Defensive line Stimulus Response Learning

Have you caught yourself yelling at players, “You’re too high”?  Have you overheard coaches giving verbal dissertations as they correct players?  You can be sure that every one of your players wants to do things correctly.  So help them perform correctly.   

Teach them through positives by helping them recognize, and the visualize performing correctly.  For example, “you’re too high” can be corrected with “”V of the neck”.  The concept is to teach your players how to execute the correct techniques while creating a vocabulary that paints a picture to reinforce them doing it correctly. 

This allows you to tell them what they need to do, not what they are doing wrong.

A system of “stimulus response” can be used to help reinforce learning and assignment understanding. The technique, read key, and reaction being taught should be a stimulus that triggers a response.  The stimulus response is used as a descriptive term by the coach that triggers an alert word from the player; i.e., coach calls out an offensive player’s action, the defensive player should give the appropriate response. 

It is the player’s response that should trigger the appropriate technique to defeat his opponent.


This defense is designed to bring pressure, but each player must be disciplined in reading his keys, using his hit or jet technique and get to the football.  A system of “stimulus” and “response” has been developed to help players recognize what is happening, and how they should respond – the technique they should use.  For example, when a coach says Base (stimulus) he should hear Squeeze from his player (response). This technique aids players by helping then to master, learn and understand what is required on any given situation.  A good time to use this type of learning and reinforcement is during team and in warm-ups when the coach has time to walk around and talk with his position players.

The following are the “Stimulus Responses” for the defensive linemen.  They can be broken down into three categories:

Base Squeeze
Down Trap
Reach Push / Pull
Pass Bull
Double Hip
Scoop Rip
Pull Collision
Wash Spin
Influence Back
Cut Hands
Cut-off COBRA

As you develop your verbal stimulus and responses, the objective is to reinforce and to confirm that your players understand what you are teaching.   But, more importantly, it allows you to reinforce proper techniques because the players can visualize doing things correctly.  The following tables include X & O Diagrams for the three categories of blocks that defensive linemen will face.

The defensive linemen will always start off playing “Hit Technique”, unless a “Jet” (go get the passer) is alerted.  The defensive linemen must get off the ball and lead with the hands and hips getting into the “Dominant Position”.  The Hit Technique creates a dominant lean, using a 3-point punch to stay square to the LOS, and only coming off when they see ball.  The 3-point punch (dominant lean) puts the defensive linemen in a Dominant Position that allows them to defeat the blocker.  The 3-point punch (dominant lean) is:

  1. Hands – Thrust both hands to the breastplate just outside the jersey number, striking with the palms, and thumbs up – grabbing cloth. There is a natural grabbing place or handle bars on the shoulder pads, so get the palms with thumbs up, grabbing jersey on the offensive lineman’s pads.  This hand placement is critical to defeating a blocker.
  1. Hips – The hips must explode forward or up. The hips must be aligned with the defensive lineman’s shoulders, not back.  If the butt is behind the shoulders the defensive lineman is not in balance; i.e., weight is forward putting the defensive lineman out of balance.
  1. Eyes – The eyes to the “V of the neck”. The eyes should never be higher than the “V of the neck”.

The defensive linemen will always stay square to the LOS until they see ball.  They can then rip off to make the play.  The rip technique is:

  • Grab the back pocket – the defensive lineman reaches the arm back as though pulling something out of their back pocket;
  • Rub the body – as the defensive lineman swings the arm through, it should rub the body because this action forces the shoulders to reduce; i.e. the near shoulder points to the ground; and,
  • Kiss the bicep – the arm must come violently all the way through the blockers front surface, clearing the blocker. This clubbing action is executed properly if the defensive lineman can kiss the bicep as they clear the blocker.

Common Blocks

The Common Blocks are those most often faced by the defensive linemen:

Base – Squeeze: The blocker steps directly at the defensive lineman, then use Hit Technique staying square to squeeze the gap down (inside) or maintain your initial alignment position; i.e., start in a 4-technique, stay in a 4-technique.

Down – Trap: The blocker steps down (or crosses the face) without making contact with the defensive lineman, then mirror step to take the down block away protecting the linebackers.  This allows the defensive lineman to hide behind the down block and “trap the trapper”.  The eyes should go inside looking from the fullback to guard, coming underneath the down block with an outside rip.

Reach – Push/Pull:  The blocker is trying to attack the outside shoulder, then the defensive lineman will push the outside shoulder (offensive lineman’s) to lock their arm out, pulling the inside shoulder (offensive lineman’s) to them.  This technique will open the offensive lineman to allow the defensive lineman to rip through when they see ball.  The defensive lineman will stay square, stretching the block until they see ball, then rip off.

Pass – Bull:  The blocker pass sets, then the defensive lineman will use their Hit Technique pushing the blocker back toward the quarterback (“bull rushing”).  The defensive lineman will use their dominant lean, keeping the eyes to the quarterback, maintaining their rush lane.  They may add a pass rush move once they have determined pass; i.e., eliminated screen or draw possibilities.

Combination Blocks

Combination Blocks are typically when two offensive linemen are working together.  Technique is critical to the success of defeating these types of blocks.

Double – Hip: There are two blockers working together to move the defensive lineman, then use Hit Technique on the near blocker, but drive the hip to the ground using the cloth (grabbed) to pull between the blockers.  This is referred to as “skinny in the hole”, because you do not give the blockers any surface to block.  The defensive lineman must fight to get through, and will keep fighting as long as they are getting penetration.  However, when penetration stops (or the momentum is moving backwards) then the defensive lineman will drop to the ground, and push themselves back up, under the blockers; i.e., similar to diving underneath a wave.

Pull – Collision:  The blocker pulls behind the LOS in either direction, then be prepared for some type of down block coming from the opposite direction.  The eyes must go inside, as the defensive lineman must anchor down (with the outside leg) and blow up (“collision”) the blocker with the forearm, staying square until they see ball.

Scoop – Rip: The block starts off as a reach, but a second blocker gets to the defensive lineman’s inside shoulder, then use the “push/pull” technique described under the reach, rip off as soon as you see ball.  The defensive lineman is going through either the “front door” (playside) or the “back door” (behind the play).  The difference between a double and scoop is that a scoop starts off as a reach.

Wash – Spin:  There are blockers pushing the defensive lineman down the LOS as they step with the down block (feeling pressure from the backside), then the defensive lineman must spin (“ice pick”) to get back into the play.  The “ice pick” entails throwing yourself at the backside of the offensive lineman, using your weight to lean against the pressure of being washed down.

Secondary Blocks

Secondary or “coward” blocks are those blocks used least often by your opponents.  This third phase deals with blocks that our linemen will face and how they will have to react to each particular situation.

Influence – Back: This is typically used to counteract a pass set, with very little effort (quick strike and release) to pass protect and deep dropping quarterback; i.e., deeper than 7 yards.  The defensive lineman must stop and retrace their steps looking for a running back.  This Stimulus Response can also be used versus influence trapping teams; i.e., pull occurs with no down block, then the eyes must go “back” ready to collision the trap from the “backside”.

Cut Block – Hands:  This is when the blocker attacks the knees (offensive lineman’s head is down) of the defensive lineman, then throw the hands at the offensive lineman’s shoulders driving them into the ground, with the eyes up looking for the play.  If the quarterback has a short drop, then get at least one hand up.

Cut-off – COBRA:  This is an inside release by the blocker with the offensive flow away, then the defensive lineman must look for cutback, boot or reverse.  This is used in conjunction with our “chase or collapse” technique.

About the Author of this post:

Jerry Campbell has over 30 years of high school and college coaching experience.  He has experience as a head coach, offensive coordinator, and various position coaches.  Jerry has written numerous football coaching articles in various publications, is the author of over 30 books on coaching football, and has produced 12 coaching video series.  Additionally, he is a nationally sought after speaker on the coaching clinic circuit.

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