Football camps are opening all over the country this week, so XandOLabs.com is presenting its weekly series on troubleshooting offensive and defensive concepts. The most successful coaches are anticipatory, not reactionary, so our goal is to provide you with how you can protect your schemes and fundamentals against the various ways in which your opponents will try to take them away this season. We know that you have the time to research information in-season, so we are doing the work for you. Our first installment is a contribution by made by former NFL offensive lineman and owner of safefootball.org Scott Peters who uses various Mixed Martial Arts leverage techniques to teach offensive lineman the most efficient way to defend against the two most popular power moves- the long arm technique and the bull rush. The bull rush and long arm technique continue to be used by dominant pass rushes at all levels because it forces offensive lineman to do two things: terminate their posture and disrupt their rhythm of using their hands and feet. Peters uses these six techniques to not only protect lineman from the bull rush, but discourage pass rushers from using it on a consistent basis.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manger
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Scott Peters spent seven years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants before launching Fight Ready, a Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona where he trained the likes of Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar. He has since started the “Tip of the Spear” leverage program, which incorporates MMA leverage techniques to help offensive linemen in the use of run and pass blocking. Peters’ program has been implemented by over 400 football programs at every level. His methods have been touted by former NFL offensive line coaches Jim McNally and Bob Wylie every year at the C.O.O.L. clinic in Cincinnati. He begins our in-season trouble shooting series with a Q and A with X&O Labs Senior Research Manager Mike Kuchar on techniques that offensive linemen can use to protect themselves against the ever-popular and ever evolving bull rush.
MK: Why did you decide to start safe football? What motivates you to spread this information to football coaches?
SP: I love football and what it can offer to young athletes developmentally. Concussions and sub-concussive head trauma remains a serious threat to the game’s future, but more importantly, the welfare of the young men who play it. I had a lot of unnecessary concussions when I played due to poor or limited technical information available to me, and I feel strongly about raising the collective level of knowledge to bring confidence back to the game. Ultimately Safe Football exists to empower players to take safety into their own hands through the development of superior technical skill, and this can only be achieved through the leadership of coaches.
While the public waits for answers from doctors, helmet companies and football organizations, Safe Football has teamed up with the true leadership (football coaches) to influence necessary changes to protect the game and its players. We believe this is particularly important at the youth and high school levels, where the majority of football is played.
Through my experiences in MMA, I discovered certain movement patterns and postures that yielded exceptional strength of the body, which indirectly correlates to football. In 2011, I began developing football techniques based on those leverage principles, emphasizing the use of hands to transfer force by using the body as it was designed to move from a biomechanical standpoint.
In 2012 and 2013, I was hired by the University of Washington to teach their players my techniques (and drills), which were later credited by the coaching staff for their success on both sides of the ball. In 2013, running back Bishop Sankey set the single season rushing record in school history, and in the same year the athletic trainers confirmed zero reported concussions or neck stingers among their offensive and defense linemen; the first time this has happened in recorded history according to UW medical personnel.
Although “bigger, faster and stronger” is still the mainstream approach to player improvement in the off-season, more and more teams, coaches and organizations from youth to the NFL are recognizing the need for football specific skill development. Over 400 coaching staffs from youth and high school to the NFL have adopted the Safe Football curriculum, which provides them a detailed and comprehensive technical instruction plan along with over 200 drills designed to expedite skill development. With the constant advancements in technology, it seems we've lost sight of the importance of human interaction and hands on teaching. Safe Football is here to partner with coaches in every community where football is played to advance technical mastery to save the Game of football and to do it on our terms in a proactive manner, as opposed to accepting undesirable policy.
Mike Kuchar (MK): Why do you think the bull rush move continues to be a popular move among pass rushers at all levels of football?
Scott Peters (SP): Great question; there are a couple of reasons the bull rush is still a staple move for players at all levels. The first reason is its simplicity as a pass rush. I think youth, high school and many college players use the bull rush because they lack the technical know-how to win using finesse moves. In the case of less experienced defensive linemen, they know there are 3 potential routes to the quarterback: 1. Left 2. Right or 3. Down the middle. The bull rush is the most obvious pass rush for most beginners, and it is for this reason it is widely used at all levels. The second reason the bull rush remains a popular move is because it works. Take for example two inexperienced players of equal size, strength and athletic ability (one offensive and one defensive lineman), and line them up in a 1 on 1 pass rush drill. Who wins? Defenders have the advantage of momentum and vision into the backfield when it comes to 1 on 1 pass rush situations. Offensive linemen are asked to stop penetration from a charging defender while doing a glorified backpedal, and this takes a high degree of skill, which in turn takes knowledge and time to develop, also giving rise to the popularity of the bull rush.
The third reason the bull rush remains a popular move is understood by higher level defensive linemen, and that it is used to set up pass blockers for speed or finesse moves. I teach defensive linemen to develop explosive, shocking power with their hands before developing advanced finesse or disengagement techniques, because of the physically and psychologically disruptive threat it presents to offensive linemen. I think of the bull-rush like a fastball in baseball. It's the first pitch a pitcher learns. If you have a good fastball, you can add a curve, slider, or change-up. When a pitcher comes with a high velocity fast ball, the batter has to get everything moving a little faster to initiate his swing and get the bat around. A hitter has to hold his water when he sees the change up or curve ball, which is difficult to do. This is paralleled with the pass rusher who shows a formidable power rush early in a game. The typical outcome from offensive linemen is loss of balance and posture to combat the power. Intuitively, pass blockers will lean on defenders when attempting to stop their bull rush, opening the door for other moves. This is the synergistic value of having a multidimensional repertoire of pass rush moves.
JJ Watt is one of, if not the best, all around defensive lineman if the NFL, and his success starts with power rushes. Watt has an explosive bull rush and long arm technique that strikes fear into offensive linemen, resulting into the disruption of posture, and making all speed and finesse moves that much more effective when employed, much like a pitcher who throws a 101 mph fastball, and follows up with a 90mph slider; the bottom line is, its hard to deal with. Watt gets blockers to lean, overset, catch, underset, and sometimes trip over their own feet, and it all comes back to his bull rush and long arm set ups. We have all seen a hitter lose his posture and get caught on his heels or toes with a good change up or curve ball, and you don’t have to look too hard to see an offensive tackle lose his posture when a defensive end changes up the timing of his rush. The best bull rushers are those who change the speed and timing of their rush, letting the offensive linemen “soften” themselves before contact. Offensive linemen want to engage rushers ASAP. They don't like space and time before contact on pass protection because it forces them to hold their water in perfect posture, while a defender has time to generate momentum while observing technical mistakes and activity in the backfield. It is for each of these reasons the bull rush is a staple of pass rushers at every level of football, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
MK: What are the most important mistakes offensive linemen make when trying to block a bull rush move?
SP: I would say the first and most obvious mistake players are making is failing to protect himself. The boxer who fails to protect his chin isn't going to have a good day in the ring. He's inviting his opponent to strike the most vulnerable area of his body, and this is no different for offensive linemen who fail to protect their chest. We know that a defender will only strike a target he can see. The center of the sternum is the most vulnerable surface when it comes to landing the bull rush. We can limit our exposure to this rush if we simply carry our hands in the “guard” position, allowing us to strike and defend the power rush. Holding our hands in guard also dictates where the defender will land his strike on us (above the sternum). This automatically provides us with a pre-determined leverage advantage since we will be striking from low to high.
Offensive linemen who struggle with the bull rush typically fall into two categories: catchers and leaners. “Catchers” don't trust their feet or their hands (ultimately their posture) and they try to “absorb” defenders by inviting them to stick their hands down the center of their chest. This may work for some players who have the physical mass to get away with it, but I liken it to the fighter who relies on his “tough chin” to win a fight. Being a “pin-cushion” for abuse may work in the short run, but it's not a sustainable solution in the long run, and I don't recommend it. “Leaners” are strikers, who take a more aggressive approach to confronting the bull rush. Leaners don't have the technique or the confidence to maintain a balanced posture when punching defenders. Leaners are usually those who haven't developed a sound tool box of counters to stop a bull rush, so they try to thwart pressure by leaning, or coming in too heavy with their hands and as a result their hips lock and they are subject to getting pulled or beat with secondary disengagement moves or hands slaps and chops.
MK: What specific component of the bull rush does the corkscrew technique negate? In what instances should an offensive lineman use the corkscrew technique?
SP: The Cork-Screw is a perfect counter to negate the Long Arm when a defender’s hand lands on the mid to high sternum. This shares many of the same principles that make the Fork technique effective, in that it is designed to lift a defender to redirect pressure, while also attacking the elbow joint to discourage continued attempts. I call this technique the “Cork-Screw” because the arm should perform the tightest possible spiral, weaving underneath the defender’s triceps while also pinning his hand into your own armpit to secure the finish. This technique is very effective, but the response must be immediate once a defender has landed the Long-Arm. If you allow him to generate momentum after initial contact, it may be too late.
MK: What specific component of the bull rush does the knife technique negate? In what instances should an offensive lineman use the knife technique?
SP: The Knife is just nasty. I don't think this technique is an essential, but it’s nice to have if you want to discourage the power rush and win the war of attrition over the course of a game. The Knife operates on two principles: it disconnecting pressure (dropping defender’s center of gravity) and it attacks the radial nerve, a pressure point that affects the small muscles and tendons of the hands and arms. The knife is a single arm trap (or chop), and it works best when it lands on the radial nerve located on the lateral side of the forearm just below the elbow joint. If you are getting a steady diet of the Long-Arm, the Knife technique is a good option, especially when the defender’s hand is fit on your low sternum. It is important to note, that this technique is best when you don't raise your arm before chopping down. This will inevitably raise your center of gravity, and could result in you getting run over. I also do not ever recommend using the Knife with both hands simultaneously. We need to maintain pressure on the defender with at least one hand at all times.
To see a video tutorial of the Cork-Screw and Knife Technique, click on the video below:
See the Hop, Cuff, Fork and Cup Techniques…
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Here’s a sample of what you’ll find in the full-length version of our exclusive interview with Scott Peters…
- Why Peters teaches the Hop Technique at 45 degree angle and recommends it when pass rusher’s hands are at the mid to high sternum range.
- How the Cuff Technique, which is used as a variation to the hop, can be used when pass rusher’s hands are below the sternum.
- The Fork Technique, a spin-off of Jiu Jitsu technique, used to lift defenders when pass rushers hands come in high.
- The Cup Technique used to attack the trachea of shorter armed pass rushers and get them off-balanced in their rush.
- VIDEO: Watch detailed video that shows these techniques.
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Conclusion: Scott Peters
I recommend drilling this technique (and the other techniques within this series) routinely if you want to successfully prevent, defeat and ultimately discourage the Bull Rush or Long Arm. Scott Peter’s entire catalog of run blocking and pass blocking techniques, including his leverage series and compilations he’s worked on with legendary NFL offensive line coach Jim McNally, can be found here.