I’m a big believer that defensive ends should be taught separately, if the resources are there, from interior defensive linemen. When I say defensive end, I mean anyone who is primarily a rusher from the end of the line of scrimmage. Specialized defensive end drills and defensive end techniques will help these edge defenders, whose play in space is different from those inside.
For the most part, I think a 7 technique skills, aka inside alignment inside of a tight end for this post, can be taught like an interior linemen. However, a lot of times a 7 technique will be playing a 5 technique. For these players, it may be worthwhile to work defensive end drills and interior defensive tackle drills.
Defensive End Drills: Block Down Step Down
Basic defensive end drills should include coaching block down step down. The read key for this defensive end drill is the near knee of the linemen they are aligned upon. The knee rarely lies. If the knee goes inside, the defensive end, if aligned outside the offensive linemen, should try to get hands on the offensive linemen to knock him off his course.
If you align your ends in a 9 technique, as the offensive player’s knee turns inside, the defensive end should step to replace the offensive players outside foot. To simulate this in defensive end drills, you should have the players team up and take it one step at a time. As the offensive linemen steps down with their inside foot, the defensive linemen should be stepping with his read foot. For us, that is their shade side foot (since we put the shade side hand and foot back, it’s natural to step with that first). As he reads the knee going inside, that foot should begin to adjust his path to the inside. The defensive end should reach out with his inside arm (both hands would be great, but it might turn the shoulders too much), and he should try to stiff arm the blocker down into his adjacent teammate. This should be violent, and as low as possible. If you can get the hand on the hip of blocker (they tend to stand up when releasing to blockers), you will have a lot of control over their path. If your players can’t get that low for some reason, hitting the shoulder in an upward manner can knock the blocker off balance.
Again, for the drill, take this one step at a time. Walk through it at first. Blocker steps down, the end begins to change the path and stiff arm. As the blocker releases, the end should be replacing his space. It’s important to explain why this happens. Because the blocker has released inside, we are performing a gap exchange with the linebacker. The linebacker will take the outside gap if we step down with the blocker’s down block.
Some people maintain that you shouldn’t turn your shoulders. One of the best opposing teams teams I’ve ever faced actively taught their defensive linemen to spill and turn their shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. They’ve won multiple state championships at the two highest levels of football in Illinois, despite being undersized. This made spilling blockers easier for them.
Now, if you don’t spill, you still want to step down with the block and close the space. We want to force the offense to run inside, but we want to minimize the gap as much as possible. In this case, I think you shouldn’t turn the shoulders whenever possible. I like a “Shovel” technique here. The defensive linemen shovels into the blocker with his inside arm and shoulder pad. This keeps his outside arm free to make a tackle of the tailback chooses to bounce for whatever reason.
Defensive End Drills: Rushing the Passer
I actually like the hoop drill to an extent for rushing the passer. The problem with the hoop drill though is it bubbles the blocker. I don’t want that.
Take some rope instead of hoops and lay it on the ground. Put a blocker at one end of the rope, and the defensive end opposite and outside of him. Then use something (a player, tall bag, etc…) and put it at the other end of the rope, which should be about 7 feet inside and 5 yards back from the offensive linemen. Now, the rope should bend fairly sharply. We’re working that bend as much as possible. The defensive linemen should come off the line of scrimmage. The offensive linemen wants to let the defensive end win at first so he gets a feel for the acceleration and shoulder lean needed to turn the corner. The linemen should kickslide back, trying to put enough weight on the defensive end to let him lean into the block, use his hands to defeat the blockers hands, and make the sack.
Coach up the shoulder lean and the hand work in these types of defensive end drills. If you want to enhance the drill to make it more like a live scenario, you can easily convert the bend and pass rush rope drill into a one arm bull rush drill. You can leave or take away the rope. But have the blocker pass block for real. If thedefensive end can’t turn the corner in time, he should plant with his outside foot and stiff arm the offensive linemen in the sternum. As he does this, the defensive end should turn his hips and drive the offensive linemen into the quarterback. This especially works if the offensive linemen has turn his shoulders completely to the defensive end (which might happen if the defensive end really sells out on the speed rush and bend).
Defensive End Drills: Hand Fighting
Hand fighting is a critical element for a defensive end. Defensive end drills that enhance a player’s ability to use their hands against the blocker should be used. Especially for younger players, I like to start with the defensive end, on their knees, shaded outside a blocker. The blocker gets their hands up, and all the end does his work on knocking them down.
Go over the techniques slowly at first. You can go with the fork lift (defensive end lifts the blockers hands by the wrists straight in the air), the side swipe knocking down the hands (from both directions), and the knock down. Teach them different aiming points too. If the opponent has strong hands, aim for the elbow. If the hands aren’t as strong but the biceps and forearms are, go for the wrists. Finally, if both are strong, behind the elbow by the triceps can work as a lifting point.
After they’re used to it, speed up. Get them to go really fast. We’ve taken steps out of this, and even the finish (a rip, swim, spin, bull rush, etc…) and we’re focusing on disabling the blocker’s hands.
Defensive End Drills: Getting Hands Up
When you begin the season, I highly suggest working on getting the hands up. I like players to put both hands together when they put their hands up. I’ll have the defender work a quick move around the blocker (who provides minimum resistance) and I or another assistant will be the QB.
As the end sees you bring the ball back to throw with their eyes down the field, they should bring their hands up and together. Coach them to try to block the field of vision while still taking a course to the QB. You should also try to evade them as they rush the passer. Don’t let them jump. Throw a pump fake or two in there.
You or an assistant should be the QB because players tend to act like a mobile QB. We want to emphasize eyes down the field as the QB when we plan on throwing it. When you want to pump fake them, look directly at them as the defensive end. Train them to anticipate the pump fake.
Defensive End Drills: Scoop and Score
Always run a turnover drill. You might think it’s overrated, but think of all the times you think the turnovers never go your way. There’s a reason for that. It’s because you failed to teach them how to get the ball. This is a skill.
Have someone yell ball as the ball is fumbled. Have the kid bend at the knees (not letting the knee hit the ground) and scoop with both hands like a baseball player takes a grounder. This can be to the side though. They need to see the ball into their hands. If the ball is bouncing, teach them to use their body over it and cradle it while getting into the fetal position. Tell them to tighten their legs, close their eyes, and cover their finger tips with their body while using both arms to protect the ball. This protects them from some nasty pile activities.
Defensive End Drills: Video
Here are some other drills I found on youtube. Here are USC defensive end drills and defensive line drills:
Here are some Iowa Defensive End Drills:
And finally, here are some Ohio State defensive end drills.
I didn’t shoot these video’s, so you should definitely give those people a thumbs up.