Neathery’s 4-2-5 Defense

Neal Neathery is the defensive coordinator. His preference for scheme is the 4-2-5. You know it. TCU runs it and their success has rustled up plenty of interest in it.

So what is it?

Well first it is more than just a formation. It isn’t a nickel package. Ideally, instead of having four defensive backs (two safeties and two corners) and three linebackers you have two corners two strong safeties, a free safety and two Super Strong Safeties.

Base defense. But you knew that.

The system is about speed and versatility. Guys who would play linebackers play end at TCU. Guys who would play safety play linebacker. Guys who play corner can hit and tackle.

Like spread offenses, the 4-2-5 is designed to level the playing field and put the defense in the best positions to complete (and not get obliterated by bigger, stronger, faster teams).

Let the master himself tell it:

We must establish the 8 man front and use the multiplicity of that to our advantage.
The reason for using the eight man front is that we believe you must stop the run first. If you can’t do that, nothing else matters. The 4-2-5 front allows us the multiplicity to always try to have one more player at the point of attack than the offense.

That multiplicity and versatility allows the defense to establish leverage on the run. The safeties act as third linebackers (or fourth if needed).

The biggest worry when relying so much on speed and leverage is just getting plain run over. Here is how that is done.

People new to the idea of using a 5 man secondary are skeptical, because it seems like it would be difficult to stop a power running team that uses bigger personnel. At times being smaller can put the D at a disadvantage, however, with proper game-planning and practice the 4-2-5 can become an excellent defense for stopping the power run.

By far my favorite aspect of the defense is the ability to surprise. TCU calls it an attacking defense. You have to be. You are the smaller team with less powerful athletes. You must strike first and use your strengths (er- well, speed).

Remember that TCU-Wisconsin Rose Bowl? Remember the game winning pass deflection? Sure you do. That is the boring part. The good part? Exotic blitzing.

Patterson talks some about the importance of the blitz in the minds of the opponent. “The threat of the blitz to an offense is oftentimes worse than the blitz itself.”

A well-coached 4-2-5 is deadly. The natural angles created can cause plenty of headaches for even the most disciplined offense. In the end though, a scheme is only as good as its execution. UTSA is rolling out a ton of freshman and sophomores with no experience playing a college football game. It is somewhat unrealistic to expect a dominant force from Neathery against Northeastern, or really, at all in 2011.

That said, it is an good defense to have for a non-BCS school. Instead of relying on 4 and 5 star behemoth defensive lineman to win games and get stops, you play the undersized talent that fits perfectly in your system. Speed and size are rare, but speed is slightly more common. Patterson recruits “corners that can grow into safeties and safeties that can grow into linebackers.”

The finished product (as finished as a college squad can be) will be a fast –if slightly undersized–nightmare that wreaks havoc. It will be the defense that allows UTSA to pull off something like TCU did back when it beat Oklahoma in Norman, gave Texas a run for their money and shut down Mike Leach’s prolific Texas Tech squad at Among G. Carter.


Though Neathery comes with an impressive resume (and DVDs) he is not Gary Patterson. That’s not meant to sound negative. Gary Patterson’s success comes from the ability of the TCU staff to identify players that can thrive in his system and then teach them how to do that. Without those two facets, we are left with a lot of pretty scribbles on the whiteboard and a lopsided score on the field.

Here is more on the basics of the defense from a Clemson blog. 

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