Tag Archives: Defensive Line

Feet Feat

In the previous football coaching post, I talked about the important concept of open and closed gates for an offensive and defensive lineman. The ability to use your lineman body type as a tool to your advantage in creating or protecting space on the football field. Football is a game of real estate; it is a fight for space. The offense wants to create space and gain real estate while the defense want to deny advancement. It’s the story of humanity in a simple and physical game, I want that space.

The gates concept relies on footwork. Of all the athletes on a football team, the casual fan would likely rank the lineman as a distant last in regard to who has or needs the best footwork. In reality, it’s the exact opposite. The big boys are the ones who need the best footwork. The lineman needs the footwork of a dancer to go along with the strength and mindset to be successful. 

Where the feet go, the body follows.

When I watch a sporting event, either live or on video, the first thing I’m drawn to is footwork. The feet can tell you volumes. Football, basketball, wrestling, track & field, baseball, volleyball, etc. all movement sports are built on the foundation of the feet. It’s so basic and so logical, coaches often overlook this fundamental factor in building great athletes enamored by speed and strength numbers. 

The football lineman must have good to great footwork to get their job done. Good footwork allows them to close gates to effectively create space or defend space. Don’t believe me yet? Then try this.

Stand straight, looking forward, and with feet shoulder length apart about an arm length and a half from a wall. Take a step with your wall-side foot and reach out and touch the wall with your near hand. Not hard right? As you stand there with your fingertips touching the wall, notice how balanced and strong your lower body feels. You feel strong and stable. You could push a hole in the wall if you felt it was necessary.

Now, stand back in your original position. Anchor your feet in place and reach out to touch the wall. Not so easy, right? Did you feel balanced and strong this time? Nope. You probably felt thankful that the wall was solid and sturdy or you’d be lying on your butt on the floor. 

That’s the importance of good footwork for an athlete. The ability to move with power, quickness, and speed AND retaining the power, quickness, and speed in your new position.

How do you develop good footwork, especially for the Bubba athletes?

For starters, movement skills emphasizing footwork must be a part of everyday training, 365 days a year. Foot ladder drills, agility drills, dot drills, etc. can easily be incorporated into the strength training routines or classes. With something so important to athletic success or failure, why a coach wouldn’t incorporate and emphasize footwork skill development is beyond me.

With the Bubbas, we use the T-board drills to develop the first three steps. The first step is a quick, short (6 inch) angle or stretch step just across the vertical board keeping the hips and shoulders square. It’s important to watch the athletes and make sure the hip follows the foot. Remember, where the foot goes, the body follows.

The second step brings the trail foot level with the lead foot keeping hips and shoulders square to the line of scrimmage then initiating contact with hands. The second step establishes the close gate and brings the lineman’s body to a favorable position with, importantly, the balance and power to get their job done.

Once contact is made the third step is used to establish hip leverage to seal the defender from the hole. The first three steps in a block are critical to an offensive lineman. The higher the level of football, the more important these technical bits become. 

The next steps are used to drive or seal the defender from the attack area of the play design. With our undersized, but athletic, lineman we had in our program, it was absolutely vital we had good footwork to put our bodies in a position of strength versus the defense. We use the board to establish good fundamentals or to re-establish good fundamentals on a daily basis. The teaching progression added bags and holders to the vertical board as an advanced drill. All repetitions are at full speed and each block finished to the coach’s whistle.

Where the feet go, the body follows.

Footwork development is an integral part of any athletic movement program. It takes focus and discipline and repetition. That’s not just what is required of the athlete. The coach must be more focused, more disciplined, and more attuned to the details as they watch each and every repetition. Nothing in this coaching business can be run on autopilot. There’s not a single aspect of sports coaching, especially in youth or high school, where the coach can put on the cruise control. 

Coaching is work.

Hard work.

And, if you’ve hung around here long enough you know…

HARD WORK IS THE MAGIC.

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Gates

As a former offensive and defensive line football coach, one thing I always look for when watching a game or scouting a game is open/closed gates. What is a gate in football? It’s the ability to stay square and create your space in the contact zone called the line of scrimmage. It’s the same concept as the gate on a fence. When a gate is closed, you can’t walk through it. It’s a barrier. When a gate is closed, you have to do something drastic, like climb over, dig under, or ram through it, to get through. An open gate is just the opposite. It’s no longer a barrier but an invitation to come through.

By Calum McRoberts, CC BY-SA 2.0

My football concept of gates on the offensive and defensive line is similar. When an offensive lineman or defensive lineman keep their hips and shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, their gate is closed. When they turn their hips and shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, they open the gate.

A defensive lineman’s job is simple. They are assigned a piece of real estate, a gap or area, to protect. Nothing gets through. Nothing knocks the DL from their spot. The job is much easier and much more effective when they play with their gate closed. Opening their gate and turning their hips and shoulders open a running lane.

The same is true for an offensive lineman. Their job is to create open real estate and running lanes on a run play. The job is to clear a path by using your closed gate-created space to either drive the defender away from the running lane, like a snow blade on the front of a truck, or shield a lane for the running back to use. 

For pass blocking, the offensive linemen need to provide a protective barrier for the QB in the pocket in order for the QB to feel safe, comfortable, and able to make the throws. Close gates are essential to provide a barrier from the rushing defenders across the line of scrimmage. Closed gates in pass protection reduce the attack alleys of the defense just like a closed gate of a fence makes it harder to enter. Only when a pass rusher breaks the blocker’s hip level does the blocker turn the hips and shoulders to adjust their gate to the threat.

Establishing good technical skills to be an effective offensive and defensive lineman requires excellent footwork, body position, and hand battle skill. Everything a coach should do in practice must be centered around those skills. The footwork is vital. It drives the placement of the hips which drives the placement of the shoulders, which drives the success or failure in a lineman doing their job. (What is good footwork? That, and how to develop good big boy footwork are coming soon in a separate post.)

Practice perfect every rep. 

Practice for perfection when the athletes get tired because physically and mentally tired athletes make mistake because they lose form. 

Practice, practice, and practice to keep the gates closed. 

Close those gates, Bubbas!

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The Bubba Conundrum

I’m a big boy. A lineman for life. “Husky” was my Sears Toughskin categorization as a kid. I loved coaching the big boys of the offensive and defensive line in my football coaching days. Loved it.

We called ourselves the “Bubbas”. The running backs/defensive backs were called “Bullets”. The TE/linebacker-types were the “Bricks”. Everybody belonged to a group, everybody in each of those groups trained differently in our strength and conditioning program.

I almost blew a gasket recently when I heard of a coach telling a big boy lineman he wouldn’t be much use to the team next fall unless he got into better shape. First, I hate this approach, especially with a Bubba. It’s tough growing up a big boy in a skinny boy world. When one tells a big boy the above criticism, what he hears is something he’s probably heard over and over in his entire life—that he’s fat, lazy, and/or of little value— instead of hearing that he needs to be in better shape. Second, the above criticism from the coach is delivered with no plan of action.

The young athlete was knocked into a dark pit by someone he probably respects and not given any plan or tools for climbing out. Modern coaches and parents need to be more positive in these situations. Point out to the athletes they’d perform at a higher level if they were in better condition AND then give them a vision of how we’re going to accomplish this. (The WE part of the equation is very important.)

The conditioning requirements for high school football players are different for the Bubbas, the Bricks, and the Bullets. The specific work/recovery demands require specific considerations for each group of players. Even the casual high school football fan realizes the differences in physical demands between an offensive guard and a wide receiver on any given play. The lineman’s job and the wide receiver’s job both use the burst energy supplied by the anaerobic energy systems but in different ways. The lineman is using power over speed. The wide receiver uses the opposite, speed over power. Power/Speed vs. Speed/Power

A high school football play lasts only 5.6 +/- 2.0 seconds according to a study published in 2006. The NFHS play clock is 25 seconds. Adding the variable length of time it takes for the ball to be marked and set before the play clock is started, the total time between plays is about 45 seconds. I know what you’re saying, “This Hays guy is such a geek. I just want to play football and hit people. I don’t care about math or physiological energy systems. Where’s my dang helmet?”

My answer is this, you don’t have to care. Not really. But, as a strength and conditioning coach, I HAVE to care. I HAVE to design training regimens that give you the best chance to perform and “hit people” like a cannon shot each and every play of a four-quarter high school football game. I HAVE to consider these geeky physiological demands in order to give you the power you need.

5.6 +/- 2.0 seconds work followed by 40 seconds rest.

Why share these seemingly trivial numbers? No, I don’t give you these numbers so you know there’s about 40 seconds to run to get a bag of popcorn without missing any action. I emphasize these numbers because everything we need to do to prepare our Bullets, our Bricks, and our Bubbas to perform needs to revolve around this conditioning ratio. About 8 seconds of intense work, followed by 40 seconds rest.

Sprints, lifts, med ball slams, swings, pull-up, sled pulls/drives, agility drills, etc. all should follow fairly close to this timing 75-80% of total training time. The wide receiver’s plan would include a high percentage of the speed-building exercises. The offensive guard’s plan would include a high percentage of the power-building exercises. The remaining 20% or so would be developing general fitness in order to support the basic foundation.

These methodologies are usually sufficient for the high school athlete. If athletes move up to high levels, the college or professional level, the methodologies become even more personalized and intricate.

Bottom line, give your big kids a solid plan. Instead of straight up criticism, give them a goal. Give them the tools they need to attain the goal and give them the support they’ll need along the way. Every football team is built on the backs of the big boys. You better figure out how to deal with them and understand their needs if you want to be successful.

Respect your big boys! #BubbaForLife!

 

 

 

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The Bullfighters of the Defensive Line

A defensive lineman’s job is simple; protect your gap and create chaos. If it is a run play, attack your gap and make the play. If the run play goes away from you, attack your gap and pursue flat down the line to make the play if the runner cuts back. If the play is a pass play, then rush your gap, contain the quarterback in the pocket and get one hand up to cut the quarterback’s field of vision.

The weapons of a defensive lineman are his feet and his hands. Good footwork off the snap of the football puts the d-lineman’s hips squarely into his gap and in position to defend his piece of turf. The body follows the feet is a fundamental we stressed in everything. The hands skills, which we called the quick draw/lockout, allow the d-lineman to keep the blocker away from his body. Keeping clean allows him to be an effective defender, not a player getting run down the field by the offensive blockers. Whoever wins the battle of the body in the football trenches usually has the greatest amount of success.  The ability to legally use one’s hands to lockout and shed blockers is about the only advantage the defensive lineman is given, so he must use his hands effectively as well as his feet.

In the effective defensive line scheme, the defensive lineman must command a double team by the offensive lineman. We taught the defensive lineman to hold their ground and not give a single, teeny-tiny inch of their turf to a double team block. We taught them to make a wall and/or a pile in the offense’s intended running lanes at the line of scrimmage to disrupt their rhythm. If the offense had to double team our defensive lineman on every play, it allowed our linebackers to move unabated to make plays. If the offense chose to man block our defensive lineman, we taught our kids to take advantage and dominate the game. Our d-line goal was NEVER to get beat one on one.

One of our biggest challenges for the  defensive line comes when facing the power offense teams. In our experience, it was the teams that ran the Double Wing offense and the Double Tight Wishbone Belly offense. Contrary to popular football belief, these compressed formation offenses are not boring “3 yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy offenses. They are both big play offenses, capable of scoring from anywhere and everywhere on the football field at virtually any time the defense makes a mistake.

These teams are usually aggressive, athletic, physical and relentless in their approach and attitude. As a defense against these teams, we must knew we had to match the offense’s aggressiveness; we must match their athleticism and physicality, and we must be as, or more, relentless. What we want to do as a defense is eliminate their big play capability and stop them cold at the line of scrimmage or force the offense to methodically move down the field in a “3 yard and a cloud of dust” manner. It was absolutely vital that the defensive line made a wall and forced piles of humanity in the running lanes. We wanted to test their patience and force them out of their comfort zone and rhythm. We knew if we executed on each and every play of the game, it became a battle of will and patience. And honestly, I would have taken our kids in a battle of will and patience anytime and anyplace, against any opponent.

Of course, we had to work on these skills all season in order to reach proficiency. Footwork, quick draws, and lockouts were drilled daily. But, when it came time to play the power running teams, we have to ramp up our skills in making walls and forming piles at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, this isn’t a skill learned through talk or only through hitting dummies. This is a skill learned through contact and challenge and repetition. It is a mental skill as much as a physical skill. Nobody in their right mind really wants to fire off the ball, drive their shoulder pad through the offensive lineman’s thigh pad while punching up and out with the butt of their hands to only end up at the bottom of a pile of humanity every single play. But, that is what we had to do, so we came up with the Bullfights. The Bullfights were one of my favorite drills of all time. We incorporated into the weekly defensive line preparation for the weeks where the defensive line had to up our game.

Bullfights

We place six  2” x 6” board about four to five foot long on the ground parallel to each other around five yards apart. The defensive linemen would match up in pairs of “similar’s”, or guys of similar size, age, aggressiveness, etc. One partner would line up in a three or four point stance, straddling the board at one end, while the other partner would do the same at the other end.  The pair would almost line up helmet to helmet in their stances to avoid a high velocity collision or to give advantage to the quicker lineman. On the whistle, the two would fire off the line and struggle for position and leverage while keeping one foot rooted on either side of the board. The goal was to drive the opponent either back off the board length or force the opponent to lose foot contact on both sides of the board.

We’d drill about 10 reps of this with the partner and then we would match up for an elimination tournament. The same basic setup and rules, except with the winners of each round move on while the losers had to work their way up a consolation bracket. In the end, there were only two remaining bullfighters slated for the finals.  Always fun, always exciting and always drove home the point of how we needed to play our defensive line position.

I wish I had a video of one of these competitions. They were so much fun. Making piles of humanity at the line of scrimmage…I do miss that horribly!

OLE’

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