Football coaches are constantly instructing their players on the second effort that defensive linemen must make. On analyzing the situation, however, we find that not enough time is spent teaching the primary defensive techniques which players must be able to execute in key situations in games. When coaches congregate, their conversation on defense usually turns to the type of defense each team uses and the strengths and weaknesses of each defense. Actually, the success or failure of a defense depends upon the way each player is able to carry out his individual assignments. In a previous chapter, discussing the principles of interior defensive line play, the individual techniques which should be used by linemen in carrying out these principles were emphasized.
The first technique to teach is the correct stance for the linemen to use:
1. Feet-In a parallel stance (no stagger than heel and toe) on the balls of both feet. The outside foot should be forward, and, upon movement, the inside foot should be moved first in executing the various defensive skills.
2. Ankles-In a flexed position.
3. Knees-Flexed and squared to the line of scrimmage.
4. Hips-Flexed and in a straight line.
5. Back and Shoulders-In a straight line.
6. Arms and Hands-When the three-point stance is used, one arm should be down; in the four-point stance, both arms should be down. In the four-point stance, the arms and hands should be in a straight line under the shoulders. In the three-point stance, the down arm should be slightly inside the knee to the same side of the body. The lineman’s weight should be balanced forward on his fingertips and on the balls of his feet.
7. Shoulders-Square to the line of scrimmage.
8. Head-Up and extended.
Various Defensive Techniques For Interior Linemen
From the basic stance, the lineman moves his foot to a front staggered position of the toe and instep with no greater stagger than toe and heel. As his feet move, so should his hands, and the players drives the heels of both palms into the shoulders of his opponent with his arms straight and his elbows locked or straight. The basic weakness in this technique is that many times the defensive man is not able to get his arms straight in executing this maneuver. if the man plays on the line of scrimmage, it is almost impossible for him to get his arms straight with his hands on the opponent’s shoulders. Most of the time, his elbows are bent, and the offensive blocker is able to get a piece of the defensive man with his head and shoulders. Players have little strength in their arms at this bent position. Unless a player is big and strong, this position places him at a distinct disadvantage. Therefore, this technique is used only when a player is off the line of scrimmage.
The movement of the lineman’s feet should be similar in all moves to that described for the shiver technique. As the defensive player moves, the arm nearest his opponent is bent at a 90 degree angle at the elbow with the fist clenched and held out in front of the chest. This arm strikes a blow against the numerals of the offensive player in an effort to straighten this player up to control and neutralize his offensive charge. The lineman’s free outside hand is thrust at the near shoulder of the blocker with the heel of the hand striking the player. The defensive man’s shoulder must be squared to the line of scrimmage and facing his opponent’s goal line.
We call this technique blocking the offensive player. Actually, the defensive player shoulder blocks the offensive man by moving his inside foot and driving his near shoulder at the target, the numerals of his opponent, in an effort to break down his offensive charge, straighten him up, and neutralize his block. At the moment of impact, the defensive player brings up the arm of the shoulder making contact, bent at the elbow and with the forearm parallel to the ground, to provide a wider surface for the shoulder charge.
This technique is as old as the game itself, but most coaches do not like it because they concentrate on pursuit. It is still a good technique, however, to use on short yardage attempts and in a gap defense. the object is to move under or between the blockers to a spot on defense as fast as possible. The player starts his move by driving his head and shoulders under the blocker or between the players. He starts his normal defensive charge, and then, with his hands on the ground to keep his chest and body up, dips under the man or drives his head and shoulders as close to the ground as possible without allowing his chest to touch the grass. As the defensive man moves, his legs are brought under his body and his arms and legs move and drive him forward to a spot under or between the offensive player or players. This movement of arms and legs also keeps the players body off the ground. If the weight of the offensive player on top of him forces the defensive player to the ground, the defensive man must drive his arms and legs forward in order to keep moving. When the defensive player submarines, the offensive player or players should go over his body. When the defensive man gets underneath his opponent or opponents, he starts to raise himself by straightening his elbows and lifting his head. The defensive player should make every effort to get into an upright position quickly and to his designated spot so he can get into the flow of the play and be in a position to make the tackle or to help stop the ball carrier. The player must be taught that in short yardage situations, after the initial move, when he starts to raise, he should grab any of the legs coming into his area and try to create a jam-up of bodies in his zone.
A problem that coaches encounter in teaching this technique is that once the player has made his move, he tends to keep his head down, drop to the ground, and stay there with his rear end standing up. He forgets to keep his feet moving and so, many times, has the appearance of an ostrich with his head buried in the ground. A good coaching technique is to tell the players that when they have made their initial move, they must raise themselves with their arms as if they were doing push-ups.
Over The Top
This skill cannot be mastered by all defensive players. It takes an extremely quick player to jump over the top of his opponent. The two techniques used are to:
1. Leapfrog over the top of the man playing in front of the defender.
2. Vault into the air against an offensive man whose charge tends to drive the defender close to the ground. The defensive player places his hands on the opponent’s shoulders and drives his legs and body into the air to leapfrog or vault over his body into a position parallel to the ground over his opponent. Then the defensive player comes down on his legs (leapfrog) or on all fours (legs and hands vault) in good position to handle the running back or to move into the flow of the play.
Playing Two Opponents
Teach the defensive players how to play two opponents. Many players have never played against two time blocking, so considerable time must be spent teaching them to react to this situation.
Shoulder Fake Charge
When playing in a gap situation against two men who have been using the double shoulder charge to drive him back, the defensive player shoots in the gap as fast as he can. He starts his normal defensive charge and then dips his shoulders below those of his opponents in an effort to get into the gap area. If his shoulder fake allows him to get under his opponent and gain leverage, the two offensive players will not be able to move the defender and thus will allow him to close off the area in short yardage situations. The defensive player must keep his feet moving under his body at all times. When he gets into the split situation between both men, he must use his elbows and arms to widen the area and allow him to maintain his inside position.
The objective here, as in the shoulder fake charge, is to drive the two offensive men apart. two techniques can be used. In the first technique, the man in front of the defender must be defeated. The defensive men must break down the offensive man’s charge and then react to the block of the outside blocker. If the post blocker in the double-team is defeated, the defensive man will close the area sufficiently to prevent the ball carrier from running through a wide running lane, which is one of the defensive principles that most teams use to prevent a good back from having room to maneuver. The post and lead blockers are trying to create a lane by moving the defensive man, if possible, laterally down the line of scrimmage. By defeating the post blockers and creating a jam, this wide running lane will never materialize. After defeating the man in front, the defensive man reacts to the block of the outside man who is attempting to block down on him.
The second technique is used by a defensive player who is playing in a gap on the line of scrimmage between two offensive players. The defensive player uses a near step and forearm lift against the inside man to drive him away and the reacts to the block of the outside man with his near foot and forearm to create a wedge between the players. This same double coordination move is used against the double-team block of an end and wingback. A variation against these two players is to have the man in the gap step at the end with a near step while reacting with a forearm against the wingback. If the offensive men are double-team blocking the defensive player, he tries to drive the wingback off with the forearm lift and, after creating a wedge, reacts back against the end’s block to widen the area and allow himself the opportunity of jamming the zone. If the defensive player is being single blocked by the end or wingback, he reacts to the side of the pressure with a forearm lift or near step to neutralize the charge of the blocker, to shed the blocker as soon as possible, and try to locate the ball.
This technique is used primarily against a low, hard-charging offensive lineman. It is executed best when playing off the shoulder of an offensive player. When the blocker drives his near foot and near shoulder at the defensive man, the defensive player moves his near foot to a normal defensive position toward the blocker. As the blocker drives his near foot, the defensive man plants his outside foot and moves his hands to a shiver position. His near hand is placed on top of the player’s helmet, and his outside hand on the opponent’s near side. As the blocker hits the near foot, the defensive man shifts his weight to the outside foot and moves his near leg up and back allowing the blocker to run through his legs. As the blocker moves past, the defensive man brings his limp leg back to regular, balanced position and protects his territory, being ready to move the ball.
This technique is used by a lineman when he is committed to defensive gap coverage and thus the flow of play is away from him. After striking a blow with his near shoulder and forearm, the player locates the ball carrier, who is moving away from him. At first, he attempts to gain better body position to pivot out by straightening his back and exerting great pressure on his opponent with his near forearm. This momentary action tends to keep the player from vacating his position too rapidly in case a delayed play starts one way and then comes back toward his position. The player pivots on his near foot and continues to exert forearm pressure as he starts to move his far foot to a three-quarter turn position. The defensive man’s near arm stays in contact with the blocker to enable him to stay clear of and move away from the offensive blocker. As he spins on his near foot and steps with his far foot, the defensive man thrusts his far arm vigorously in a plane parallel to the ground in order to ward off any blocker who may be coming at him when his back is to the line of scrimmage. When the player lines up in the gap position before the ball is snapped on the line of scrimmage, he is vulnerable to a play being run quickly through the gap on the opposite side of the man who is attempting to block him. When the [layer completes his spin and turn, his shoulders should be squared to the line of scrimmage and he should be about two yards deep. This position will enable him to react to and help stop the quick dive back. As he squares away, facing the line of scrimmage, the defensive player pauses to read the action, and then moves in the direction of the ball.
These are the defensive skills which are important for defensive players to master. The time spent in teaching these techniques enables a team to take a long step toward winning football games.
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. He 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.