4-3 Defensive Line Play


4-3 Defensive Line Play Skills and Reads

The next part in the series is available here: 4-3 Defensive Line Drills.

Perhaps the most critical component of the 4-3 is the defensive line. As with any defense, if you can create pressure with your defensive linemen, your chances of success increase tremendously. At a clinic in Chicago, I had the pleasure of hearing Wisconsin’s DL coach, Charlie Partridge. Talk about a technician. Wisconsin’s DL is inspiring, and while this past season they had JJ Watt, they routinely have exceptional players.

Wisconsin is, by definition, a 4-3 Over front defense. They like to play in that front, and they spot drop. They’ll play Cover 2, Cover 3, and Cover 4, but they definitely are a spot drop team. Their goal defensively is to create pressure with the front four and take away the immediate passing lanes of the offense. By doing this, their kids can play fast and if they can create that pressure, they have a chance to create turnovers.

Defensive Line Reads

I think both defensive linemen and offensive linemen need to incorporate some stance and start drills every day. For defense, this means working off a football every day for their get off. Personally, I feel they need to have their eyes on the football, and not on the offensive linemen, because the defensive line is already at a slight disadvantage if they key the offensive linemen’s knee for get off. Upon the snap of the football, the eyes need to identify the knee of their target. The knee of the offensive linemen will quickly give the defensive linemen crucial information about the direction of the play and the type of play. If the knee opens towards you, you know that you are being blocked by at least him. If you feel a great deal of pressure on your side or hip, you know you have a combo block. If you feel one hand’s worth of pressure, you know you have some kind of zone scheme. The next reaction to the knee is identifying a down block. If the knee turns inside and you can’t see it, then you need to step down. If you feel pressure, you are being down blocked by the adjacent linemen. If you feel no pressure, you need to react based on your option rules. If you get straight knee plus extension, you likely have a pass read.

Defenive Line Reactions

Now, after making your quick read, you must react. You need to get your first step in the ground immediately. It needs to gain six inches forward. As your foot hits the ground, you need to begin getting extension with the hands. By the time your second step hits the ground, your hands need to make contact and be working towards full extension on the offensive blocker. Thumbs should be up with the elbows inside. The hands should be punching the offensive linemen, and if the OL win’s inside shoulder pad position, the defensive linemen needs to quickly use his hands and reestablish inside position on the offensive player. If the offensive linemen that the defensive lineman is shaded over starts working away from him, either by attempting to rip through or work away from the shaded alignment, he need to forcefully displace the offensive linemen without getting over extended. This takes time, however, by displacing a offensive linemen as he works away from the defensive linemen, he is taken off his coarse to the next down linemen or linebacker.

Defenive Line Escape and Push Pull Technique

After the defensive linemen takes an explosive and quick first step, reads the knee, and gets extension on the offensive linemen, they need to begin turning their shoulders to behind the escape process. The technique I prefer is the Push-Pull technique. Essentially, the defensive linemen wants to get full extension with his gapside arm and PULL with the other hand. The pull technique cannot be under estimated. A coaching point to focus on is making sure feet continue moving. At this point, a lot of players stop moving their feet, or lose their balance as they lose focus, and the offensive linemen will attempt to bury them or pancake them at this point.

Immediately following a successful push pull technique where the offensive linemen’s shoulders are no longer parallel to the LOS, the defensive linemen should rip or swim over the OL, or pull them to their pocket, depending on their place in the LOS and the ball carrier’s location. Pulling the offensive linemen to the pocket involves violently taking the OL’s shoulder pads from a high position to a low position on the DL’s non-shade side hip. He can then rip or swim if the OL is still holding at this point.

The obvious next step here is to make the play. You need to communicate to the defensive line that even if they don’t make the tackle, they need to pursue the ball carrier. This closes cut back lanes and the defender can be rewarded with a loose ball or a relatively easy tackle.
Part II of defensive line play will detail everyday drills to accomplish these critical techniques.

F.I.S.T. Offensive Line Camp

Coach Kevin Sabo, offensive line coach at Fenton HS in Illinois, is running this offensive line camp. Coach Sabo is a great guy and coach and has always focused on the details. I strongly recommend checking out the football linemen camp, and you can see the flyer by clicking here. You can follow the camp’s twitter by clicking here as well. The dates are May 15, 18, 21 at DuPage Training Academy. I will provide you all with more information as it comes available.

Coach CP


7 thoughts on “4-3 Defensive Line Play

  1. Pingback: 43 Defensive Line Play | Curtis Peterson : Full Throttle Online

  2. James

    Coach Peterson,

    Great Article, but I just gotta ask, could you be more specific about what situations are best for swimming/ripping, and when it would be better to pull the opposing OL to the pocket? How do you
    teach players to make that decision? Is it different for ends than for tackles? Any additional info
    would be appreciated


    1. CoachCP Post author

      Hey James,

      Swim or rip depends on the matchup. I see both as the same type of fast escape move designed to make a quick tackle on the ball carrier. So they fall into the same category. If the defender is taller, he should use the swim and litterally punch the area adjacent to the OL’s head and then push off to get to the ball carrier. The rip is for more equally sized matchups, where we want to quickly disable the blockers hands and disengage. The swim is faster than the rip, but it is dictated by matchups in height and arm length. The rip is very effetive though.

      I see the pocket pull as a good move when you can beat the blocker initially. Usually if you have a strength advantage. It can be used in pass rush after a bull rush. It can also be used by ends and tackles if they establish quick dominance over the blocker. This move lets you maintain your leverage on the LOS, cause penetration, and assess the situation. This move is good against slower developing offenses, teams that like to run counter plays or play action. Rips and swims are better when you may need to make a play right now, but you may end up a little out of position because it’s a swifter move to clear the blocker. Because the pocket pull essentially removes the blocker from his original position, you haven’t been removed from your original spot. That being said, it’s slower developing unless you are physically dominant. It also takes good strength in the arms to execute, along with good leverage.


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