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.
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
FREE 40 DAY 4-3 DEFENSE COURSE
Sign up for the free 4-3 Defense Course! It includes 12 articles (and growing!) on the 4-3 defense from Strong Football and other top coaching websites. Join over 170 teams! Just enter your email below!
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 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.
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.
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:
Big On Big, Back on Backer (BOB)
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
Sign Up for the Free 40 day 4-3 Defense Course
Just enter you’re email below for the 12 step course (and growing!) the details multiple 4-3 coverages, fundamentals, strategy and drills.
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.
Basic Setup of Defensive Line Stunt
Notice Inside Step By Right Guard and Center and Hand Punch by RG, C, and RT – BTW Tackle Misses on 3 Tech hand punch
Other side of the stunt, simple ET (End Tackle). End Goes First. Notice #88 TE, he checks if tackle needs help on Peppers
Right Guard’s Shoulders Turned perp to LOS, already lost. ILB (Briggs) Bails to Hook/Curl
#88 TE leaves LT b/c Peppers is taken care of. Doesn’t notice DT looping. Other DT getting upfield rush
#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.
Want to Learn How to Establish Every Day Drills
While my e-book is focused on the offensive line, a lot of the material can easily be replicated for coaches on both sides of the ball and coaches who work with other positions.
Developing a Physical and Aggressive Offensive Line covers how you establish every day drills by analyzing what techniques are used the most often, similar to how you should work defensive line stunts based on the offensive pass protections you’ll see most often.
What are you waiting for? Order it right now!
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.
A long time ago… way too long ago… I started writing a post on 4-3 over front defensive line play (click the link to read that first post btw!). I realized it would take way too much time to turn this only into 2 parts. So here’s my first post on defeating one type of block with specific defensive drills. The importance of 4-3 DL play cannot be understated. In that post, I discussed the reads every defensive linemen in this defense needed, whether it was a visual or a pressure key. These reads I took from a clinic talk I heard from the Wisconsin defesnive line coach, and at that point Wisconsion ran a 4-3 Over which spot dropped. They’re primary goal defensively against the pass was to get an excellent pass rush with their front four and take away the immediate throwing lanes of the offense. Hopefully this post can start to shed some light on how you can execute every day defensive line drills taht can do just that. In my prior post, I discuessed stance and starts. Here, I discuss defensive line drills for defeating specific blocks.
Defensive Drills for Beating the Solo Base Blocks
Solo base blocks, like the scoop block and the regular base block, are becoming more rare, in my opinion. However, there are situations where they occur, especially for defensive ends. I think one of my favorite drills is to start with the whole part whole method and focus on the “part”.
Defensive Line Drill: 6 Point Explosion
Line up your whole group and shade the defenders to one side with a partner. The partner should be arms length away. The defender’s toes, knees, and hands should be on the ground. On some movement key (I suggest giving the offense a snap count and have them move the bags on it for this drill if you have a lot of kids, if you have a small number just use a ball) have the defenders explode up and out (at a 45 degree angle), aiming at the side their shaded to on the pad. They should focus on driving with their toes to create greap hip extension. If they aren’t rolling their hips, tell them to shoot their eyes to the sky and their head up as the drive forward with their body. They should get full extension on the pad by driving their hands.
Explain to your kids that this really should be what they feel when they make contact, except that they should keep their feet bacuse their feet should be moving with their body. By isolating this motion, you let kids who are struggling with the hip roll aspect to understand what you want. They should also understand that the hip roll helps them explode into the blocker and displace them initially. This action needs to be violent, and throwing your hands into the blocker in this drill will do that. Some kids naturally just get hands on a blocker, they don’t know that they need to be violent with their hands. If they execute this drill correctly, they should see that. The hand strike is critical for the block destruction phase.
Defensive Line Drills: Block Destruction
How many times do you see a defensive end get the perimeter and not make a play? They may even disengage the blocker. So this is a two part defensive line drill. I believe we as defensive line coaches tend to condition our kids to just want to disengage. That is the first part of this pair of defensive line drills. However, we don’t tell them when, which is what I try to do with the second drill or second part of this defensive line drill. They need to understand that they should disengage after they deystroy the block, after that intial hip explosion and hand strike that they worked on in the 6 point drill above.
I tell my kids that block destruction doesn’t matter if you aren’t in a position to make the tackle. So when my drills for defensive line block destruction, I focus on offensive linemen hand displacement. We need to be active after that initial shock. Sometimes kids are so worried about their rip. How about we knock the hands down after we shock the blocker. What I do is I place the kids on an outside shade on a blocker. They are in a 2 point stance, after taking their 6 inch read step and they’re in their leverage step (taken when the blockers knee comes at you … you step slightly outside with your outside foot to make sure you keep your leverage). The next step is a power step at the inside heel of the linemen. We take that step in this drill, from the 2 point stance, and make contact with the blocker he makes his move. The blocker is instructed to either scoop or base block the defender, and once he does that the defensive linemen strikes. He should step and strike the blocker with both hands. As he does that, he will gain a small amount of seperation on the offensive linemen (coaching point, make sure there is no bend in the elbows here, that will ensure maximum arm length when combined with good knee bend and shoulders over the knee to keep pad level down). As soon as he makes that contact and he feels the offensive linemen displaced, he should begin his push pull technique. It should be one snap motion that is fluid when this is polished. As soon as he finishes the push pull, the blocker’s pads should be perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. The defender at this point should violently slam his forearms on the blocker’s wrists and begin a rip move where he steps with his inside foot outside the blocker. Now he has defeated the block and outleveraged the player at the point of attack.
Block Destruction: Make the Tackle
The final part of the block destruction defensive line drill is to make the tackle. This should be incorperated into as many defensive line drills as possible. After getting better at defeating the block, the defensive linemen should be asked to make a tackle. The ball carrier should be given an angle outside the blocker, and asked to run at half speed at first, then full speed as the kids get the concept. This will ensure success and belief in the technique.
One side note. A lot of defensive coaches want to stress making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. While I will say that, I am happy if we make the tackle even a little beyond it. The reaction speed of defensive linemen to engage, disengage, and make a tackle is tough, especially at lower levels. If you stress making plays behind the LOS too much, kids will just try to shoot the gap and then when you get mad at them for not using technique, they will think the technique is crap. This leads me to another point, don’t pull the legs out from your technique. Kids will become sloppy and defeat blocks easier in practice using bad technique. Demand perfection on technique. Don’t demand it on things like making the tackle before the ball carrier makes the line of scrimmage, or else when kids fail at that they’ll think the technique, and you as a coach, are failing. In general, for defenisve line drills, remember you care about the technique, and you care about the tackle, but focus on only one aspect at a time.
Defensive Line Drills: Executing The Rip Move with a Towel
I think executing the rip move is something we all stress as coaches, and it appears in many defensive line drills. I like the towel drill. Put it behind the blocker. The defensive linemen should be can be in a 2 or 3 point stance. The blocker should give little resistance. The emphasis of the drill is the long rip move. We all try to stress ripping to the grass and up to the sky. We can get the grass easily with the towel drill. The DL, after making contact, rips to scoop the towel. I, however, ask the kids to release the towel at the end of their rip so it goes behind them and over their head. This forces the rip to go HIGH in the air, an often undercoached aspect but much needed way to force the blocker to disengage his hands completely.
Another small coaching tip on the Rip Towel Drill is the idea that the towel is not completely flat on the ground. Use big towels as well. I like the towel to be raised, like a napkin at a 5 star restaurant before you sit down, so the kid doesn’t have to worry so much about the grabbing of the towel but the action of the rip move. Also, by giving them a toweel that is larger, you give them a better opporunity to grab it if they are off to the left or the right. Kids will focus on grabbing the towel if you tell them too, not as much the technique. By making the towel bigger, they don’t have to worry about grabbing it as much to be successful in the drill. It’s also important to tell them you’re doing the drill to work on the rip move, not on grabbing the towel. I made the mistake of not saying that once and I litterally had a few kids stop the rip movement to pick up the towel. Like … literraly bend over to pickup the towel.
Defensive Line Drills: Push Pull Technique and Thumbs Up with a Towel
I like to use towels in my drills if you haven’t guessed. The next part works on two areas, the push pull technique and how to keep the elbows in and the thumbs up. The defensive linemen starts shaded again on the blocker in a perfect fit position. His hands are already on the offensive linemen, and he’s ready to execute the push pull technique. His elbows are in and his thumbs are up. Have a player (or you yourself) put a towel right over his elbows. On some key, he executes just the push pull aspect. If the towel falls THROUGH THE MIDDLE, that means the elbows worked outside in the push pull action (btw, another coaching point, the DL should be moving the blocker back into the backfield in this drill a couple of steps). This drill enables you force the defensive linemen to keep their thumbs up throughout the whole process of the push pull so they don’t lose power. It also refines the skill and keeps the hands tighter, which allows them to more quickly and efficiently disengage the blockers hands when the time comes.
Defensive Line Drill Conclusions
I hope to continue this series on defensive line drills for the 4-3 defense over time for each block type. Hopefully I can cover 3 or 4 defensive line drills in each post. It’s hard to do this level of detail for each block and each one of the many defensive line drills in a blog… so maybe I will try to do some video. I hope this provides the necessary detail for a few drills. I also didn’t copy edit this yet… (I’m writing it on my blog while I’m away from home on an iPad) so please forgive me for misspellings.
Gap Exchange between Defensive Linemen, Linebackers, and Safeties
Gap exchange in defensive football occurs between defensive linemen, linebackers and safeties is a critical element for many over fronts and under fronts.
Gap Exchange: Block Down Step Down
The basic gap exchange concept begins at the defensive linemen level, where the defensive linemen responds to a down block by an offensive linemen or tight end. The linemen is likely taught the theory of block down step down, where if the linemen blocks inside he must step inside, disrupt said linemens path, and spill kickout blocks.
The defensive end must keep the tackle off the linebacker by pushing him, and the will must come up quickly to G gap.
The linemen, given the block down step down rule, cannot play his original gap. In essense, he is playing his immediate inside gap. He needs to also focus on getting hands on the blocker who stepped inside while keeping his shoulders square. The defensive linemen simply needs to give a push with one hand, enough to keep the linemen off the playside linebacker or knock his path on his way to a backside linebacker. The defensive linemen, be it end or tackle, must focus, at this point in the play, at keeping his shoulders square. Turning his shoulders this close or on the defense’s side of the line of scrimmage will make it easy for another linemen to log him or, depending on the play, to get around him completely without making the blocker take a better pull path.
Gap Exchange: Open / Closed Window
The End and Mike perform an Inside Gap Exchange, in these cases the defensive end must disrupt the offensive lineman's path
The linebacker needs to read the open or closed window. This should be an easy read as the linebacker flows to his gap. An open window essentially means that the gap he is assigned to his open. A closed window means the gap is blocked and the runningback will not see that hole.
Why is this important to gap exchange principles? As the linebacker reads his hole, if for some reason the defensive linemen is in his gap (he got washed down, or even a called stunt—which means a predetermined gap exchange), then the linebacker needs to work one outside gap, or to the next open gap and press the line of scrimmage while keeping his shoulders square. By pressing the line of scrimmage right away, this causes problems for offensive plays like power where the kickout and wrapping pull blocker occur quickly.
Gap Exchange: Secondary Run Support
The Sam Linebacker Follows Block Down Step Down Rules, Safety Reads Him and EMOLOS and Comes Up to D Gap
In many cases, a safety or even a corner, depending on the defense and the formation, may be called upon to gap exchange with a defensive end or EMOLOS. This is common in the Under front, where the Sam linebacker, lined up in a 9 technique outside the offensive tight end, must follow block down step down principles. In this case, the safety must be ready to come up quickly and exchange gap responsibilities with the Sam linebacker.
Gap Exchange – Conclusion
Overall, gap exchange is a good way for a defense to take advantage of the spill technique and use the sideline and team speed to its advantage. If the team has good speed and the front 7 have great hip explosion to help execute some of the technique (wrong arming or spilling), then this can be a great asset for undersized defenses.
P.S., make sure you check out Chiefpigskins offensive line videos!
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.