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By Zach Watkins, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers, Washburn University (KS)

With the advent of RPOs and quick screen tags, most offenses perimeter game have become a “see it, take it” philosophy where if a coordinator (or quarterback) sees a numbers advantage, even if the numbers are even, the ball is out. Which is why it’s becoming more important now for defensive coaches to teach their back end to properly get off blocks. If done correctly, this can provide for a plus one advantage on the ball carrier. Washburn University (KS) co-defensive coordinator Zach Watkins provides the drill work he uses to teach his secondary and linebackers to destruct against stalk blocks, cut blocks (physical and launching) and two on one blocks. Read this clinic report here.


By Zach Watkins
Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers
Washburn University (KS)
Twitter: @Zach_Watkins

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The offenses that we face weekly in the ultra-competitive MIAA conference are great at attacking the edge. Whether that be running the ball outside, throwing bubbles, utilizing their screen game or RPOs, block destruction on the edge is extremely important. With up-tempo offenses hitting the edge quickly and getting the ball out in space, it often becomes a numbers game. If the offense feels they have a numbers advantage, they will try to exploit it. With that mindset, we feel that we have to win some 1 on 1 battles on the edge to successfully defend these plays. We also teach proper pursuit angles through drills and practice as well as tackle leverage on the ball carrier from the pursuit players. We ultimately feel that defeating blocks on the edge and out in space are what helps us effectively defend these plays.

Attacking the Ball

Before we teach block destruction techniques, we will teach how to properly run to the ball to put ourselves in the best position to make the tackle. As we teach proper pursuit angles with drills and in practice, our “cup” tackle begins to show its’ effectiveness.  In our daily tackle/turnover circuit, or in specific individual time, we will work on our “cup” tackle. I’ve heard people also call this inside-out tackle, vice tackle, etc. We teach our players that there will always be 3 types of players in a tackle:

  • The force tackler - Outside-in tackler who turns the ball back inside. The force tackler will usually be a CB, S, or LB who begins the play outside of the box.
  • The pursuit tackler - Inside-out tackler who does not let the ball cut back. The pursuit tackler will be someone running inside out to the ball, usually a LB or DL.
  • The apex tackler - Over the top of the ball tackler who must make the play if the ball gets to him (Diagram 1). The apex tackler will always be someone staying over the top of the ball, usually a DB (high safety or CB).


By teaching the players to understand which type of player they are in any given tackle, they can understand where their help is and where they must position themselves to make the tackle. We will utilize a tacking/pursuit circuit to effectively teach the defenders which part of the cup tackle that they are assigned to fulfill.

Below is our “Cup” tackle pursuit drills.  We begin with just the pursuit tackler keeping a good inside out path.  We will progress into adding the force tackler.  Then we will progress by adding the apex tackler.  This way the players can understand in a logical progression which part of the cup tackle they are. (bottom right corner of the field)

We spend significant individual time working proper techniques for block destruction, tackling, and pursuit angles. We will practice WR stalk blocks, edge cut blocks, and multiple block destruction drills. We practice with each position doing these types of drills because we will often walk an LB out of the box and now he must be doing the same thing a DB usually does. A simple, early season drill like this one is used to be physical on the blocker while having active feet and hands to create space to make the tackle out on the edge.

Next Step…

Join X&O Labs’ Insiders, an exclusive membership-based website, and you’ll get instant access to the full-length version of this report—including access to everything X&O Labs has ever published. Plus, if you join today, you’ll also receive up to 4 FREE books mailed directly to your home or office. Here’s just a small sample of what you’ll find in the full-length version of this report:

  • Video and coaching points of the “Block and Shed Drill” that Coach Watkins uses to teach his defenders to destruct one on one and two on one blocks.
  • Video and coaching points of the half-line drill that Coach Watkins uses to teach his Nickel in his 4-2-5 scheme to defeat blocks on the edge.
  • Video and coaching points of the “Defeat 3”block destruction drill that Coach Watkins uses to train his defenders to destruct blocks on the perimeter.
  • Video and coaching points of the “Shock and Shed” block destruction drill that Coach Watkins uses to teach his back end to defeat one on one stalk or cut blocks.

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As offenses have evolved into counting defenders and utilizing RPO packages, we must be more sound in our techniques of how to defeat blocks on the edge and out in space. If we can defeat blocks in space on a consistent basis, we feel that these types of offenses will be limited in what they can do. We also think that utilizing circuits, full defensive pursuit drills, and use of individual time are all necessary to effectively practice these types of situations.

Meet Coach Watkins: Former Ichabod All-American Zach Watkins returned to the Washburn sidelines in spring 2014. He served as the Co-Defensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Safeties coach in 2014, before making the move to Co-DC/STC/Linebackers in 2015. From 2011-2013 he was an assistant coach at Fort Hays State where he was Special Teams Coordinator, coaching the defensive line for two seasons and the inside linebackers for one. Watkins spent one season as a graduate assistant at Northwest Missouri State coaching linebackers prior to joining the Tiger coaching staff. He has coached six Ichabods to all-MIAA honors.

Key Statistics: Washburn finished the 2015 season ranking in the top 4 in the MIAA in sacks gained, rushing defense and total defense.  Washburn was 3rd in the MIAA in interceptions for TDs and 2nd in return yards per interception.  WU finished 5th overall in pass defense efficiency. 



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