Long stick (double gap) movements are synonymous with zone pressures, yet it’s a technique that often goes under coached. So, leave it to J.J. Watt’s former prep coach Clay Iverson, now the head coach at Mukwonago High School (WI), to break down the long stick technique in his clinic report.
By Clay Iverson
Head Football Coach
Mukwonago High School (WI)
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From the flex bone to four wide, double tight to empty, or up-tempo to shifts and trades; developing a pressure package that is both effective and sound week-to-week is becoming more and more difficult. All challenges aside, there is an answer. For us, it starts with solid zone coverage and the ability to bring 5 or even 6 man attacks that you can use week in and week out is one way to keep improving daily. This prevents the “defense of the week” approach that will inevitably be a recipe for disaster.
At Mukwonago High School (WI), we have hung our hat on multiple zone pressures. Pressures that are installed in mini-camps and pre-season that we feel comfortable with against any offense we see throughout the course of the season.
Long Stick Technique:
While we have a variety of zone pressures, from double inside backer, inside/outside backer, safety and corner zone pressures, it all starts with our ability to use one or more of our defensive linemen in a long stick technique. Like many of you, we define a long stick as a stunt where a defensive lineman must cross multiple gaps. We practice this technique daily in multiple periods with our defensive linemen. Here are our long stick rules and coaching points:
Performance Alignment: Because the defensive linemen have to travel longer than a traditional slant, they may need to adjust their stance. These adjustments include backing off the ball, narrowing their stance, or moving to a head up to inside eye alignment. These changes vary based on the player as they all need to use their own abilities to get to where they need to be. We have found some of our quicker or longer leg players prefer to line up wider. This adjustment makes them travel further; however this gives them more of a chance to read their keys and adjust on the run.
Eyes: Once aligned, the long stick defensive lineman must have his eyes focused on the near hip of the adjacent offensive linemen.
Why We Add Zone Pressures Behind the Long Stick:
Using the long stick technique properly can open up your pressure package. We base out of a 3-4, but the pressures we use we have taken from multiple defenses both odd and even. We do prefer zone pressure for a number of reasons.
- It allows us to hold our safeties longer then in man pressures and does not tip our hand to the offense.
- The flexibility of these pressures allows us to bring it from anywhere (field, boundary, strong, weak, to a back, away from a back, etc.) because we are playing zone behind it.
- The zone coverage makes it is easy to check the blitz another direction or let the players call the direction based on an offensive tendency.
- It helps us avoid bad matchups.
- There is less checking out of pressures, which take away the offense’s power to dictate.
- It allows us to drop down a safety for a bonus player and still be sound in coverage
- It helps our kids play fast and have success.
Switch Zone Pressure:
This is a common blitz, but the key is the coaching points and the players understanding their keys and pressure techniques. Once everyone knows the stick, search and seal techniques, you can add as many zone pressures you feel needed.
The simplest way to create an entire new pressure with little teaching is by adding a switch call. This switches the search player to seal player in a given pressure. We really like this against option teams and to the TE side.
Here are a few examples:
Against a TE, we ask a first level search player from the outside (switch call) to read the EMLOS. If he gets a base or out block, he must beat that player inside a down block and come flat down line of scrimmage. In the example below (Diagram 6), you will notice that the other defensive linemen will work away from pressure as always.
In this example, EMLOS blocks down. This tells the search player (the OLB due to switch call) to come off the hip at a flat angle. The blitz side ILB now has a tight seal path keeping the ball inside.
What You’re Missing…
Join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders, and get instant access to the full-length version of Coach Iverson’s report. Here’s just a short list of what you’re missing in the full-length version…
- How Coach Iverson teaches the first three steps of the long stick technique and why the “second step” is the most important footwork.
- How the defensive lineman can still cancel his gap if the adjacent lineman’s hip goes away.
- How Coach Iverson teaches the “search player” whose responsibility is to attack the offensive tackle that the stick player has stunted away from.
- Why the defensive end on the opposite side of the pressure can be taught to seal off of both sides of the formation to insure the ball gets run in the box.
- How you can build in two long-stick defenders in your zone pressures.
- VIDEO: Watch Coach Iverson’s game file of these long stick techniques and the pressures that correlate with them.
Zone pressures are nothing new, but we think that focusing on the long stick, search, and seal techniques, you can create a very diverse system that will work against any team. Obviously it is one thing to call or draw up a play, but the ability to teach it, practice it, and have your athletes perform it at a high level is another thing entirely. We think this concept allows us to do all of that better because it is simple and versatile.
Meet Coach Iverson: Clay Iverson is currently the Head Football Coach at Mukwonago High School where he just finished his tenth year running successful programs. During that time, he has compiled an 80-29 record, won four conference titles, and has 10 straight playoff appearances with four quarter-final appearances and a final four appearance in 2013. Coach Iverson has also been District and County Coach of the Year twice. He previously held the Head Coaching job at Pewaukee High School, where he still holds the record for most playoff wins, and best overall winning percentage. At Pewaukee, he was the prep coach of NFL star J.J. Watt.