Kevin Park - Pash Rush - WP

Pass Rush: Developing The Best Plan of Attack

As coaches, we often run into the problem of teaching our players more than they can use. It doesn’t matter what you are teaching if your players can’t understand it or can’t use it. You want them playing swiftly. You don’t want paralysis by analysis – being slow or hesitant because they are thinking too much and are confused about what they are doing. This is especially true when it comes to rushing the passer. This article is not meant to teach pass rush techniques; instead it is to help you decide how you want to teach pass rush and the steps to execute that plan.

Before we ever step on the field for spring ball or fall camp, I do a self-evaluation of the success we had as a unit in pass rush the season before. This is difficult for coaches to do because the concepts or techniques that you thought were going to help you win might not have worked in the end. As a coach, I ask myself, these questions so that I can come to an honest evaluation of my coaching and teaching ability:

  • What are we teaching?
  • What pass rush moves are we teaching each player?
    • Can that player be successful executing these moves?
  • How are we going to teach these skills?

The answers to these questions help to develop our game plan in regard to how we teach pass rush.

What are we teaching?

Before we teach specific moves or techniques, we teach the concept of pass rush. Pass rush is a very fluid act, so the first thing we explain to the defensive line is that if we want to be successful as a unit we should have fanatical effort to get to the quarterback. Your first move isn’t always going to work and your counter might not either, but if you are constantly fighting to get to the quarterback, no matter what the situation, good things will happen.

The second concept we teach before we ever talk about a move is pass rush lanes. To do this, we have them think of the pocket of the quarterback as a bucket. Because of the fluidity of pass rush, you can’t say we always want this player in this gap. Otherwise, you automatically limit your chances of being successful. Ultimately, you want a guy rushing the bottom, left and right side of the bucket. Sometimes, it might be the defensive end rushing the bottom of the bucket because he had to counter back to make the defensive tackle right. We draw the below diagram on the whiteboard and tell our guys that our pass rush lanes should always end up like this.

Defense, Pass Rush

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The third and final concept that we teach before we begin discussing actual moves is the leverage of the guy trying to block you. If you take all the skills and technique out of pass rush and think about the basic concept, it all comes down to understanding the offensive line’s leverage on you. The goal of a pass rush is to cause havoc in the backfield and get a sack. To be able to do this, you must be able to make the offensive lineman wrong no matter what. Offensive linemen have rules to pass setting just like everything else they do. They are trying to take some part of your rush away. A successful pass rusher can make the offensive linemen show his cards by closing the distance and then countering whatever leverage he gives you.

What do you do in these scenarios?

  • If the offensive lineman is hard setting your inside?
    • Take the outside edge
  • If the offensive lineman is over setting to your outside shoulder?
    • Take the inside edge
  • If the offensive lineman is bailing and showing his chest?
    • Take power over top

After we teach those three basic concepts of pass rush, we start talking about the moves needed to make these counters work. We only teach our guys six different moves. We teach six because we want our guys to be great at what they do.

Here’s another way to think about this. A great pitcher in baseball keeps the batter off balance by never letting him know what the next pitch is going to be. The pitcher does this by having a fastball (the pitch he knows he can win with), a changeup (the counter to his No. 1 pitch), and a curve ball (something to keep the batter honest).

This is the same approach we take when we teach our players pass rush moves. We want them to have a move that they know they can win with, a counter to their No. 1 move, and an additional move to keep the offensive line guessing. They can use these moves regardless of if they are taking an edge, making an inside move, or countering back out to an edge.

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The moves we teach are:

  • Club/Rip
  • Double Swipe
  • Chop/Rip
  • Long Arm/Escape
  • Bull/Snatch
  • Spin Back

What moves are we teaching each player?

Now that we have taught the concepts of pass rush to the defensive line, we must decide which moves we are going to have each player specialize in. Regardless of how well you can teach a bull rush, you don’t want an undersized defensive lineman having a bull rush as his go-to move. On the other hand, you don’t want a slower and stronger defensive lineman to have a chop/rip as his fastball move. Therefore, knowing your players and evaluating each one individually as a pass rusher is critical to having a disruptive pass-rush unit. Some examples of pairings that we have for our players are:

True Speed Rusher

  • Fastball = Chop/Rip
  • Changeup = Chop Spin
  • Curve = Long Arm

Normal Rusher

  • Fastball = Double Swipe
  • Change up = Long Arm
  • Curve = Spin Back

Power Rusher

  • Fastball = Bull Rush
  • Changeup = Bull/Quick-Snatch
  • Curve = Club/Rip

How are we going to teach these skills?

When developing our individual practice plan, we always want to rep the same skills as much as possible. We would rather rep one move 100 times than rep ten moves 10 times. If we have 15 minutes of individual time to work pass rush, we take 5 minutes to work our fundamentals. The fundamentals that each player needs to be successful at rushing the passer include the get off, flipping your hips, and finishing at the quarterback. During the next 5 minutes of our time, we teach the entire defensive line two moves a day (a fastball and a counter). This helps us evaluate if each individual player can be successful executing those moves (finding out who should specialize in what).

Secondly, in a 15-practice spring, we can now teach each move a minimum of three different days. During the last 5 minutes, we will rep these moves as much as possible. You can do this using pop ups, arm shields or each other. When a player finishes practice, we want him to have used his fastball move a minimum of 50 times (including the number of times he is doing it live against the offensive line).

Overall Plan

There are countless different philosophies, methods and moves when it comes to pass rush. At the end of the day it isn’t about what you know or what looks good on a whiteboard, it’s about what your players can learn and execute successfully. You may need to change your method yearly because you will have different players; as a coach you must adjust and adapt to your unit. This goes back to the questions I ask myself before I ever step in the meeting room or on the field:

  • What are we teaching?
  • What pass rush moves are we teaching each player?
    • Can that player be successful executing these moves?
  • How are we going to teach these skills?

If you answer these questions honestly and use the answers to help you develop your plan of attack, you will find more success as a unit. The No. 1 thing in teaching pass rush is not what you know, it’s what your players can learn and ultimately execute.

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Kevin Park is currently the tight ends coach at Red Oak High School in Texas. He spent two seasons coaching the defensive line at Murray State after two seasons as a defensive graduate assistant at Baylor. The Austin, Texas, native played four seasons at Baylor and graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration in 2013.


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