screen to continue.
Or, click here to go to the Table of Contents.
Now, let’s talk about the Linebackers. Both Linebackers line up straight across
from the ends they cover, or the tackle on that side if the end is split. (More on
that later). Earlier we said that the Linebackers have two jobs: stop the run,
and keep their receivers from catching any passes.
They can do both jobs at the same time. When the ball is snapped the Tight
Ends will try to do one of two things: block the linebacker, or run out for a
As soon as the ball is snapped, the Linebacker must hit the Tight End. The
goal here is to keep him pinned to the line of scrimmage so he can’t run a pass
route. The Linebackers must keep the ends on the line for two seconds. Do not
hold him, just block him.
If the end does manage to get free, then cover him man-to-man.
On running plays the Linebacker has a much tougher job. He has to keep the
Tight End at arm’s length and read his block. He has to go where the Tight End
doesn’t want him to go.
If the Tight End puts his head to the inside of the Linebacker, then the play is
going to the inside. If the Tight End tries to put his head on the outside of the
Linebacker, then the play is going outside the Linebacker.
Be careful! The Tight End might try to trick you by blocking you for a few
seconds and then running a pass route. Listen to your teammates!
Did you notice the huge gaps between the Defensive Tackles and the Defensive
Those are the Gaps that Sam and Willie have to defend. It’s a big area, so they
have to be good “football smart” athletes with a lot of discipline.
Your coach will help you develop the skills you need to read the Tight End and
properly defend your area. Make sure you work hard to learn them!
We’re back to the Cornerbacks. Corners have the tough job of covering any
split out receivers man-to-man, and also providing run support, especially on
Cornerbacks line up on the line of scrimmage, head up on the receiver
farthest from the ball on their side. If there’s no receiver split out, then they
cover the closest offensive back. If that offensive back is lined up between the
offensive tackles, then the Cornerback lines up behind the Linebacker (like
they are here).
If a wide receiver tries to block down on our Defensive End or Linebacker, the
Corner must blitz and stop the sweep while warning the End or Linebacker
that a “crack block” is coming.
The last man on the field is the Free Safety. He has one of the most important
jobs on the defense. He lines up 4-6 yards off the line of scrimmage and
directly in front of the Center. If the offense is in a “trips” formation (more on
that later) he’ll line up head to head with the inside receiver and cover him
The Free Safety must make a read on every play immediately after the snap. If
it’s a run, he’s got to make sure his teammates know it, and he must come up
and help make the tackle.
If the other team is passing, the Free Safety must first notify his teammates by
calling “Pass! Pass!” Then he has to read the Fullback. If the Fullback stays in
to block, the Free Safety plays a deep zone. If the Fullback goes out for a
pass, the Free Safety covers him.
Remember, the Free Safety is the last line of defense!
Now let’s take a look at how the Gap-8 lines up against several common, and a
few uncommon youth offenses.
Obviously we can’t show you every possible offense that will ever be used, but
the examples should give you an idea of where to line up and who to cover
against most of the offenses you’ll face. For the rest, the rules of coverage
you’ll see in the examples can usually be applied.
It’s very important for the players to be able to instantly recognize an offense
and be able to apply all the formation and coverage rules.
Remember, the pass coverage rules are pretty simple:
The Cornerback has the receiver split out farthest from the ball on his side. If
there is no split out receiver, he covers the closest offensive back. (If that back
is between the tackles, then line up behind the Linebacker. In the diagram
above, that’s why the Corners are lined up behind Willie and Sam.)
The Linebacker has the Tight End on his side, or the inside or “slot” receiver if
there are two receivers on a side.
The Free Safety covers the offensive back other than the Quarterback who is
closest to the middle of the formation, or the innermost slot receiver if the
offense is in a “Trips” formation (You’ll see that in a few minutes.)
Don’t forget that the Quarterback is an eligible receiver! He must be covered if
he hands off or pitches the ball to a back because that back might throw it
back to him. The backside (away from the play) Defensive End is responsible
for covering the Quarterback.
Your coach will drill you on how to recognize and react to those types of plays.
For this presentation, the Quarterback won’t be a receiver.
Now, let’s look at some formations!
This first formation is called the Even Wishbone. It was made famous in the
70’s by the University of Oklahoma. Many high school and junior high offenses
run it because it offers the powerful “triple option” attack. Youth offenses
generally run a scaled down version of the Wishbone that uses only a double
option or straight running. Your coach will be able to explain the option to you.
Note that every eligible receiver on the offense is numbered (except for the
Quarterback). Each defensive back also has a number. Match the numbers up
to determine who covers who.
This version of the Wishbone has an End split out as a wide receiver. Notice
the changes in the pass coverage. Sam and the Left Cornerback must
communicate and make sure they know who has to cover him.
Notice also that Sam moved over the Right Tackle, and the Left Defensive End
(He’s on the right, because we’re looking from the offense’s point of view.) has
moved inside. He now lines up one yard outside the Right Tackle. He still has
the exact same job, and must take that “L” shaped route.
By the way, this formation, with the Tight End to the left, would be strong right
from the defense’s point of view. If your coach has Sam and Willie flip sides,
then Willie would be head up on the Right Tackle, and Sam would be covering
the Tight End on the left. Make sure you know your coach’s rules!
The next formation is called the Wing-T. It was developed in Delaware at the
college level, but many high school, junior high, and youth teams now run
scaled down versions of the offense. The Wing-T has a lot of misdirection in its
offensive attack, so it is vital that players carry out their assignments against
this offense!
Take a look at the Left Defensive End. (He’s on the right side of the offense.)
Notice that he is lined up two yards outside the Wingback. Also note that Willie
is lined up on the offense’s Left Tackle. He still covers the running back, but
now he doesn’t have to worry about plugging the End (who is split out and
covered by the corner.)
This is the I-formation. It’s called that because the Center, Quarterback,
Fullback, and Running Back line up and look like the letter “I”.
Many youth teams use this formation because the two Tight Ends and the
Fullback give good blocking for the Running Back. It is probably one of the
most common youth offenses.
The I-formation’s greatest strength is between the tackles, so the defensive
linemen must remember to stay low and penetrate.
Also, watch out for a “crack” from the split out wide receiver. The Corner must
make sure the Linebackers and Defensive Ends are notified the instant the
receiver bolts towards the middle.
This is the Slot-I. A lot of Pro teams use this formation because it gives them a
good running attack, and the ability to pass to the two wide receivers. Some
youth teams also use this formation, especially if they want to sweep. Usually
one or both wide receivers will “crack block” in on the Defensive End or
Linebacker. If a Corner sees his man trying to crack, he must warn the
Linebacker or Defensive End by yelling the code word “Crack!”
Note that Willie has moved out to cover the inside receiver, and the corner has
the outside man. Be aware also that some coaches will call the two receiver
side the strong side, and if your coach has Willie and Sam flipping, then Sam
will be covering that inside receiver.
This formation is called Trips because of the three receivers on one side of the
field. Youth teams generally use this formation when they want to pass the
ball. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever run out of it though!
Notice that the Free Safety has moved up to cover the inside slot receiver manto-man. This makes the job harder for the defensive line. They have to do their
best to make sure tackles and rush the passer, because there is no one back to
be the last line of defense.
Your coach may move the Left Corner to the Free Safety’s position against this
offense. (Where the blue X is.) He’ll still have to cover the Running Back
(Receiver #5) though.
This is the Four Wides formation. Most Pro and some College teams use this
as a passing formation. You’ll usually see the Quarterback in a shotgun to give
him more time to find an open receiver and throw the ball.
Note that the Left Defensive End has moved to one yard outside the Offensive
Right Tackle, and Sam and Willie are both covering the inside receivers on
their sides of the field.
Be warned: this is a passing formation, but it is possible to run out of it as
well. Be prepared if the opponents get tricky!
This is a much different formation than the others. This formation is
unbalanced. If you count the offensive linemen, you will discover that there are
still seven (as required by the rules) but the Center is no longer snapping the
ball to the Quarterback. Instead, the Left Guard is the snapper. Remember that
the last men on the line of scrimmage are eligible receivers. In this case, the
Left Offensive Tackle is eligible, and Willie is covering him.
Notice how the defensive linemen are lined up. The linemen should always be
centered on the middle man in the offensive line, not the ball. Some teams will
try to trick you with this type of formation, so be prepared for it.
This is an example of an older offensive formation that is making a comeback
in the modern era. This is the Single Wing formation. It was developed in the
early ’20’s by “Pop” Warner. The Center snaps the ball directly to the Tailback
(T), who either runs or passes. Some teams have the Center snap to the
Upback (#2).
The Gap-8 treats the Tailback as if he were a Quarterback. If he tries to go out
for a pass after handing off, then the backside Defensive End covers him.
Your coach will have more details on defending against this particular offense.
There are some other important things you need to know about the Gap-8
defense. Many offensive teams use motion to try to confuse the defense,
change their formation, or try to get a receiver open.
Motion does not change the pass coverage responsibilities because the Gap-8
uses man-to-man pass coverage. In other words, if your man goes in motion,
then you go with him.
For the coach: Gap-8 drills
This following section is intended as a resource for the Gap-8 coach. It
contains drills formulated to enhance the skills needed to play a Gap-8
successfully, tips from coaches that have used the Gap-8, and sources of other
material on the Gap-8.
It is not necessary to show this section to the players, although you may wish
to use this presentation to describe some of the drills.
Wherever possible, start each drill with a Center/Quarterback snap to teach the
defensive players to react on ball movement.
Defensive linemen drills: Penetration
This drill is intended to teach the defensive line how to penetrate the blocking
at the line of scrimmage. Several groups of linemen can be worked with at a
Two offensive linemen (circles) will double team block a single defensive
lineman. The defensive lineman must stay low, keeping his hands on the
ground until he fights through.
A tackling dummy can be placed behind the offensive linemen to provide
additional tackling reinforcement.
This drill can be combined with the next to work on pass rushing after
penetrating the line once the basic techniques have been mastered.
Defensive linemen drills: Pass Rushing
This drill is designed to teach the defensive line how to rush the passer once
they cross the line of scrimmage. Several groups of linemen can be worked
with at a time.
Two defensive linemen begin from their four point stance. At the snap, they
bear crawl until the quarterback drops back for a pass, at which point they
charge and form tackle the tackling dummies. Make certain the linemen rush
the passer with their hands in the air, and that they execute a proper form
Additionally, it is desirable to have the quarterback and center line up between
the tackling dummies, and to have the quarterback pump fake in an attempt to
make the linemen jump. (This should be discouraged unless the linemen see
daylight between the passer and the ball.)
Linebacker drills: Reading the Tight End
Reading the tight end is the most difficult task the linebacker must face,
therefore, this drill is crucial to the success of the Gap-8.
The coach will inform the tight end what the play should be; pass left, pass
right, run left, or run right. At the snap, the tight end will attempt to block the
linebacker for running plays, and break free for passing plays.
The linebacker must read the block and move to defeat it, or pin the tight end
on the line by staying in a good football position and keeping the end at arm’s
length. If the tight end gets clear, the quarterback should attempt to complete
the pass. A stopwatch should be used to insure the receiver is held to the line
for 2.5 seconds. Defenders should be disciplined for pass interference and
defensive holding.
The extra players may be used as running backs for the linebacker to practice
tackling, extra receivers, or extra quarterbacks, depending on need.
The downfield coach should watch to insure that the linebacker watches the
hips of the tight end on a pass route, and looks back to play the ball when the
tight end does.
Corner drills: Bump and run coverage
Pass coverage is the primary responsibility of the cornerback. This drill is
intended to refine the bump and run skill.
At the snap, the corner should jam the receiver with a sharp punching motion
of both hands into the breastplate of the receiver’s pads. He should keep the
receiver at arm’s length, and stay between him and the direction he wants to
The coach should give the receiver a specific pass route of the passing tree,
and use a stopwatch to time this drill and the linebacker’s. The receivers must
be held to the line for 2.5 seconds.
If the receiver breaks free, the corner must cover him man to man, and the
quarterback should attempt to complete the pass.
A downfield coach may be utilized to make sure the corner watches the hips of
the receiver and looks back to play the ball properly when the receiver does.
A flag should be thrown and the player disciplined for any pass interference or
defensive holding.
Safety drills: Deep Zone coverage
The free safety is the primary deep pass defender, and the only zone defender.
This drill is intended to assist his ability to react and break on the ball.
At the snap, two receivers should run streak routes of at least fifteen yards.
The safety should backpedal, maintaining a good football stance and reading
the quarterback, who should throw to a receiver called by the coach.
The safety should break to the ball and intercept it at its highest point, or time
his hit to make contact with the receiver just as the ball arrives.
A fullback may be added for later drills. The free safety should make a read on
him and play zone only if he remains in to pass block. This also adds hand offs
to the safety’s reads. The safety should come up to make the tackle on a
running play.
The player must communicate and call “Pass!” or “Run!” once the correct read
is made
A flag should be thrown and the player disciplined for any pass interference or
defensive holding.
Team drills: ¾ Speed Form Tackling
This drill is designed to improve tackling skill for all defensive players. At a
snap or coach’s direction, the ball carrier should jog at ¾ speed or slower in a
straight line towards the coach. The tackler should move only fast enough to
make the tackle.
Emphasize the proper tackling procedure: head in front, shoulder pad on the
runner’s hip pad, a tight arm wrap, good lift, and a drive of short choppy steps.
The angle and direction should be varied at least daily to give the tacklers as
much experience as possible in tackling from all angles. Tackling drills of
some form should be run every day.
Always block and tackle with your head up!
Team drills: Bull in the Ring
The Bull in the Ring drill is designed to increase both tackling skill and
defensive aggression. It should be used later in the season after the basic
tackling techniques have been mastered and the younger players have
overcome most of their fear of contact.
The ball carriers make a circle around the “bull”. The coach will select a player,
matching skill and size of the runner to that of the tackler, and throw him a
The ball carrier must run directly across the circle without being tackled. The
“bull” must make a correct, aggressive, four point tackle and stop the runner
before he exits the circle. The runner becomes the next “bull”.
This drill comes highly recommended by the players of the 1999 Kodiak Lions,
who requested it nearly every day for the last three weeks of the 1999 season.
Always block and tackle with your head up!
Team drills: Fumblerooski
The Fumblerooski is a drill designed to teach the defense to take advantage of
scoring opportunities. Two lines of players face the coach, who runs a few
steps forward and tosses a football on the ground so it bounces towards the
The players must recover the fumble while staying on their feet and return it
10-15 yards for a touchdown. The player who recovers the ball should call
“Bingo,” “Oskie” or whatever code word the defense uses to signal an
interception. His drill partner should immediately move to a blocking position
and lead him to the end zone, watching behind and around the runner for any
tacklers about to bring him down from behind.
If the lines of players are short enough, this drill may be run instead of wind
sprints as a conditioning exercise.
The Gap-8 is a sound, successful defense for the youth levels of football. It has
the advantage of deleting the running game, while applying tremendous
pressure to a passer.
At first glance, it would appear that the Gap-8 is weak between the guards.
This is actually inaccurate. Although there are no linebackers behind the
defense to make tackles, the presence of a defensive lineman in each gap
prevents the offense from running inside in most cases. However if the
defensive linemen are not properly conditioned to remain low at all times to
clog the gaps, the middle will become vulnerable, especially to tight
formations running wedge action plays.
In all actuality, the Gap-8 is weakest where it seems the strongest: sweeps and
off tackle plays can be successful against the Gap-8 if the defensive ends do
not properly run their contain routes and the defensive tackles do not halt and
guard their gaps after crossing the line of scrimmage.
Reverses too, are a weakness of the Gap-8, not because the defense is
unsound, but because the defensive ends tend to abandon their training and
go into “pursuit mode” once they see a play going away from them.
Experience has shown that the defensive ends must be burned at least twice
before they remember to trail sweeps through the opposing backfield as deep
as the deepest offensive player. It is best, therefore, to burn them numerous
times in practice.
Another play that causes some difficulty for younger players is the halfback
pass. Once the ball has been handed off they assume the ball carrier is always
going to run with it. This is not always the case. Defending the halfback pass
at the lower levels is relatively easy. Teach the corners to cover their receivers
until the back crosses the line of scrimmage, and teach the free safety to flow
towards the motion while remaining 10-15 yards off the line of scrimmage.
Mostly it is a matter of discipline and repetition. Plenty of the latter will breed
the former.
Selecting players for the defensive positions can be difficult. Most authorities
on youth coaching agree that, to be successful, the better players on the team
should be available to both offense and defense. Many defensive coordinators
are forced to work for head coaches that instead prefer to platoon their
players, or try to keep key offensive personnel from the defense out of fear that
they will get hurt. This decision is entirely in the province of the head coach,
but I do not recommend it as a way to build a successful defense.
Assuming the entire roster is available to you, the player criteria should be
based as follows:
The Sam linebacker should be selected first. His position on the strong side of
the offensive formation will require him to make a majority of the tackles. He
must be intelligent and “coachable”, as well as quick enough to cover the
inside receiver against a twins formation. The slot receiver is usually the best
pass catcher of most teams that use this offensive set.
Sam must also be strong enough to handle a physical tight end and still cover
his gap properly.
Finally, Sam is usually the defensive captain. He must have the leadership to
inspire his teammates when the chips are down, and the drive to never give up,
no matter the odds. Sam should have the same leadership qualities that the
offensive quarterback has.
Willie should be the second player selected. He should have as many as
possible of Sam’s attributes, because his duties are very similar. Speed,
tackling ability, strength, and intelligence should all be found in this player.
In many cases, the starting Sam and Willie linebackers back up each other’s
positions on the depth chart.
Linebacker is one position of the Gap-8 where a weaker player should not be
played. The responsibilities of the position are too great for any but your best
The free safety should be your next selection. He should have the attributes of
both linebackers if possible. Speed and intelligence are the two primary factors
to determine when selecting this player. He must be fast enough to break on a
thrown football, and smart enough to determine the offensive play within a few
quick backpedaling steps.
Due to his zone responsibilities, the free safety will be responsible for a
majority of the interceptions this defense can cause. It is therefore important,
but not critical, that he have good hands to take advantage of this.
This player should also enjoy contact. A zone defense leaves ample
opportunity for an aggressive player to have an impact on other teams,
especially ones that try to throw quick passes over the middle into his area.
The defensive ends and tackles should be selected next. Size should not be a
primary consideration of these positions. Rather, discipline must be the main
criterion when selecting these players.
Defensive ends must always run the same route, every play, even when the
offense has been running inside them all day. In the Gap-8, one successful
sweep can kill you.
Defensive ends must take on blockers and make a pile in the event of a sweep
towards them, and must trail sweeps away through the opposing backfield.
Defensive tackles must be properly trained to protect their gap after they
penetrate the offensive line. They should penetrate more than one step only
when they are certain the play does not attack their area. Do not hesitate to
remove or demote players without the discipline necessary for these positions!
The cornerbacks are an integral part of the pass defense, but not critically so.
They should be fast enough to remain with the other team’s better receivers,
and strong enough to make secure tackles on sweep attempts.
Since the primary pass coverage of the Gap-8 is a bump and run, the corners
should be as big as possible without sacrificing speed.
Youth teams throw to wide receivers infrequently, choosing instead to throw to
a slot receiver or running back most of the time, so smaller and weaker players
can be used in these positions with good results.
As odd as it sounds, the power tackle and strong tackle are the best places for
the weakest of players. The nature of the position is such that a weak player,
who clogs the inside gap properly, can succeed at covering his areas even in
the face of a 10-20 pound size mismatch.
Obviously, if you have the personnel, stronger players in these positions can
improve the defense dramatically, especially against the pass, where the power
tackle and strong tackle can cave in a pass pocket.
No matter how skilled or strong the player is, however, they must be
disciplined enough to remain on all fours until in the offensive backfield. It is
vital that the defensive linemen keep their shoulder pads below those of their
In order to get the best possible results from the Gap-8, it is important to
practice defense at every practice. Assuming a two hour evening practice,
approximately 30 minutes is available for defense. If your head coach will not
give you 30 minutes daily for defensive practice, it will be difficult to succeed
with any defense. I advise drilling on offensive formation recognition, pass
coverage, line penetration, and form tackling daily, and on your upcoming
opponent’s plays at least once weekly.
The following practice schedule may be useful to you when attempting to
coordinate your defensive time.
00:00-00:10 Form Tackling
00:10-00:15 Offensive formation recognition (3-5 different formations every
day, including your next opponent’s)
00:15-00:25 Line penetration (linemen), Pass coverage/covering tight ends
(Backs and ‘backers)
00:25-00:30 Scouting report on
talk/emphasis time on weak areas.
Obviously, this practice schedule assumes that you have scouted your
upcoming opponent. Scouting the opposition is the single biggest action a
defensive coach can perform that will make the Gap-8 successful.
Scouting gives your players an advantage, because it gives you a sneak
preview of the other team’s offense, and gives you a week or more to figure out
how to stop it, instead of trying desperately to do so on game day in the 25
seconds between plays.
Scouting forms are available in many different coaching books that will make
your task easier. For simplicity, I recommend the forms detailed by John T.
Reed in his book Coaching Youth Football: Defense. Information on acquiring
the book can be found in the Gap-8 resources section of this presentation.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for your time and interest in the Gap-8.
Many football coaches at the youth level and above have discovered incredible
amounts of success with this defense, and I wish to thank them for their
assistance, both in creating this presentation, and in helping to teach me. I
also would like to thank the following people for their help and support:
John T. “Jack” Reed; for his incredible books, and his patient email
conversation that took me step by step through the parts I misunderstood and
“Wingnut” “Dipper” “JT” “Dum Coach” and others of the Infosports message
board who remind me constantly how much more I still have to learn.
CW04 Earl Arnett; my Commanding Officer at Navigation Center Detachment
Kodiak, who gave me time off and unquestioning moral support when I
decided to coach.
My assistant coaches in Kodiak, Norm Blair and Scott Buttrick; both older and
wiser than I, but willing to offer me unswerving loyalty.
My wife, Anna; who winces when I discuss football in March, but still never
misses a game.
Mostly, I wish to thank the 1999 Kodiak Lions; for teaching me what it was like
to be a winner, and forgiving my blunders.
I also wish to thank you, for being a part of the greatest sport in the world, and
doing your part to teach young men to be the leaders and role models of the
future. Good luck with the Gap-8.
The following is a list of sources of further information on the Gap-8 defense,
and on coaching defensive football.
Coaching Youth Football, The Gap-Air-Mirror Defense for Youth Football, and
Coaching Youth Football: Defense
by John T. “Jack” Reed. ISBN: 0-939224-40-2, 0-939224-49-6, and 0-939224-36-4
available exclusively at
The 10-1 Even Pressure Defense (Video)
by G.A. Moore
available through Bob Rexrode (1408 N. Ricketts, Sherman, TX 75092)
Spalding Football Drill Book
by Doug Mallory. ISBN: 0-940279-72-X
available through
Arnsparger’s Coaching Defensive Football
by Bill Arnsparger. ISBN: 1-57444-162-0
available through
Coaching Team Defense
by Fritz Shurmur. ISBN: 0-9624779-6-6
available through
Additionally, the following web sites are of great interest to youth coaches
looking for specific information, advice, and interaction with other coaches
from around the country.
A continual source of excellent football advice as well as the only source for
the Dynamics of the Double Wing video series that covers the incredible
double wing offense in painstaking detail. Check out Coach Wyatt’s “News you
Can Use” for a football coach’s view of the world.
Jack Reed is one of the best youth coaches on the planet. His books are by far
the best purchases a youth coach could ever make. Periodically he updates
the site with his recent thoughts on coaching, and it’s worth checking every
few weeks or so. It’s a good idea to keep a notebook of his articles from this
web site.
Created by Double Wing coach “Dipper” this forum is an outstanding source of
information on what does and doesn’t work on a youth football field… and how
to tell the two apart. Coaches from all over the world post regularly and are
available to trade playbooks, answer questions, and provide advice.
Coaching Web sites, continued
A free site offering email, a web page for your team, and coaching advice for
every sport under the sun. Infosports is probably the best sports web site for
the youth player and coach. Literally hundreds of coaches post daily on
Infosports, and the information to be found there is truly top notch.
Offering playbooks, defenses, drills, and coaching football advice from
coaches around the globe, is designed with the rookie
coach in mind. Thousands of new coaches are given their whistles each year,
and have nowhere to turn to for the information they need to make their teams
successful. is an attempt to fill that void. If you have an
article you’ve written, a play that worked for you, or a drill you’ve had success
with, please share it with the new coaches out there by contacting Coach Wade
and sending him a copy for the web site.
Remember, every new coach we help out means twenty or more kids get the
chance to learn the ideals of sportsmanship, honor, respect, and teamwork.
All submitted articles remain the property of the authors. Entries will be
marked anonymous for coaches who do not want their competition learning
their secrets. All diagrams, photos, and images sent to Coach Wade will be
returned after addition to the site.
Thank you, and good luck!
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By using the tips and techniques in this presentation, you agree to hold Coach Wade not
responsible for any and all injuries that may occur. Football is a dangerous sport, and no
amount of padding or preparation can entirely eliminate all dangers. All players should be
properly outfitted and trained before engaging in drills or competitions.
Always keep your head up when you block or tackle!
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For coach’s tips, click here.
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For all Gap-8 drills, click here.
Defensive Linemen
For credits and thank yous,
click here.
Legal stuff.
Contact Coach Wade
Team Drills
For all Down Linemen, click here.
For all Defensive Line-ups, click here.
Defensive Ends
Even Wishbone
Defensive Tackles
Wishbone with Split End
Strong Tackle and Power Tackle
Delaware Wing-T
For animation, click here.
Willie Linebacker
Sam Linebacker
4 Wides
Free Safety
Single Wing