Directions for calling plays in the 3-5-3 defense

Terms, Symbols and Basic Info for Running the 3-5-3 Defense

Before discussing the 3-5-3 defensive scheme, it is important that we are speaking the same language so the diagrams, directions and defensive theories make sense.

  • This article will discuss the basic directions we use to make play calls in the 3-5-3.
Every call in the 3-5-3 defense will attack a specific side of the offense based on a tendency shown by the offense in previous games, or to make in-game adjustments to stop what the offense is showing us in real time.  We recognize the following directions and tendencies:
  • Our Right / Our Left
  • Strong / Weak
  • Field / Boundary
  • Us / Them
  • In / Out

Right / Left – Sometimes the offense will run plays to our right, sometimes to our left.  We must be able to slant, blitz or roll our coverage to the side the offense is attacking.  If the best tendency is right or left, we will attack that side by call.  Here is an example of or defensive line slanting right and left:
Defensive Line 3-5-3 Defense Slant Left

Slant Right. Slant Left


Strong / Weak – Sometimes the offense is more likely to attack towards the Tight End (strong side), sometimes it may run away from the Tight End (weak side).  We must be able to deploy defenders to the side they are attacking.  So we can also make calls go strong and weak:

3-5-3 defense defensive line slanting strong and weak

Slant Strong. Slant Weak.


Field Boundary – In football, almost 75% of the time the ball is lined up on a hash.  This creates two sides on the field, a wide side running a way from the hash, and a short side running into the boundary or sideline.  Many teams will show tendencies in certain situations to run out to the wide side of the field with a sweep or perimeter play, or may run a counter or misdirection play back into the boundary.  The field/boundary call allows us to attack that tendency:

Defensive Line Slanting towards the field and sideline

Slant Field. Slant Boundary.

Us / Them – Another strong tendency some teams show is running plays either toward our sideline, or toward their own sidelines.  Coaches do this to set up certain plays or to bring the action closer to get a better look at whats happening.  The “us” direction will attack toward our sideline, the “them” call will attack toward our opponents sideline.

Football play diagram of a slanting defensive line in the 3-5-3 defense

Slant Us. Slant Them.


In / Out – Finally, teams will either run inside the offensive tackles (in) or outside the offensive tackles (out).  The In and Out directions allow us to send our defenders to these points of attack.

*Note:  Since our noseguard is lined up directly in front of the center, we must tag the “In / Out” call with another direction so the nose knows where to go.  Examples:  In “right” or Out “left.”  So a call might be “Slant In Right” or “Slant Out Left.”  If he doesn’t get a directional tag, he cuts the center and bearcrawls him deep into the backfield.

diagram of a 3-5-3 defensive line slanting in and out

Slant In. Slant Out. With Noseguard directional tags.

Question:  Why do we make all these directional calls?  Why not just use right or left for everything?

We use multiple calls for a number of reasons:

  • It makes play-calling easier.  We just build the call based on the best tendency and use it.
  • It communicates a tendency directly to the players on the field.  Like a clue, it lets them know where the coach thinks the play will develop.  “Slant Strong, Blitz Strong” probably means they are moving to the strong side.
  • Usually one tendency stands out when evaluating a down and distance situation.  For example, in the diagram below the offense has ran 2 plays on 1st and ten from the 45 yard line on film.  Both power.
Football Play calling in the 3-5-3 defense

The tendency is a strong side off tackle run

  • This coach likes to run off-tackle (outside runs) to the strong side of the formation in this situation.  He is clearly not thinking right/left, us/them or field boundary based on the 50/50 ratio shown in those tendencies.  So a good call for us will be to slant strong and partner that with a strong blitz to immeadiately attack the side we believe our opponent is going to attack.


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    • Profile photo of coachxo says

      Coach, where are you seeing v/t? In my drawings I have N and T (my handwriting may be a little off lol). The N is the Noseguard and we call our two other linemen Tackles which we use a T in our diagrams for that. Does that make sense? I know some guys call the tackles “ends” but its all semantics/terminology. We call them tackles because they are lined up on the Tackles.