2015 AFCA Notes: Robert Wimberly on Defensive Playcalling

Robert Wimberly is the defensive coordinator at Liberty University, and he did a fantastic job of giving a snapshot look at how he structures his scheme, how he delegates responsibilities during the week and on game day, and also how he organizes his thoughts during the game.

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Breakout Session – Robert Wimberly – Liberty University

– It’s important to build a foundation and put a lot of thought into how you structure your playbook. Know the ins and outs of your scheme. It’s never good to be a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

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– Ask yourself if your scheme is ready for something unexpected. Have answers that fit what you do. At the same time, make sure your kids understand your answers.

– Accurate analysis is crucial to a sound game plan. To be most effective, break the responsibilities up among your staff according to their expertise:

  • Receiver analysis
  • Situational pass game
  • Blitz package
  • RB/TE analysis
  • 3rd down runs/OL play
  • Field zone breakdown
  • QB analysis
  • Formations (Defensive Coordinator focuses on this himself)

– Have an adaptable call sheet. He has several different call sheet templates based on the kind of offense he is facing that week. The different templates will usually have a lot of the same calls, but they are organized differently.

  • Is this a Down/Distance predicated offense?
  • Is it more of a formation-driven offense?
    • Handy against option teams
  • What about personnel?

– Make sure your call sheet can handle adjustments on game day.

– We gotta make sure our guys play with confidence, play fast, and that we get them to believe in you and what you do.

Call Sheet

– Liberty runs a 4-2-5 that can be adapted to play as a 4-3 scheme, depending on the opponent that week. They are primarily a quarters coverage team, playing both variations (zone dropping and pattern matching).

This is an example of how the call sheet is organized:

  • 4-Man Pressure
    • Zone – 5-7 calls
    • Man – 2-3 calls
  • 5-Man Pressure
    • Zone – 1-2 calls
    • Man – 4-6 calls
  • 6-Man Pressure
    • Man – 2-5

Personnel Groupings

– Pull from the menu on Mondays and Tuesdays in preparation for practice and putting together the final call sheet. All through the week he’s slowly building a template for Saturday, and by Thursday, he’ll have it complete.

– “The #1 thing I’m looking at is are our guys playing fast?”

– The speed of the game dictates that you must find ways for guys to play fast and communicate with one another. You also have to trust the assistants to give you the correct personnel on the field.

"Is your scheme ready for something unexpected?"

“Is your scheme ready for something unexpected?”

– “It’s not about what I know, it’s about what my guys can execute.”

– “The game ain’t hard, it’s about studying.”

Gameday Responsibilities

  • DB Coach (Pressbox) – Watches pass game/ field concept
  • LB Coach (Pressbox) – Watches run game/ away from sideline
  • QC Coach (Pressbox) – Watches pass game/ boundary concept
  • DL Coach (On Field) – Watches run game/ toward sideline
  • Coordinator – Call dictates where his eyes will be during the play.

– Depending on what play the offense runs, that particular coach responsible speaks in between plays if needed.

Weekly Breakdown

– Only breakdown offenses who have played against a similar defense. Prefer breaking down four down defenses whenever possible, because it makes teaching and installation off of film that much easier for the kids. It gives them a better picture of what it will look like. Try to break down 4-5 games most of the time. He will watch every game, even if he doesn’t break it down.

– Watch every game broken down as a staff. Assign each staff member a game to watch on his own.

– Determine 4-2-5 vs 4-3 based on the matchup the nickel/OLB will be facing that week. He doesn’t want to sub a lot because he doesn’t want a situation with too many or too few men on the field when the offense is trying to go fast.

Tuesday – Goal Line Package

– We don’t have a ton of goal line calls, because if you have to practice a whole lot of goal line calls, you’re not very good. The other thing is that more and more teams are going spread on the goal line.

– Most important thing is to make sure you’re sound against trades and on the edge against things like speed option.

Q: How do you handle adversity as a coach and a playcaller during a game? (Something you haven’t seen, plan not working, etc)

A: The first thing I do is calm myself down. I have to keep my mind functioning. When what we’ve practiced isn’t working, the first thing we do is go back to basics. At the very least, this helps our players get focused and play faster, since they shouldn’t have to think about their responsibilities. “I believe you have to create muscle memory.”

– I create a “call tree” with the plusses and minuses of each call so that I know what works against what offense. Helps me plan during the week.

– Against teams who use boards and signals we keep it simple for the kids. At the same time, we want our guys to get in the habit of looking toward the sideline. —

– They’ll do full team periods against scouts where one of the biggest things they’re stressing is for the kids looking back to the sideline after each play.

– During the game he’ll check with the quality control coach to make sure that the offense is doing what they expected, whether the preparation matched what they’re actually seeing.

– “Box” vs “Spill” run fits are determined by the different calls they have. They do both.


– When he first got the job, he sat down with the staff talking about formations for two months, because it was important that everyone be on the same page.

– When teaching kids to identify formations, they teach them to talk about them by the number of eligible receivers to that side, and they use a chart that looks like the one below to help. Cutting the formation in half is

formation chart

– We want to spend a lot of time talking about what the offense is doing, not installing all week. Simpler schemes allow us to go into greater detail and be better prepared for what the offense wants to throw at us.

– Tuesday is installation day for almost everything. Base schemes should already be in, allows for more explanation.

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