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By Matt Sutjak, Defensive Coordinator, Millersville University (PA)

It’s a known fact that most explosive plays come not just from missed tackles but poor pursuit angles by defenders. It’s the reason why Millersville University (PA) defensive coordinator Matt Sutjak created a list of the most common angles his defenders will be put in this fall and devised the drill work associated with those angles.

By Matt Sutjak
Defensive Coordinator
Millersville University (PA)
Twitter: @Coach_Sutjak

 

 

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At the conclusion of the 2016 football season, our coaches took an in-depth look at what we needed to improve upon as a defense preparing for the 2017 season. We quickly found that many of our missed tackles and “explosive” plays came from bad pursuit angles taken by our defenders. The film showed that our defense did not have enough of an understanding of pursuit angles and holding leverage. We created a list of angles that our athletes found themselves in often and made this our focus in fall training camp. We made sure to cut out time every practice to teach and rep pursuit angles.

Where is your help? This is the question we always ask our defenders when they are approaching the football. To understand a pursuit angle, the defender needs to know where he should be forcing the ball to if he misses the tackle or picks up a block. A great defense always knows where their help is.

 

Body

To increase repetition for our athletes, we did away with team pursuit drills. Since we were not taking time for team pursuit in practice drills, we had to be sure we were coaching it in team sessions. We coached the rules on the field and in the film room. We used meeting time to teach position pursuit responsibilities. All of our practice pursuit drills are either in a 1-on-1 scenario or a 2-on-1 scenario. This allows us to get a lot of reps in during a short time frame.

 

Perimeter Pursuit Progression (Inside-Out Leverage)

Diagram 1

 

With perimeter pursuit we are creating a scenario in which the offense is executing a perimeter run (i.e. outside zone, toss, speed sweep). Our defenders must hold inside-out leverage to the ball carrier. In this drill we ask the ball carriers to press the sideline and try to cut back inside of the defender. The defense needs to touch the near hip of the ball carrier without allowing the ball to cut back inside of them. Our coaching points to the defense are:

  • Close ground to the ball carrier as fast as possible
  • Within five yards of the ball, square your shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage.
  • Shuffle on a 45 degree angle to the ball carrier
  • Keep leverage on the inside hip

 

Tunnel Pursuit Progression (Inside-Out Leverage)

Diagram 3

 

We found that our defense struggled with wide receiver tunnel screens because we continuously over ran the ball carrier. Our guys did not understand how to approach the play and found themselves out of position. We implemented tunnel pursuit to correct these errors and saw immediate results in 2017. In this drill the QB throws the ball to a receiver standing on the numbers. Once the ball is thrown the defender heads on an angle to cut off the ball carrier from cutting vertically. In this situation, the defender’s help is outside of him. Our coaching points to the defense are:

  • Close ground on the ball carrier as fast as possible
  • Within five yards of the ball, square your shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage.
  • Shuffle on a 45 degree angle to the ball carrier
  • Do not let the ball carrier cross your face

 

Coaching Points:

When teaching proper pursuit, we have a couple common coaching points across the different angles that we focus on. The defender needs to cover ground as fast as possible. The more space the ball carrier has the more options he has available to make cuts and find seams in the defense. The defender needs to break down and get into a shuffle or shimmy within 5 yards of the ball carrier. This allows for adjustments in angles as the ball carrier tries to break leverage.  It also prevents the defender from crossing his feet and becoming off balance. From this point we begin teaching tackling techniques.

As coaches, we are always looking for game clips to pull out for our players that show these angles used in a game. Finding good clips of defenders being successful with the techniques will add validity to the drills. During fall camp we pull practice clips from the team sessions every day to show the defense. We mix in the bad clips to teach how improper technique led to a missed tackle. The more we preach the techniques, the more they show up on game day. 

 

 

Continue to the full-length version of this report...

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  • Coaching points and film of the Outside In Leverage pursuit progression, which is used to train force defenders to keep proper leverage on the ball carrier.
  • Coaching points and film of the Trail Pursuit progression, which is used to train defenders to eliminate cutback from ball carriers on sideline runs.
  • Coaching points and film of the Vice Pursuit progression, which trains defenders to understand where help is located in 2 on 1 tackle situations on the perimeter.
  • Coaching points and film of the Draw Vice Pursuit progression, which trains defenders to understand where help is located in 2 on 1 tackle situations in the tackle box.

 

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Conclusion

While the use of these drills has greatly improved our understanding of pursuit to the football, we have also seen improvement in our open field tackling. We are putting our athletes in a lot of 1-on-1 scenarios through these drills. As they improve the understanding of their leverage, they become better open field tacklers. We carry our vice pursuit drills over to vice tackling drills. This builds our progression into being a fundamentally sound defense.

I firmly believe that repetition is the key to having great pursuit. The more reps we can get at these drills the better our defense will be on Saturday afternoons. It is important to coach the ball carriers on what you are trying to get out of the drill. This way they can give you a proper look to push the defenders to be discipline. When we set these drills up in practice, we run them at rapid speed to assure we get a lot of reps in a small timeframe. We coach the athletes quickly and move on to the next rep.

 

Meet Coach Sutjak: Matt Sutjak currently serves as defensive coordinator at Millersville University in the PSAC Conference. He held the position of interim head coach through the 2018 spring season. Sutjak is entering his sixth year at Millersville and 3rd as defensive coordinator. Prior to Millersville he coached at the University of Rhode Island and Lycoming College. Throughout his career he has coached all defensive positions.

 

 

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