Category Archives: Defensive Positions

Demolishing Weakside Iso with the 4-3 Over Front

Often considered the longtime nemesis of the 4-3 over front is the weakside iso play. Because of the “large” gap between the outside linebacker and the inside linebacker, the play has some success.

The key to defending the weakside iso play with the 4-3 over front is the personnel matchup.

Many coaches, including myself for a while, always set the “Sam” to the tight end, regardless of whether or not they are in the 4-3 over front or under front. The Will played on the “weakside”.

The Will for many is an undersized player. Because of this, when he’s set over an open guard, he’s usually got a matchup problem, especially with a tough guard or fullback. This tends to happen on Weaskside Iso plays.

This article should give you an overview on how to stop the this often gut-wrenching play by thinking of your 4-3 defense a little differently in terms of identifying roles of your players and setting your strength. Continue reading

Analyzing the 3 Technique’s Technique

Coaches, I was taking a look through some All-22 film the other day, and I came across probably one of the best illustrations as to why the 3 technique is an important piece to the under front defense, or really any defense where he exists. Keep reading to find out how the 3 techniques quick recognition of his visual and pressure keys enabled him to utterly dominate this inside zone play.

In my previous post on the 4 most important aspects of the under front defense, the Will linebacker and the tandem were highlighted. The 3 technique in the under front is added by the fact that he is part of this “tandem”. A tandem occurs when their are two outside shaded defenders on the two offensive end men on the line of scrimmage. Continue reading

Tips for Understanding Defensive Line Techniques

I find this as a common question, that really a lot of coaches can’t answer. What are the popular defensive line techniques, and why are they called that?

Well, great question. First of all, let’s find the “genius” (please notice the quotes…) of the system. Continue reading

Cornerback Press Coverage Drill from Nick Saban / Alabama

Saban watching a cornerback press coverage drill

Thanks to for this photo.

I found this little gem on youtube, which is a great resource by the way. It’s short and sweet but worth your time. You’ll seee the Crimson Tide coaches doing a cornerback press drill with their players. It’s a drill that can be used for almost all positions, basically a mirror drill. Notice the footwork and the use of hands throughout the drill. Continue reading

Linebacker Drills: Ultimate Guide

This post was written by five individuals; Jerry Gordon, author of Coaching the Under Front Defense, “Deuce” from Football is Life, Brophy from Cripes! Get Back to Fundamentals, Joe Daniels from and Curtis Peterson author of Developing a Physical and Aggressive Offensive Line and Strong Football.

Coaching the Linebacker Stance Linebacker Steps Linebackers Taking on Blocks
Linebacker Tackling Drills Linebacker Blitz Drills Linebacker Pass Drop Drills

defensive drills linebacker drills


The following linebacker drill was stolen after visiting Vince Okruch’s Western Illinois 3-3 nickel practices as well as from Jeff Walker’s exhaustive work, “Coaching the 40 Nickel Defense”, which every coach absolutely needs to own. I find this drill to be the single most important technique reinforcement tool to develop consistent linebackers. This linebacker drill can be conducted at varying levels of difficulty and lends itself to training many players in rapid succession.


The linebacker drill represents the run fits for your linebacker group, broken into 3 distinct reactions; In, At, and Out (represented here in green, yellow, red). Continue reading

Defensive End Drills and Technique

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 the

defensive end pass rush drill

Defensive End Drills

defensive 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.

defensive line stunts bears

Importance of Defensive Line Stunts against the Pass

I’ve become a big believer in relying on a simple yet fast defense. I believe, given all the looks we see in today’s game, that being really good at a few things goes a long way. Out executing people and knowing exactly what you need to do and how you need to do it is often under valued by coaches who simply want to overwhelm an opponent. One would be surprised by the mileage they can get out of a few coverages by just getting after the passer with good defensive line stunts. Even 4 or 5 stunts, if practiced from the beginning of training camp in your off-season, can be executed well if they are used in conjunction with a gameplan to attack specific pass protections by faking blitzes by defenders and slightly changing alignments.

I believe, honestly, that you can run a simple defense that may base out of a few different looks and coverages, but get extensive usefulness out of it by “overwhelming” an opponent with simple adjustments. For coaches who read my offensive material, this may seem familiar.

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of defensive line stunts is the idea that every front 6 or 7 defender is important in making them work. Whether that is a linebacker faking a blitz to force the protection to slide to him, or the defensive line having patience on a defensive line stunt to get the QB to step up into right into a defensive tackle who is about to loop around. Overall, going into each week with a few well game planned defensive line stunts can help your coverage players really excel by causing mayhem in the pocket for the QB.

Defensive Line Stunts: Game Planning Pass Protection

Before we can really breakdown a few defensive line stunts, we need to be able to understand and game plan the pass protection schemes that the offense will use. Especially at the high school level, many coaches will only carry 2-4 basic pass protections. Now, there may be some slight adjustments based off of check releases or the amount of backs or other players in the pass protection, but the base concept stays the same.

Let’s take a look at many of the different basic pass protection concepts that you will probably have to execute pass rush stunts against:

  • Half Slide
  • Full Slide
  • Big On Big, Back on Backer (BOB)
  • Turnback
  • Interior
  • Full Roll
  • Half Roll

In general, half slide, full slide, and turn back protection are usually “zone” concepts. Big on Big, and sometimes full roll and half roll concepts (which may be a drop back or play action, depending on the team) are man or count schemes in some way or fashion, though this isn’t always true.

Regardless, the terms don’t matter as much. Your goal is essentially to know the your main opponents will run going into the season, which ones are run the most by the most (and best) teams, and plan to install defensive line stunts to defeat them during summer camp so you can get the timing down early. While you can probably prepare stunts during the week of an opponent, you will lose the tenacity that comes with confidence in running something 300 times over a season versus just 20 times in a week.

The other benefit to doing this planning and executing the stunts early in the season is you prepare for the inevitable, what happens if its a run? Maybe you only call it in passing situations, or maybe they can read it as the play develops if your kids are that skilled. But at some point, the offense will catch you running a tackle and end stunt with an option play. Will your tackle know that he has to tackle the QB in this situation if that is what your defense asks of the defensive end normally? Preparing stunts and running them early and often in your practices helps prevent this potentially ugly scenario.

Defensive Line Stunts: Understanding Pass Pro Technique

It is also important to look at the individual technique that is used by the offensive line coach. Do they use the vertical set, drop set, kick slide, cut block, or front step? Sometimes the guards are heavy setters, front stepping on three techniques and 2i techniques, while the tackles are softer, vertical setting or kicksliding. In addition, are tight ends or even slot receivers used to crack on defensive ends?

If I know that the offensive tackle is getting a lot of depth with a kick slide or vertical step right away, why should I run stunts that try to create space by picking him when he naturally does it for me? If you know the guard is going to hard set most of the time too, you could try to out scheme that player since the tackle is essentially irrelevant for the most part.

Maybe you know the tackle only gets a deep vertical set with an outside blitzer threatening outside the defensive end. You could have a linebacker or other perimeter player show this, while the tackle and end work their game on the hard setting guard.

Defensive Line Stunts: Changing Alignment To Enhance Pass Rush

The Chicago Bears essentially used a mug look under Lovie Smith with two three techniques. One or two of the inside linebackers could walk up, both into the A gaps or stack behind the 3 tech near the LOS. The reason they did it is because for many protections, the guards would both step inside (with both backers) or at have to keep an eye on the backer with an A gap. This allows the Bears three techniques (Tommie Harris, Amobi Okoye and Henry Melton specifically) match up truly on half a linemen.

Now you’ve taken a hard set guard and turned him into a softer setter because the inside gap threat. With a defensive tackle with a solid rip, swim move or bull rush, you could easily defeat half a linemen. You really didn’t even do a defensive line stunt, you presented a modification to a front. Add in a few defensive line stunts to this look and get ready to cause mayhem. Let’s take a glimpse at this in the next series of pictures.

defensive line stunts bears

Basic Setup of Defensive Line Stunt

defensive line stunts

Notice Inside Step By Right Guard and Center and Hand Punch by RG, C, and RT – BTW Tackle Misses on 3 Tech hand punch

defensive line stunts

Other side of the stunt, simple ET (End Tackle). End Goes First. Notice #88 TE, he checks if tackle needs help on Peppers

defensive line stunts

Right Guard’s Shoulders Turned perp to LOS, already lost. ILB (Briggs) Bails to Hook/Curl

defensive line stunts

#88 TE leaves LT b/c Peppers is taken care of. Doesn’t notice DT looping. Other DT getting upfield rush

defensive line stunts

#88 TE is gone, notice OL chasing DT looping on left. End result is a sack for the DT on the right of this picture and 8 yd loss. No blitz, just two stunts combined.

Overall, I think these images show you the Bears, with only one major adjustment (moving a shade on the nose to a 3 technique), can amplify a pass rush stunt. It gives the other team something new to look at, and it was a fairly simple install.

While this video below is coaches film of their Tampa 2, I feel like it shows a lot of their favorite pass rush stunts during their season when they went to the Super Bowl in 2005. They utilize a lot of them even today if you check out the All-22.

In addition, think about what you’ve done to a the pass protection logistics. Your base defense hardly changed (basically the nose tackle in a 4-3 and the Will linebacker switched gaps), but the whole protection needs to be communicated an directed. Are the linebackers now “bigs”? Does half slide check to full slide? Are they blitzing (center or guards looking for a tell) or just faking it?

Where the Bears get teams is they then do stunts from a look like this. Their defensive tackles will twist from here. Maybe a linebacker comes too. Obviously you can do a tackle and end stunt as well with the wider alignments. Whatever the case is, you’ve made one small chance to your front six or seven, but you’ve now completely changed how they work their pass protection.

Defensive Line Stunts: Logistics and Technique

I am a believer in taking an open gap when it presents itself if you are the second player on the stunt. I believe that the penetrator must do whatever he can to get to his landmark on any specified defensive line stunt. For instance, let’s say we’re attacking the hard setting guard. If our defensive end doesn’t make contact with the guard, the tackle might never get around to the outside if the guard gets a piece of him (even if it’s just for a split second).

Now the tackle, who is the looper, should take the open space. If the tackle closed down to help stop the defensive end who was crashing, he should work immediately to that players outside shoulder and get a good lean and rip working. If the tackle continued to vertical set looking for a blitzer outside (maybe because we faked one), the defensive tackles eyes should see this as soon as he works outside and his goal then is to “rub paint” with the defensive end and get his hands up into the QB’s face if the QB is front side. If he away from the QB’s sight, he immediately needs to stretch his outside arm to the QB’s back shoulder. You would be surprised and what just slightly tapping the QB’s shoulder could do to the QB or the ball’s flight path (if we don’t cause a fumble of course).

Of course, it’s of vital importance to drill defensive line stunts on a routine basis as well. I encourage you to focus heavily on drilling landmarks for the penetrator and cross-face/rip moves and footwork for the loopers. Avoiding tells for the looper should be priority. Some defensive tackles back up when looping. If the defensive tackle isn’t fast enough, consider placing 4 end types on the field, and if you don’t have that, try having the defensive tackle back up on some plays where he’s not looping, even in running scenarios. Backing up off the line of scrimmage is a decent change up against offensive linemen anyways, because it affects the timing between their steps and hand strike on the defensive linemen. It’s important, regardless, to maintain the element of confusion and surprise when executing defensive line stunts.

I also encourage you to video tape drills and educate the defensive linemen on the purpose of the defensive line stunts. If the kids don’t understand it, they won’t be able to adapt when situations change in game. For instance, if the offense runs the option and your end normally takes the QB, your tackle must know that when he loops. They most understand the purpose behind the stunts. That’s why I encourage only running a few stunts from the start of camp and doing a few things to enhance them, such as changing an alignment here or there or walking up a linebacker whenever necessary.

Conclusion on Defensive Line Stunts

No matter what defense you run, having a few specific, well-game planned defensive line stunts and looks can go a long way in transforming your pass rush. You don’t need a Julius Peppers to get a sack every time. Sometimes you just need him to be a decoy, along with a linebacker, in order to open up some other pass rush opportunities.