By Tom Bass, Former NFL Coach, College Coach & Advisor For USA Football
Rushing across the line of scrimmage to blitz the quarterback or ball carrier is tremendous fun for a linebacker. It’s one of those freeing times where the blitzing LB gets to be the aggressor and go after the quarterback or ball carrier, instead of reacting to offensive blocks or dropping into pass coverage.
A LB may be called upon to blitz when the offense runs or passes the ball. When attacking the line of scrimmage against a running play, the blitzing LB should use the same block-progressions that he was taught to use from his normal alignment.
With the momentum of the blitz, the LB must use the fundamental defensive techniques that he’s been taught to defeat the various blocks. Blitzing against a running play is a great way to disrupt the blocking of the play, cause an offensive player to miss an assignment or force the ball carrier to alter his path – any one of which can often resulting in a tackle for a loss.
Against the pass, however, blitzing LBs must understand that getting a sack is not the only way to defeat a pass play. Forcing the quarterback to leave the pocket and run can cause a poor pass or at least force the pass into only half of the field. Rushing a QB who does not run, may force him to make the throw before the receiver becomes open.
Another way that a blitzing LB can influence a pass play is to anticipate when the QB is going to throw the ball. As the QB starts to throw, the blitzing LB must stretch his arms up to try to deflect or redirect the ball. Any or all three the previously aforementioned actions can result in a successful pass defense.
Blitzing means that the usual roles are reversed. When a LB defends against a running play, he usually reacts to the block that’s being used by the offense.
When an offensive lineman or running back sets up to pass block and the LB is on a blitz, however, the LB is the one making the moves and the offensive blocker is in the position of reacting to what the LB decides to do.
As a LB prepares to blitz, he must first anticipate when the offense is going to try to pass the ball. He concentrates on the ball and starts moving forward the instant that the center moves the ball. The blitzing LB identifies and defeats the offensive pass blocker and then accelerates to the QB.
Before working on pass-rush techniques, all LBs must practice and work on getting off the ball and sprinting to a target area – the target area being the place where he thinks that the QB will set up.
When practicing attacking a target area, the LB should get lots of repetitions of rushing from both sides of the ball.
Once a LB becomes good at coming off the ball on the snap and attacking the target area well (from both sides), he can then begin to learn several pass-rush techniques to defeat offensive blockers.
As the LB learns these pass-rush techniques, he should begin by walking through each technique, with the coach making certain that his movements and steps are correct. After he has mastered the correct form, the coach can instruct the LB to speed up his movements in preparation for working against a live blocker.
When coming on a blitz, the LB must be equally prepared to go up against a large offensive lineman, or a smaller-sized back.
On the snap, a blitzing LB must quickly determine who is assigned to block him. After recognizing the on-coming block, he must focus on using proper technique to defeat the blocker before going after the QB or ball carrier.
Vs. Blocking Running-Backs
When the blitzing LB recognizes that a running back has been assigned to block him on a pass play, he should quickly determine how to defeat the RB.
If the running back is short, one of the most effective ways to get around him is to utilize an “arm-over technique.” In the arm-over technique, the LB immediately…
- Squares himself with his blocker, by turning his chest to face the blocker’s chest. Once squared-up with the RB, the LB takes a short inside-step and moves his head to the inside (fakes) when he is two-steps away from the blocker.
- The LB then uses his outside arm and hand to hit the blocker’s shoulder pads – driving his shoulder and arm toward the blocker’s chest.
- The LB steps to the outside and brings his inside arm up and over the blocker’s shoulder, and drives his elbow into the blocker’s back, as he sprints past the blocker and toward the quarterback.
The goal of the bull-rush technique, however, is not to get around the blocker, but rather to drive the blocker back into the QB. By driving the blocker into the quarterback, the blitzing LB will disrupt and the QB’s throwing motion, and hopefully, forcing him to throw the pass before he is ready.
PHOTO 1: Bull-Rush Technique (a). As the blitzing LB reaches the blocker, he drives the palms of both hands into the blocker’s armpits. He pushes his arms forward and up, raising the blocker’s body up, and then back.
PHOTO 2: Bull-Rush Technique (b). The blitzing LB uses short, quick steps to keep the blocker off-balance and drive him backward, into the quarterback.
The LB continues to drive the blocker back until he either reaches the QB or the whistle blows. This type of rush is especially effective against an RB who is known for backing up toward the QB while blocking and never sets himself to stop the charge.
Bull-And-Jerk, Pass-Rush Technique
The bull-and-jerk pass-rush technique is a variation of the normal bull rush and should be practiced as a primary pass rush technique.
If a blitzing LB has had success in pushing the blocker back into the QB, the blocker may get frustrated and try to set his feet and lunge or “fire out” at him. The blitzing LB must be ready for this, and as he charges straight at the blocker, he must use the blocker’s own forward thrust against him and pull the blocker out of the way.
PHOTO A: Bull-And-Jerk Technique (1). On the snap, the blitzing LB must recognize if the blocker is going to set, and fire out toward him. As soon as he sees the blocker’s chest and helmet coming toward him, the blitzing LB grabs the front of the blocker’s jersey in both hands.
PHOTO B; Bull-And-Jerk Technique (2). Securing the jersey with both hands, the blitzing LB jerks or pulls the blocker’s body to one side.
PHOTO C: Bull-And-Jerk Technique (3). As the blitzing LB pulls to one side, he steps across the blocker’s body with the foot on the same side as the jerk, and drives past the blocker to the target area.