Football Drills for the Defensive Lineman
- The defensive lineman makes contact with the opponent every time he is on the field. His physically demanding position requires tremendous focus, as he is always in the middle of the action
- According to football drills expert Tom Bass, defensive line drills should emphasize taking the proper stance, moving on the ball, defeating blocks and separating from blocks, and rushing the quarterback
- Defensive line drills can incorporate tackling drills and agility drills
Taking a Stance and Moving on the Ball
Taking the proper stance allows a defensive lineman to maximize his effectiveness. Taking a stance begins with the player standing with his feet pointing straight ahead and at shoulder width. Keeping his back straight and his head up, the lineman bends his knees until he is able to rest his forearms on the insides of his thighs. Then the defensive lineman puts his hands on the ground, just a bit ahead of his shoulders. The palms should be off the ground so that the player is leaning down on his fingers. If it is a passing down, the lineman may take a staggered stance. The foot that is closest to the ball is moved back so that the toes are even with the heel of the other foot. A good defensive line drill is to have the lineman practice getting into this stance and exploding forward when a coach in the center position moves the ball or moves his body.
How a defensive lineman moves on the ball depends on whether the defensive formation assigns him to control his position or penetrate an offensive gap. If he is controlling his position, his first step is a quick side step in the direction of his primary area of responsibility. If he is penetrating, his first step is a crossover step in the direction of the gap. The lineman should stay low while making his first step regardless of his assignment.
Defeating blocks is the key to success for a defensive lineman. He will encounter many types of blocks: drive, hook, angle, scoop, double team, trap, and lead. To defeat the drive block, the defensive lineman must have forward momentum and hit the offensive lineman below the shoulder pads. Then the defensive lineman points his helmet toward his assigned position and pushes the offensive lineman away by placing his hands on his opponent’s chest. In a hook block, the offensive lineman tries to drive his shoulder into the defensive lineman’s belly. The defensive lineman needs to get his arms extended so he can get his hands on his opponent’s shoulder pads and push him away. In an angle block, the defensive lineman is blocked by an offensive lineman who is not directly in front of him. The defensive lineman needs to take a short step toward this blocker, lean into him with a shoulder pad and strike at his chest with a forearm.
The scoop block and the double team block both involve two offensive linemen coming at one defensive lineman. The defensive lineman should strive to push away the first blocker with his hands and lean into the second blocker with a shoulder pad. If the defensive lineman can just create a pile of players in his area, he will have succeeded at clogging up the offense’s lines of attack. The trap block and the lead block involve blockers coming at the defensive lineman from some distance away. The defender needs to turn to face the blocker, line up his shoulder pads with the blocker’s shoulder pads, and strike out with one or both arms. A good drill to practice defeating the trap block has the defensive lineman lined up against three offensive linemen, with the defender facing the middle offensive lineman. The coach is in the offensive backfield and calls out the snap count. The tight end moves straight ahead, the offensive lineman in front of the defensive lineman moves to the inside, and the remaining offensive lineman pulls behind the second one and attempts to deliver a trap block against the defensive lineman. The defensive lineman begins by taking short, choppy steps forward as he would when meeting a drive or angle block. He then turns to meet the pulling blocker. At impact, he should thrust his outside forearm against the blocker’s face and chest.
Rushing the Quarterback
A defensive lineman can rush the passer in several ways. He can do a bull rush, which involves pushing his blocker straight back into the quarterback. If the blocker lunges at his feet, he can grab the blocker’s jersey and jerk him out of the way. In an outside rush, the defensive lineman steps to the outside of the blocker and uses his outside arm to push the blocker’s outside arm up or down and slide by stepping past the blocker with his inside foot. On an inside rush, the lineman takes a long step with his outside foot toward the inside arm of the blocker. The lineman lowers his outside shoulder and aims for the blocker’s inside armpit, lifting the blocker’s inside arm with his outside arm as he goes by. A basic pass-rush drill involves attacking a target area. The coach places a tackling dummy 7 yards behind the ball. Defensive linemen form a line beside the ball. The first lineman gets into a staggered stance. The coach yells “Hut!” and the lineman runs toward the dummy as fast as he can. The lineman should run toward the side of the dummy that is farthest from him.
Tom Bass has also developed drills for defensive backs, defensive linemen, running backs, and wide receivers, as well as other positions. His book Football Skills & Drills (Human Kinetics Publishers, 2004) provides more details on the drills described above as well as other drills for the defensive lineman, such as tackling drills and agility drills.
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