The most effective pass rush is the right combination of get-off, hand placement and hip angles. It is a progression that must be taught on a daily basis in order to achieve maximum efficiency.
By Mike Giancola
Defensive Line Coach
Bridgewater College (VA)
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For the most part, playing defensive line is a thankless job. Masterful hand and footwork are not sexy. Absorbing a double team to allow a teammate to make a tackle never shows up on a stat sheet. The grueling, physical, violent nature of the position and what is asked of it usually goes unnoticed by a majority of people that watch the game.
However, the one thing defensive linemen are asked to do that everyone sees is getting to the QB in the pass rush. This is where “the money is made” at the position, literally and figuratively. Sacks can turn the tide of a series, and win games at the highest levels (think Von Miller in Super Bowl 50).
The art of the pass rush is not something most players are able to just show up and do. It needs to be approached in a methodical and precise way. Here is a base overview of coaching the pass rush that yielded success for our defenses.
Initial Twitch Drills
The mentality of the defensive line is passing situations needs to be focused on the get-off at the snap of the ball. This starts not only starts with quick recognition of the snap, but also an explosive first step. The coaching points we use are to drive the knee to the chest and gain two yards in the first step with violent arm action to put stress on the offensive lineman.
Working quick twitch and explosion drills into individual periods every day can help with this. Below are examples of a couple of those drills we do:
The biggest mistake defensive linemen make in the pass rush is engaging an offensive lineman too early. Initially the focus should not be on the offensive lineman, rather on a spot beyond him we call the launching point. We believe if you can twitch and beat your man to that point you win, and you might not need to get hands on him at all.
Understand though, launching points are not the same for the entire line. The depth of the point differs between interior and exterior rushers. We use the language Interior and Exterior as opposed to Tackles and Ends because we utilize both the even and the odd fronts.
Interior Rushers: 1 yard wide x 2 yards deep of OL
Exterior Rushers: 1 yard wide x 4 yards deep of OL
While working to the launching point the defensive line should also be reading the shoulders of the offensive lineman. Same concept in terms of not getting hands on if you don’t have to. If you can get the man to open his shoulders and overset, take the inside right now.
Hand Fighting Drills
Hand fighting comes into play when both linemen have good leverage on one another and meet at the launch point. Since there are numerous hand fighting techniques, I’ll categorize them into two different types: Speed and Heavy.
Speed hand fighting encompasses all the moves that deliberately keep the hands of the offensive line off the defensive line. Creating drill progressions to practice these helps teach the concepts of each in compartmentalized ways.
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- Coaching points and film of the 3 EDDs that Coach Giancola will use to teach the “Twitch” in pass rush technique.
- Coaching points and film of the 2 EDDs that Coach Giancola will use to get his DL to understand varying QB launch points in pass rush technique.
- Coaching points and film of the 6 EDDs that Coach Giancola will use to teach separation in pass rush technique.
- Coaching points and film of the 4 EDDs that Coach Giancola will use to train the timing of the hips in pass rush technique.
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While there is no exact science to perfectly coaching the pass rush it is important to have a methodology in the approach to teaching it. Terminology might change from coach to coach and program to program, but the tenets of pass rushing remain the same: great twitch/get-off, maintaining a plan of action, defeating blocks, and creating angles to the QB. Let situation dictate technique, but ensure your pass rushers have the tools and knowledge they need to help you win when it matters most.
Meet Coach Giancola: Coach Giancola just completed his first season at Bridgewater College where the BC Pass rush came 2nd in the conference in sacks with 22. Before Bridgewater, he spent five seasons at Westfield High School (Chantilly, VA) as the Defensive Line Coach (3 seasons), Special Teams Coordinator (1 season), and Defensive Coordinator (1 season). Coach Giancola took the job at Bridgewater after helping Westfield win their second straight VA Class 6A State Championship (2015 and 2016).