Defensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen And The Run-Game Progression

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At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, we base out of the 4-2-5 defense. I am going to take you through our run game progression for defensive linemen and then talk about some different competition drills we use.

Defensive Linemen And Stance

The best way I’ve seen on how to teach stance was from Herb Grenke at Northern Michigan University. He called them Bench Starts. Players will first sit on the bench and set their feet in a heel-to-toe stagger, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing straight forward. By using the bench, it puts emphasis on setting their feet first. On command, the players will roll off the bench to a three-point stance putting 70 percent of their weight on their front hands. We want to maintain a good “Z” in the knee for power and maintain a flat back that is parallel with the ground. The opposite hand should be in a striking position near the headgear, to keep both shoulders square to the ground. From this stance, we will work on our first step, get-offs, and change of directions (COD’s) from under a Shoot/Cage to keep them low.

Defensive Linemen And Hand Placement

With our shaded positions, we teach hand down to the man you are shaded on. The down hand is called our Power Hand. This hand should hit the offensive lineman in his sternum with the heel of the hand. This hand is used to fight force with force. The “up hand,” in striking position, is called our Leverage Hand. This hand should hit the offensive lineman on the outside of his shoulder pad and is used as leverage to control that shaded gap. Since the hands are the two best weapons we have, we will work on hand placement and hand quickness in each drill.

Power Angles And Leverage Position

The analogy we use is “pushing a car.” As defensive linemen, we do not want to roll our hips but rather set our hips and core to maintain leverage and force. We teach this by using a “Three-Whistle Drill.” With a – man sled pushed up against a stationary object, the players will get into a good shaded stance. On the first whistle (Diagram 1), the players will take a proper 6-inch step in a good football position. On the second whistle (Diagram 2), they will strike the sled using their Power and Leverage Hands.

They must hold this position as the coach walks around and looks for good parallel feet placement, toes forward, “Z” in the knee, cupped back, Power and Leverage Hands at eye level, elbows slightly bent, and head and eyes looking through their gaps. The objective of this drill is to make them feel their power angles and what it feels like to be in a good leverage position. On the third whistle, the players will reset back into their stance.

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Pipes Progression

Once they understand the Leverage Position, the next step is to move laterally in that Leverage Position. To be effective defensive linemen, you must have good quick feet. Since defensive linemen are so close to the ball, most of the run game is played side-to-side in some fashion. The drill we use to teach this technique is called Pipes Progression. Coming from the frozen north, we use sawed-off hockey sticks (3 feet long) for our “Pipes.” This drill promotes using the upper body with good hands and creating controlled separation to eventually perform an escape move.

We work this drill down a marked line so the coach can tell who is getting reached or cut-off. First, hold the Pipe with normal distance of where your Power and Leverage hand would be on an opponent’s body. Alternate hands with your partner (Diagram 3).

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The player in dominant position (outside hand in the direction you are going – Player 1) is working on a Reach Block and the disadvantaged player (Player 2) is working on a Cut-Off Block. Cup your wrists under the Pipe like you are striking with the heels of your hand. Once both players lock up on the pipe with their hands, have them “Walk it out” to get into the leverage position that they ended with in the Three Whistle Drill. Eyes should be level with the pipe at all times.

Once they are both in a good leverage position, give the command to move laterally down the line (Diagram 4). They should move down the line with quick shotgun feet. No shuffling, hopping or crossing over feet. We teach them to shotgun their feet to maintain constant contact with their greatest force — the ground. If either of the two deviates from the line, they need to push-pull and work their feet double-time to recover.

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Next, throw out the pipes and lock up with your partner with your Power Hand on the sternum and Leverage Hand on the outside of the shoulder pad. Do the same drill down the line. After you teach your escape moves (Rip, Wipe, Throw and Go), you can add them at the end of this drill. As a coach, I stand behind and simulate a running back to make sure the player is looking through his gap to find the running back. Most players will want to look at the guy they are doing the drill with. Train them not to look at the offensive linemen but to trust their feel and see the ball carrier.

Competition Drills

We use three base competition drills with our defensive lineman during individual time. With these drills, we can really see who wants to compete and who has the physical and mental toughness that we are looking for. Divide the group into two teams so they are competing for their team and not just themselves. The three competition drills we use are the Leverage Drill, Wrestle Mania, and Capture the Flag.

Leverage Drill: The first of these drills is our Leverage Drill. This stems off our Pipes Progression. Two men lock up in a leverage position on an “A” line, each having a Power Hand and a Leverage Hand on each other’s body. On the whistle, they have 15 seconds to try and drive their opponent as far back as they can. We are basically working on the base block that we will see in an ISO scheme.

Wrestle Mania: We will take the shoulder pads and helmet off and simply wrestle. One man starts in the down position, one man in the wrestling “up” H position. On the whistle, we wrestle for 30 seconds
and use the wrestling scoring system. We do this to teach leverage as well as mental and physical toughness.

Capture The Flag: This is a pass rush competition where you set a stand-up dummy 7 yards from the line of scrimmage. One person simulates an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage and one person is set five yards back simulating a running back. The defensive linemen are against the clock to see how fast they can rush by two offensive blockers and touch the bag.

The author of this article, Clayt Birmingham, is head coach for the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Read his other articles.

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