By Jason Thier
University of Mary (ND)
When it comes to defensive football, there are base fundamentals that hold constant regardless of the era the game is being played in, the level at which it is being played, or the scheme that is being implemented. When we talk to our defensive players about these fundamentals, we are referring to the things that we get to control on defense. These are the components that the offense cannot dictate.
It all starts with the pre-snap fundamentals, like alignment and stance, that place the defense in a position to be successful before the ball is put into play. Once the ball is snapped, it is about being relentless in three basic fundamental groups:
- Getting Off the Ball: The fundamentals of a great first step and keys.
- Getting to the Ball, The fundamentals of pursuit and block destruction.
- Getting After the Ball: The art of tackling and taking the ball away from the offense.
Whether a player is on the line of scrimmage or playing in the secondary, these pre- and post-snap fundamentals must be present on every play in order for the defensive unit to have success. For this clinic report, I will focus on the post-snap defensive fundamental that often gets over looked, block destruction. I plan to outline how we teach our linebackers here at the University of Mary to attack and beat blocks and when we want them to “get dirty” vs “stay clean.”
Next to tackling, block destruction is the most important fundamental skill every linebacker must master. With the exception of when a linebacker is being read on an option play or RPO, a linebacker is assigned to be blocked by an offensive player on every run play. With the primary responsibility of linebackers being to stop the run, block destruction is a skill that must be practiced every day until it becomes an unconscious reaction by your linebackers. For the purpose of teaching, I break down block destruction into these simple parts; mentality, base, hit, and escape.
Block Destruction Mentality
It all starts with the mentality. They have to want to do it and they must build the mentality over time. Here are the coaching points we use to develop the mentality that we expect.
- “He comes, I come”: The linebackers must work to attack the blocker the same way they would attack a ball carrier.
- “Be a hammer, not a nail”: Linebackers must be the ones delivering the blow, not receiving it. We want to be able to see the body of the blocker jolted or rocked back upon contact. Block destruction takes a certain level of physicality in order to be successful.
- “Can’t go one for one with part time blockers”: If a running back or wide receiver is assigned to block a linebacker, it must take more than one of them to get it done. It is not ok to be occupied or blocked by part time blockers.
- “Holding doesn’t exist”: If a linebacker is being held it is because he is allowing himself to be held. It is our job to make it so obvious that the ref has to throw the flag.
Building the Base
The most important part to a linebacker beating a block is having the proper base on contact. Without a proper base when making contact the linebacker is likely to get over powered on the hit or not be able to escape. Nothing else matters if the base is not correct. Here is the proper base on contact coaching points:
- Feet should be shoulder width apart in a slight stagger no more than heel to toe relationship. The majority of your weight should be on the ball of the front foot.
- The near foot toward the blocker is in front with the toe pointed at the crouch. Your hips will follow the direction the front foot is pointing. If your toe is pointed to the outside of the blocker all your power on the hit will not transfer to the blockers body.
- The far foot away from the blocker should be back in the stagger. Your toe again should be pointed at the crouch of the blocker for the transfer of power on the hit.
- The linebacker needs to be in a low compact position ready to explode. There should be enough bend in the knees and waste to have the crown of the linebacker’s helmet just under the chin of the blocker. The chest should be over his toes, with his shoulders back.
Going hand and hand with building a good base is being able to get to that base off a full speed approach. A linebacker must be under control when attacking a blocker in order to finish with the proper base on contact. Attacking a block on a full speed approach is where most of the common base issues will occur. Here are a few of the most common base issues that we see: