Football has changed significantly since it began and one of the biggest changes has been the way practices are conducted. Two-a-days, four-hour practices in full pads and tackling during practice have all gone the way of the dinosaur. Training of defensive line techniques and schemes used to happen in live situations every day during practice, but now coaches must use other methods to teach and train techniques that will allow their players to play fast on game day. With practicing this way we benefit by having a chance to keep our players healthy and relatively fresh for games with this the training process must be efficient and everything that we do in practice must align with a real game scenario and factor in all the contingencies. In the article, I will present two different techniques that we teach and show the progression that we use to teach each techniques from the beginning. The techniques that we will explain are a pass rush progression first and then a single gap movement progression. We start with the fundamental phase of teaching each specific technique that we are asking our defensive line to use.
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The fundamental phase is where we teach the visual key, footwork and hand placement that will be used with a specific technique. For example, when we start teaching a pass rush move, we begin with teaching the first steps out of our stance. The first step out of a stance must drive up the field to the down hand and the goal is to get to the near hip of the blocker in two steps. The player’s eyes are focused on the near foot in their stance and transition to the hands of the blocker as they drive on their first two steps. If a player is unable to get to the near hip of the blocker in two steps, then he is unlikely to win very many pass rushes. Once the player lands his second step, he is ready to make his move. We typically start with a double swipe because it allows us to have a large surface to knock the blockers hand off and because it helps him to flip his hips and reduce his surface to be punched by the offensive blocker. Once he clears his hips past the blocker he bends tight to the blocker and finishes. We know that the fundamental phase is critical, so we do not go any farther in the progression until players learn to execute the fundamental phase well. Once players have a firm grasp on the fundamental phase, we move on to the contingencies phase.
In the contingencies phase of teaching, we show the players how to deal with the variations that can happen when executing the technique. Using the pass-rush drill as our example, we know that every time a player comes off the ball in a passing situation that he is not going to get to the hip of the blocker in his first two steps. The original pass rush drill did not account for the contingencies, but in this phase of teaching the skills, we show them how to react when there is a variable. It is also important that in this phase we only teach one variable at a time, rather than expecting them to react to changing variables from rep to rep. Instead, we work on each variable until players are competent before moving on.
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The first contingency that we teach is the overset. The overset happens when the blocker sets deep and/or wide enough to lose leverage on the inside hip. We teach this contingency by placing the pop-up dummy head up and slightly deeper than the alignment in the original pass-rush drill so that when the player reaches his second step out of his stance the dummy is still in front of him and head up. Instead of beating the blocker on the second step, he will take a quick jab step on the third step and execute the double swipe and hip flip to the inside of the blocker. Once the players become proficient at this contingency, we are ready to teach the next one.
The next variable is when the blocker sets inside but sets too deep to reach on the second step. Just like the overset contingency, the drill is the same at the onset until the new variable is introduced. In this phase of the drill, we set the pop-up dummy deep like the overset, but inside of the agile bag instead of outside. When the blockers sets back toward the quarterback we convert the pass rush to a long arm on the second step. This is done by driving the third step with the inside foot down the middle of the blocker and striking the middle of his chest with an outstretched arm, driving the blocker toward the quarterback. When teaching this phase initially we are not going to focus on escape moves to use with the long arm, but more on where the blocker is and the conversion of the pass rush to a long arm. We will work escapes and counters separately. Our focus of the drill is on the fundamentals at the beginning and then we add on as the players can develop each skill and progress into the next phase of our teaching progression that we call the reaction phase.
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The reaction phase of teaching a technique is when any of the contingencies are a possibility and the player must react instead of knowing which pass set he is going to get on each rep. In this phase of teaching the player will require some mastery of the contingencies to react correctly to the moving visual key in front of him. The reaction drill will require a blocker to simulate any of the three pass sets that we taught earlier. The players will align across from one another in a stance, one on offense and one on defense. The coach will stand behind the defensive player and instruct the offensive player which pass set to execute. The defensive player must come off the ball and react to the pass set, not knowing whether he is going to speed rush, up and under, or long arm. Once the players learn to react to the blocker, we can go back to the first drill that we taught and introduce a new pass rush move, going through the same teaching progression. The key is not the number of pass rush moves we know how to do, but how many we can do well.
The next technique that we are going to go through is a one-gap movement. Just like the pass rush progression, we start with the fundamental phase where the focus is on the footwork, visual key, and hand placement. In our conference, we see a significant amount of shotgun offenses where the running back is offset on the side of the quarterback, so we use the running back as our pre-snap indicator. However, if you do not see a lot of shotgun or the team you are preparing for has a better indicator (ex. The tight end or h-back) then that indicator can be used. The running back in our fundamental phase will be offset on the same side as the defensive lineman that is executing the one gap movement. This alignment indicates to us there is a high likelihood that the running play will be going in the same direction that we are moving on the snap of the ball. The set up for this drill is to put the agile bag parallel to the line of scrimmage with the near edge at the players down hand with the far end in the direction that the player is moving. We place a pop-up dummy on the edge of the agile bag so that we can club-rip to finish. The visual key is the offensive lineman to the players down hand, but on movement, he should snap his eyes to next offensive lineman in the direction he is moving. In the drill, we simulate this offensive lineman with the pop-up dummy. The first step in the drill is a 6-8 inch step that gains ground laterally, but not upfield. After this, we take a gather step and then another 6-8 lateral step. This part should look like a defensive player in basketball, with a club-rip upfield to finish.
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The contingency we call one step redirect is next in the progression. We start by putting the running back on the opposite side so that our one gap movement is toward the offset back. For this drill we want to simulate a running play that is coming at us, so we take out the agile bag and place the pop up at the down hand of the player. The visual key and the first step are the same as the first drill, but instead of a gather step, the player will redirect off the first step back in the direction they started from, club-rip the pop-up and finish flat down the line of scrimmage.
The next contingency that we will teach on our one gap movement is what to do when we get a pass set. Just like the first two drills, the visual key and the first step are the same. The difference is the second step is a vertical step up the field into a pass rush move. We use the same setup as the prior drill, but move the pop up back about a yard, so that the player has to work up the field and close the distance between himself and the blocker. We do not prescribe which side of the blocker to work the pass rush move, but in general, if a player is moving to his right he wants to work his pass rush move to the left side of the blocker. The thought here is that the blocker will mirror the first step and we want to make him redirect.
We will use two blockers in the drill where we work on the reaction phase of the one gap movement so that we have a movement key (the offensive lineman to our down hand) and our visual key (the next offensive lineman in the direction we are moving). We will also put a running back in the backfield to give a pre-snap indicator. On the snap of the ball, the blockers will move to simulate one of the blocking schemes from the fundamental or contingency phase of the drills. The important thing in the reaction phase of this drill is to make sure that the blocking scheme fits with the location of the running back or whatever you are using for the pre-snap indicator. The focus of the drill is on the reaction to the visual key and the footwork, so the offensive lineman should move quickly and there may be some incidental contact, but it is not a full-contact drill. The goal of the drill is to develop muscle memory by repeating the scenarios and techniques repeatedly so that they become natural and fluid in a game situation.
The three-step teaching progression that we use to teach the techniques we will use in games allows players to learn the base technique properly before moving on to the next step in the progression and allows them to become proficient at each step along the way. For us, this eliminates much frustration because even when the player makes a mistake, he should understand exactly what he needs to do to make the correction. It also allows us to perfect the techniques and reactions without all the contact of a full team drill and keeps us healthier as we progress through the season.
Brian George‘s leadership as the Rockets’ defensive coordinator has been instrumental in mentoring a Rocket defense that has been among the best in the Mid-Admerican Conference over the past three seasons. Under George’s guiceance in 2016, the Rockets ranked fourth in the MAC in scoring defense (25.7) en route to a 9-4 record and a berth in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. Toledo led the MAC in third-down conversions (34.7%), which ranked 23rd nationally. Prior to joining the Rockets, George was an assistant at Kent State from 2011-2015, serving the the last three seasons as the Golden Flashes’ defensive coordinator. He coach the defensive line in all of his five seasons at KSU.
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