Getting home on a dual threat quarterback can be a mammoth task for a defensive front, Rush lanes and QB’s aiming points are vital for an effective pass rush. This is why Rhode Island defensive line coach Joe Coniglio gives his front four separate landmarks for both interior and exterior rushers and does so by using what he calls “vacant square” and “inside square” aiming points for interior rushers and tackle set line aiming points for exterior rushers. These aiming points translate into specific rush moves. In this exclusive clinic report, Coach Coniglio also details how he teaches his pass rush games, which happen organically when players uses these aiming points, which helps keep a symmetrical rush once defenders get out of their lanes. Read Coach Coniglio’s clinic report here.
By Joe Coniglio
Defensive Line Coach
University of Rhode Island
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At the University of Rhode Island we want to develop our defensive line as a unit based off cohesion and trust. In passing situations, we will disrupt QB rhythm with a pre-snap plan (straight rush or game). Our unit will be master communicators, giving us the best opportunity to rush the passer as a group. We will be active, violent pass rushers who play with effort and a relentless motor. Our objectives are to have a winning get off, work a pass rush every snap, and counter (at QB level) to keep him in the pocket. We believe if we do these three things, it will equal success.
The underlying principle of Rhode Island defensive line play is 'stimulus response' (get off). This is the speed of our reaction when our visual target moves. This principle is used on every snap. Our goal is to have the best "get off" in the country. In passing situations we teach our players to rush on 'their terms', which simply means to make the offensive lineman make a decision before he is prepared to. With this, we must stress the offensive lineman with speed and make him reactive to us. Every week we will identify what moves first on an offensive lineman, or a cue from an offensive player and focus on it the entire week. That is what we consider our 'weekly target'. There will be certain instances when we will key the football such as in silent counts or when the offensive lineman is slow out of his stance. Once our target moves or the ball is snapped, we will race and attack half-a-man taking a course to the QB. A great 'stimulus response' gives us the opportunity to rush on our terms. This forces the offensive lineman to give us his hands. In turn, we will work a violent move that highlights our strengths as a pass rusher. We take our numbers (his aiming point) away and flip our hips working them towards the QB. There are two ways to flip our hips, skate our feet or step our back foot in front of our lead foot helping us to direct our body. We will then accelerate to our aiming point on the QB.
Individual Pass Rushing Technique
Pass rush lanes are crucial to our development as an affective pass-rushing group. Once we understand the how to create an even pass rush we must focus on our development as individuals. Teaching our inside players and outside players to rush the passer are completely different teaching progressions. Our base belief is that defensive tackles (inside) are set on a horizontal plane and our defensive ends (outside) are set on a vertical plane in passing situations. With this, nothing changes in terms of their stimulus response and their active, violent get off. Instead, we understand that the defensive tackles must defeat a quick/horizontal sets rather than soft/vertical sets.
Our defensive ends use a different principle called the 'tackle set line' (Diagram 4). The 'tackle set line' goes from the defensive ends down hand to the up field shoulder of the QB. The defensive end will race to a spot that is 4 yards behind the outside foot of the offensive tackle. Racing to this spot helps us to create a consistent course towards the QB. Our defensive ends will make a decision once they get to the spot. If the lineman crosses the setline, we will work an inside move, however, if they have stayed inside the setline we will work an outside move. Again, this principle starts with 'stimulus response'. We will race to 'the spot' and make the offensive tackle make a decision before he is prepared to. We begin our teaching progression with a club rip (speed rushers) or post club (power rushers). I teach our speed rushers their outside hand must strike the offensive lineman's outside elbow. As soon as we club, they drop their inside shoulder and grab grass. As they accelerate to the QB, they will drive a rip (inside hand) to the sky, naturally taking them to the QB. Our power rushers will start by using a long arm or post prior to their club. Our coaching point is that one arm is longer than two, therefore, they violently punch their inside arm to the offensive tackles outside shoulder pad. The violence of the post will cause the offensive lineman to lean back into us. As he does this we will club his outside elbow with our outside arm, finishing the move with a rip or swipe.
When the offensive lineman crosses the tackle set line we execute two different maneuvers that counter his set. We can either execute a hump move or a spin. A hump is executed by planting our outside foot in the ground, disengaging our rip/swipe and clubbing his inside triceps. The coaching point I use is 'take him where he is going'. This move is generally for stronger more physical rushers. Secondly, a spin can be executed by sinking our hips and violently throwing our outside hand to ice pick the offensive lineman's kidney. To do this we must pin the offensive lineman's inside leg with our far leg as we gain ground. This move is generally for faster, more athletic rushers. We believe there is always a correct decision to be made when rushing the passer.
Unit Pass Rush Teaching Progression
On the defensive line, we are only as strong as our weakest link in all phases of our play, especially rushing the QB. Our defensive line will rush together (4 as 1) accentuating each other's strengths and weaknesses, which helps to give us the best chance at disrupting the passer. Our communication will enhance our ability to rush as a group and be cohesive. Players will be expected to know their own, as well as each other's strengths and weaknesses, giving us the best opportunity to get to the passer together.
In the initial teaching process, the defensive line must understand defensive line rush lanes (Diagram 7). In the simplest terms, our players must understand are that there are two inside rush lanes and two outside rush lanes. We want to keep the QB in the pocket.
Pass Rush Games ('You Game')
The last way to get to an even pass rush is by running a pass rush game.
Our pass rush games are designed to do the following things:
- Conflict offensive linemen
- Foul up blocking assignments and throwing lanes
- Help with screen and draw
- Confuse the passer with moving people
These games are critical to the success of defensive line play. To run them effectively, we believe they are based off eyes, hands, and feet. In these particular games, the defensive end is the communicator. When the defensive line runs a 'you game' the defensive end talks to defensive tackle (you) determining that the defensive tackle is first (penetrator) in the pass rush game. The defensive end then becomes second (scrapper). This is how we teach a 'you game.’
What You’re Missing…
Join X&O Labs’ Insiders, an exclusive membership-based website, and get instant access to the full-length version of this report. Plus, if you sign up today, we’ll send you up to 4 FREE books. Here’s just a short list of what you’re missing in the full-length version…
- The Vacant square principle that Coach Coniglio uses to teach his interior defensive linemen the proper rush point.
- The aiming points Coach Coniglio uses to teach inside rushers and outside rushers in a four-man rush.
- The rules of both the penetrator and scraper in his pass rush games and how he teaches them to work off each other in slide protection.
- Why he uses the near hip of the tackle as an aiming point for the defensive tackle and how the teaches the “ricochet” technique to get back to the QB’s up field shoulder in “natural pass rush games.”
- BONUS: Plus narrated game and practice film on these teaching points.
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These are some of the tools and coaching points we use at Rhode Island to successfully rush the passer. These techniques are valuable when containing a QB in the pocket and eliminating escape alleys for QB's to run through. We must have 4 players using great communication at all times to eliminate the dual threat from a QB. We must work together to create a vicious and successful rush understanding that the offensive line cannot block us, only "we" can block us.