Coach and Athletic Director
Defensive Line Techniques and Drills From the 43 Defense, Part II
By Greg Crum, Defensive Coordinator Worcester (MA) Polytechnic Institute
There are four basic combination blocks that we cover in our daily practices. Depending on the type of offense we face each week, we determine which ones to put more emphasis on: double team, scoop-on, scoop-off, and pull with a down block.
As in our battle of one key, the emphasis on teaching our players how to read each block is determined by what our man on does.
We use the terms visual key and pressure key in assisting our guys to recognize which combo block they are getting.
The visual key is always the man on and the pressure key is the closest lineman to our shade.
For example, our man is a 3 technique tackle and we get a double team, our battle of 1 (guard) or visual key, will give us a drive block and our pressure key, near gap lineman (tackle) gives us a down block. We will concentrate on putting the drive block back on his heels and getting our hat into the crack and sitting on the near lineman (pressure key).
You will often find this combo block easier to defense if your lineman is aggressive to the drive block from his man on. As I mentioned last month, we will always have our 3-technique play with his gap hand down and gap foot back to help him defeat the double team.
Because his gap foot is back, his first step will allow him to sit on the double team more effectively, when it is already inside the tackle’s down block.
We separate zone blocks into scoop-on and scoop-off to further assist us with our progressions in recognizing and stopping an offensive play. Most inside zone teams will utilize two offensive blockers to work against a defensive lineman and a linebacker. Vs scoop-on, our battle-of-one is going to give us a cut-off block as he punches our inside breastplate and looks to find the second level player.
Diag. 5, Combo Blocks
Scoop On: An inside zone play
Scoop-Off: A stretch play (outside zone)
Double-Team: A hard drive block by our man-on
Pull-Down Block: Executed mostly by our interior linemen
If we attack this with our man on keys, we can squeeze him down the LOS and make it difficult for him to come off to the backer. This will force the pressure key or near lineman to attempt to come off to the backer. It is not what they want to do and it increases our success against the zone play.
Teams who run toss or the outside zone play (stretch) will attempt to get up to the second level quickly, leaving the near lineman to overtake our defensive lineman. This is easily recognizable by the flat step of our man on, similar to a veer block, except that our pressure key is coming quickly to overtake us (veer = no pressure key).
We will attempt to grab the cloth of our man on and turn our shoulders in the same direction, opening up our hips to the play and giving our pressure key our back.
From here we will rip the pressure key, using our outside arm, and pursuing down the LOS to the ball carrier, gaining depth as we do.
Diag. 6, Another "Battle of One" Keys
It's a "Battle of One" but deliciously done…to Drive, Reach, Cut-Off, Veer, Pull, and Pass, or not to Pass?
The last combination block we will spend a lot of time on vs two back teams is the pull with a down block. The reason I refer to this as a combination block is because we are incorporating a pressure key and must work against two linemen to simulate this block.
As mentioned before, we will always use the pulling lineman’s direction to initiate our next move. I will use the 3 technique tackle most of the time to get him used to feeling where the down block is in relation to his shoulder and hip.
The coaching point here is to determine whether or not to stay on the pulling guard’s hip (inside pull only) or cross face vs the centers down block. If we get a good get-off and the center’s weight is on our hip (behind us) we will continue on our path behind the puller to the ball carrier.
If the center takes a good step and we feel his weight on our shoulder (front), we will drop our inside hand and cross the center’s face to run down the ball carrier.
In the 43, we will always have a backside LB to account for cutback. That is the reason I allow our players to cross face.
As with the man on blocks, we will use a progression and a “fit” principle to teach our defensive linemen how to recognize and defeat the different combo blocks.
It is extremely important to use the predicted vs unpredicted method mentioned earlier in teaching how to defend combo blocks.
For example, with scoop-on, we will set up a defensive lineman in a “fit” position against his man on in a cut-off block simulation and have the pressure key (near lineman) already in a scoop position.
On the whistle we will tell each offensive lineman to attempt to continue the block and at the same time have the defensive lineman try to defeat what his man on is giving him.
In this case, it is a cut-off that will squeeze down his man on pressure key and prevent him from climbing to the second level.
Note: This is much different from a double team. You should not teach your lineman to treat it the same way because the man-on can climb much easier if you sit the pressure instead of squeezing the man-on.
We will then run the predicted drill at half speed vs the scoop-on and progress to full speed until the kids can properly recognize and defeat the block.
We will use this method for all of the combo blocks. Once we have covered the “fit” drill, predicted – we will continue with the unpredicted drill and show them all four-combo blocks.
Again, you can incorporate another drill at the finish, whether it’s an angle tackle, fumble, or finish through to a cone (pursuit).
Repetition is the key to success with the big men on the defensive line and it is our job as coaches to implement and change drills daily—preparing them for what schemes they will encounter on game day. I cannot stress enough the importance of playing with your hands and keeping your pad level lower than your opponent in order to achieve success vs the run.
Quoting one of my defensive brethren, Joe Cullen (Defensive Line Coach, Detroit Lions), “The greatest play in defensive football is the sack-forced fumble!”
We use this mentality at WPI because we all know how important momentum is to the game. Nothing can change the tempo of a game more than a hit on the playmaker and force him to turn over the ball at the same time.
It is equally as damaging to your opponent in terms of momentum, which is why we stress this every day with our pass-rush drills.
In order to achieve this, no matter what you teach in terms of pass-rush techniques, you will notice that the great pass rushers somehow find an extra gear to turn on as they burst through to the QB.
No matter what the drill is, we will always emphasize a great finish such as a five-yard burst to a pop-up bag or cone to simulate this aspect of our pass rush.
It’s easy for a guy rushing the edge to almost back off because of the separation from his man, only to find that the offensive lineman has moved his feet and re-set his hands or the QB feels pressure and leaves the pocket. You find you have a lot more work to do.
Just as with the run game, our beginning in teaching pass rush is the get-off. We will use two drills to warm up for our pass rush progressions.
The first is a “Jet drill” and the second a “Rabbit drill”. In the Jet drill, we start two guys off with a hand down and the same foot back, elevated off the ground to just above their hips.
On movement, they will drive the up-leg forward and see if they can get their foot a few inches past where the down hand had been. This is, of course, an exaggerated first step, but it gets them thinking about getting a jump on an O-lineman in a passing situation.
The Rabbit drill involves the use of one of our four blocks to simulate an offensive lineman in a 2-point stance two yards off the LOS. Our defensive linemen are reacting to the movement of the offensive man who is attempting to backpedal for five yards without the defensive lineman touching him. We want our lineman to take a great first, up field step and get to a half-man on the O-lineman with both hands to the outside shoulder before he gets to five yards.
Again, we’re teaching the lineman to have a much longer first step vs high-hat pass sets. From here, we will begin the fit and progression period of our pass rush. We use several different moves with counters built in, and I think it is the coach’s responsibility to find which move works best for each individual and have him perfect it.
Our ends or edge rushers will always set up their pass rush off their speed rush-mentality, and our inside big men will set up their pass rush off the bull rush. This fits into one of the most important aspects of being a great rusher – how to get the offensive lineman out of his power position.
In other words, what are we going to do to get an offensive lineman off his heels, turn his shoulders, move his feet, and lean or lunge. I only know of two methods…speed and power!
The speed rush we teach is the Tomahawk speed. We will flex our ends outside the blocker about a yard and on the snap, have them drop to about 4.5 – 5 yards back and drive their inside hand down on the outside hand of the offensive lineman—simulating a “chopping” motion and dropping their shoulder to the hip of the O-lineman and ripping hard up with their elbows high and driving into the back or side of the O-lineman.
We will use the fit drill to finish the last part of this rush by placing a defensive lineman into either a man or a shield with his inside hand down and the same shoulder on the hip, or hip height of a shield.
On the whistle, the defensive lineman will finish the remainder of the move by ripping his elbow high, leaning on his man or shield and finishing with a five yard burst to a cone, pop-up bag, or coach holding a ball for a strip drill finish.
It is important to teach your players to go for the ball with their up field arm and secure the sack with the other. Use a pop-up bag for the QB and hold a ball out opposite the bag so that the player can run through the bag as he knocks down the ball.
We will sometimes run the same drill from the other side and have the rusher “scoop” the fumble, again, incorporating more than one aspect in a drill to save time.
This is an example of how you can teach your defensive lineman to get an O-lineman out of his power position because he must move his feet to accommodate for your speed.
The counter to the Tomahawk speed is the “Ninja” spin and we will use the same fit drill only this time having the defensive lineman in a defeated position on the man or shield (QB or bag is underneath our path) and finish through the counter with the same burst drill at the end.
Coaching points: Sitting on the O-lineman’s hip and throwing the outside hand back around and grabbing the inside leg to push us through to the finish.
Watch for players who want to spin first before getting pressure up field. The counter is used only if we get too far up field or are in a bad position on our man.
If you spin too shallow, you will give the QB the outside lane to either run or pass outside of your rush.
The power move we teach is called the Club/Flip—an attempt to get to the half-man and take him out of his power position. But we are using brute force to accomplish this.
We also use a Fit/Progression drill to teach this move. We start with the defensive lineman in a right or left shade on the O-lineman, who has his inside hand on our shoulder (right shade defense = left arm of offensive lineman is on the left shoulder of the defender).
From here, we will knock the arm of the O-lineman off with either a cut or swipe move of our inside hand. (Cut is under to away and swipe is over to away) pictures.
As we do this, we will start to flip our hips, pointing our butt to the backfield and clubbing the outside shoulder of the man until we are perpendicular to the O-lineman and stop.
Here is where you can coach the kids up on particular techniques. Go twice to each side and rotate. Next, do the same movements except to continue to either shuffle our feet or reverse carioca past the O-lineman so our butt is facing the QB and stop. Coaching technique: Do twice to a side and rotate.
Next, execute the finish from the end of the last progression with a rip or punch to separate from the O-lineman.
Lastly, we will do all three parts of the move at once again finish with a burst to a bag, cone, or coach for five yards. Use the same finishers as with the Tomahawk to work strip, sack, or fumble.
The counter we use for the Club/Flip is the Club Back to the inside. Note: if your people have gotten to the rip or punch portion of the move and are either still engaged or by the QB, they’re counter will be the Ninja spin.
We will now use another fit drill to coach the counter whenever we have our players half-way through the rush move with their hips flipped and hand to the shoulder of the O-lineman, only this time, on the whistle the O-lineman will shuffle his feet to cut off the move and force the defensive lineman to use his inside hand to Club Back the opposite shoulder of the O-lineman and flip his hips back to the inside and rip or punch to escape.
You can get pretty creative with both of these drills on how you want to set up the Fit/Progressions, depending on what aspect of the moves your players are struggling with.
Very important: With any pass rush move you teach, you must always coach your players to have a plan for every down in case they get a high-hat read. Since they must already have a plan of attack, they need not hesitate. One second of hesitation could mean the difference in a QB having the necessary time to throw downfield and hurt you.
So emphasize this in every drill in which they are reading a man on. This includes the team part of your practice as well as the individual periods.
It is always a good idea to teach pass-rush moves off a bull rush for your nose guard, as his man on will most likely get the help of a center and you will want the middle of your rush to stay on course and not get washed.
We use a lot of hand-to-hand combat drills for this as well as a “Butt-Bull” technique. The Butt-Bull starts out from the bull rush, but as the O-lineman starts to take away a side of your rush lane, you should use a similar technique defeating a reach block.
Use your power arm technique to turn the hips of the O-lineman and flip your hips at the same time, you should shuffle your feet to get beyond his hip and finish with a rip or punch to the QB.
Use the Fit/Progression techniques for teaching this move as well.
You have now given your players a couple of techniques with built in counters to pressure the QB. Work them everyday and your people will become great rushers.
Remember, if your opponent throws the ball 10 times a game and you’re bringing four, that’s 40 opportunities to make a big play and change the tempo of a game, increasing your chances for success.
Daily coaching points emphasized by Our D-Line:
1. Stop the run on the way to the QB.
2. Always be prepared to take away a drive block
3. Always have a pass rush plan if you get a high hat.
4. First step is always up field unless you’re slanting.
5. Man on key is referred to as “Battle-Of-One”.
6. Play with your hands
7. Eyes in the palms of your hands.
8. Even up your stagger when slanting.
9. Elongate your stance if it’s a passing down.
10. Always allow your second step to take you out of a block.
11. Win and look through your gap.
12. Never rush the passer with your shoulders square to the LOS.
13. Finish every play.
14. Always go for the ball if you’re the second guy in on a tackle.
15. Study your opponent on film and look for “Tells”.