The physicality and violent plays are becoming obsolete. The defense must use every available method to disrupt, intimidate and attack the opposing team. One of the physical aspects that our team constantly teaches is the physical re-route of receivers, especially from the linebacker position.
By Keith J. McMaster
Crete-Monee High School (IL)
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Today’s version of football has become very restrictive when it comes to what a defense can or cannot do. The rules have trended towards more scoring and higher offensive output making the life of a defensive coordinator more and more complex. The physicality and violent plays are becoming obsolete. Therefore, the defense must use every available method to disrupt, intimidate and attack the opposing team. One of the physical aspects that our team constantly teaches is the physical re-route of receivers, especially from the linebacker position.
This oft-forgotten technique has huge benefits for our defense. A direct result of our physical play has been the decrease of passing yards per game and completion percentage while the sacks, interceptions, and pick-sixes have risen. This puts extreme pressure on an opposing offense when the receivers constantly need to alter routes and make the quarterback work harder and take longer for a single completion. Whether in press man or zone coverage, the main focus of our linebackers is physical re-routes to take away the middle of the field.
Before a linebacker can even think about re-routing a receiver, coaches must ensure his footwork is correct. Most teams work linebacker drops; however, this drill focuses on what happens when the linebacker meets the receiver in his zone after his drop. The linebacker's footwork must be in the proper position to strike and disrupt a defender.
To start the drill, begin with a linebacker and a receiver in close vicinity, if the linebacker has already read his keys, read the pass, and has dropped into his coverage. For setup, start with a receiver that is in a position to work through the linebacker zone. The linebacker begins on a 45-degree angle as if he’s working a hook to curl drop. However, to guarantee the defender is using his feet correctly, have him place both hands behind his back in an athletic position. This forces him to work on body positioning to control the direction of the receiver.
You can work two different routes with the receiver: a vertical route and an underneath route. On go, the receiver will attempt one of the two routes. For the vertical route, the linebacker works on maneuvering his outside hip to the receiver’s inside hip. The inside foot then walls off the inside, forcing the receiver outside. For an underneath route, the inside hip matches the outside hip of the receiver. It is followed by the linebackers outside foot stepping forward. Many times, this technique alone will cause contact and disruption with the receiver. Once the footwork has been accomplished, the strike and punch will follow.
Re-Route: Step, Strike, and Punch: Forcing Outside Release
In teaching re-routes to any of our defenders, our team always begins with the most basic of drills and build upon them until they resemble a game-like scenario. On go, the receiver works to run straight downfield while the linebacker works a re-route and release with both his feet and his hands.
The focus of the linebacker is to strike the receiver in the vicinity of the bottom of the breastbone with the heel of his hand nearest the receiver in an uppercut motion. The focus point helps to keep the linebacker’s eyes lower on the receiver, reducing the chance of being misdirected by head and shoulder motions. Striking with the outside hand brings the linebacker’s near hip to the receiver’s near hip. The next step for the linebacker is to punch or club the inside shoulder of the receiver and extend his arm, moving the receiver off his route. While extending the arm on the shoulder, a defender can drive the shoulder pads upwards, knocking the receiver off balance. After an aggressive re-route, the linebacker must square back up to the line of scrimmage with his head on a swivel for any new threats working into his zone. Often, the receiver will work to avoid contact and re-route himself. The linebacker must not lunge at any receiver that reroutes himself to keep himself in proper pass defense and square to the line of scrimmage.
The linebacker will work both right and left sides of his technique working the receiver outside of his route path. We build upon this same technique using the step and strike while adding running with the receiver for those times our linebacker is matched up with man coverage. When covering a receiver downfield, the drill will add in turning the linebacker’s body to match up with the receiver hip to hip. The hand that struck the shoulder will work down the receiver’s body to his hip to remain in contact.
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- Coaching points and film of the Step, Strike and Punch Drill to force an outside release.
- Coaching points and film of the Pass Drop and Re-Route Drill to leverage an underneath release.
- Coaching points and film of the Pass Drop and Re-Route Combination Drill uses to train LB’s to react from vertical release to underneath route.
- Coaching points and film of the Pass Drop and Re-Route Crossers Drill used to simulate communication between both hook defenders.
- Plus, practice and game film of all these techniques.
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Physicality is a game changer! No matter what defense you are running it is important to take advantage of rules that defense still has in their favor. Make sure to stress getting hands-on and re-routing at every chance we get. To perfect our techniques and intimidate receivers, we are physical at practice as well as 7 on 7's. Our main objective is to distract the receiver from catching the ball and switch his focus to his changing routes and not getting hit. The job is to have a physical play, disrupt the offense, and take away the middle of the field. Any action that takes a receiver longer to reach his destination or causes a quarterback to be hesitant is an advantage to the defense. Nothing fires up a defense more than a “pancake” of a receiver within the constraints of the rules.
Meet Coach Keith McMaster: Keith McMaster has finished his third year as the defensive coordinator at Crete-Monee High School with a record of 28-7 and has over seventeen years of high school coaching experience. During this time, he has helped with many clinics of organizations such as the National Football League, USA Football, and others.