The 6-Step Program to Building Master Level D-Linemen
By Ron W. Cook
Red Springs (NC) High School
Editors Note: Coach Cook is currently the Defensive Coordinator at Red Springs High School in Red Springs, NC. Prior to his position at Red Springs, Coach Cook coached All-Conference defensive lineman at Kentucky State University (2009), American International College (2005-2008), and Montclair State University (2003). During the 2008 season at American International College 3 out of 4 D-linemen were All-Conference and the nose was Defensive Lineman of the year. Placed 1st in the conference in rushing defense and ranked 3rd in the nation. Lead the conference with 43 sacks which ranked 4th in the nation.
For this report I decided to write about how I teach defensive lineman to be technicians and to be fundamentally sound, so they can become the best players that they can be physically and mentally. On the first day of pre-season camp I give the defensive line something I call the S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) for becoming a successful defensive lineman.
It is a 6-step program that is applied everyday but takes most defensive linemen three years to master. To identify who has reached a mastery level of the 6 steps you will see in the games and on film every step being properly executed on each play. This program also provides an outline for defensive line individual drills that are game related. I will also use the program to quiz the players throughout the year during workouts or practice by calling on a player and asking him what is step 3, and if he gives me the wrong answer he has to do 10 pushups on the spot. In my report below, I will break down the 6-step program to become a successful defensive lineman by giving examples of the drills that I apply to each step throughout the season.
Step 1: Assignment & Alignment
How to Teach Film Study: I once had a defensive backs coach tell me that the defensive line is the easiest position to play or coach on the field because all they need to know is when to go straight, left, or right. While I will admit that the defensive line has the least amount of thinking required before and after the snap when compared to defensive backs and linebackers, it does not mean that they are exempt from being mentally sharp and knowing their opponent any more than their defensive teammates. I believe that skill and athleticism can make a player a good defensive lineman, but good fundamentals and paying attention to detail can make an All-American!
Since the first season I began coaching I have always watched film with my players by teaching them what to look for in their opponent. During the season I have an opponent offensive line grade sheet that every defensive lineman must have finished by the day before the game. This sheet teaches defensive lineman how to study opponents blocking schemes by looking at the footwork of the offensive lineman, the blocking angles, contact off the ball, pass sets and more. One other important factor that the sheet helps the defensive line focus on is the quarterback’s exit strategy: which way does he like to scramble or where does he like to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure? Each defensive lineman will have to grade two offensive linemen that they will be lining up against. The defensive ends will typically grade the offensive tackles and tight ends and the defensive tackles will grade the center and guards. I will also use the same sheets to give my grade to the offensive line as a whole and to compare with the defensive line’s grades, so I can judge whether or not they are watching film the way they should.
The night before the game we will have a meeting where we go over the grades of each offensive lineman. I will call on a defensive end to give report his grades on the left tackle. Then I may call on a defensive tackle to give me his grades on the center and we will go around the room until we have talked about every offensive lineman we saw on film. This is beneficial in several ways, but what I have found to be the most important is that: the players sometimes see "play indicators" or hints from the o-line that I may have overlooked, the players start recognizing "special" formations or threats in a formation that could affect them, and it builds confidence in knowing their assignments and executing the game plan. In today’s world of technology, watching film has never been easier for coaches and more accessible to players. With NCAA regulations restricting the amount of time you can spend with your players this is a great way to monitor their film study and keep track of who wants to get better individually.
Step 2: Dominate Your Blocker
Stance: The key to teaching good technique starts with teaching GREAT fundamentals and GREAT fundamentals ALWAYS starts with a proper stance! Any good defensive lineman worth his salt will always be seen lined up in a good stance.
- Hands: On the first day of practice in the spring or summer we will always start with learning the proper stance in relation to the ball. What this means is that all defensive lineman on the RIGHT side of the ball will place their inside (left) hand down (hand closes to the ball). All defensive lineman on the LEFT side of the ball will place their inside (right) hand down. The hand that is down needs to be as close to the ball as possible without being off sides and in the neutral zone. The hand that is not down needs to be out in front of the knees and ready to fire from anywhere but the thigh. I will never allow a defensive lineman to "rest" his hand on his leg!
- Feet: "Same hand same foot," this is a phrase that I will use often when referring to stance, escapes, and pass rush. If the right hand is on the ground then the right foot is back and same goes for the left hand and left foot. No wider than shoulder width apart, I like for the toes of the foot that goes back to be even with the heels of the front foot (defensive tackles may be slightly closer). The knees should be bent enough where the defensive lineman’s rear end is comfortably pointed up in the air causing forward lean. The body pressure applied to the fingers of the down hand should be enough to make the defensive lineman fall forward if a coach came by and kicked his hand from out in front of him.
- Eyes: Every defensive lineman should be able to see the ball no matter where he is lined up. While seeing the ball he should also be able to see his man on key (O-lineman he is lined up on).
Get-Off & First Step: With the proper stance and eyes focused on the ball, the defensive line should be ready to "fire out of the blocks" as soon as the center moves the ball in any way.
- The First Step: Should match the down hand (same hand same foot) on the get off and replace where the down hand just left. This prevents false steps, stepping under yourself (crossing feet), and stepping too far. A good First Step is imperative in keeping balance and attacking the line of scrimmage. Once we establish the proper stance, get-off, and first step, we will begin our run block techniques with a progression of drills that isolate hands, feet, and get-off and then brings them all together to perform full escapes.
- The First Step on a Slant or Loop: The SLANT step (DE’s): Aiming point is the crotch of the lineman that you are slanting to. Step with the inside foot first and rip hard with outside arm while dipping the outside shoulder to get "skinny." Key the lineman that you are slanting to and get shoulders square as soon as possible.
The LOOP step (DT’s): SHOULDERS ALWAYS STAY SQUARE. Aiming point is the middle of the gap that you are looping to. The first step is with the foot closes to the direction in which you are looping. The first step must be flat and slightly up field while ripping hard with outside arm and shooting hands to the lineman you are looping to. Read the lineman you are looping to.
Drill #1: Knife & Loop Drill:
Purpose: To teach proper footwork and pad level when slanting and looping.
Equipment needed: A ball and 2 Agility bags and chute if available.
Setting up the drill: Place each agility bag under the chute. Make sure one bag is vertical and the other is on a 45 degree angle. The 45 degree bag is for DE’s and the vertical bag is for DT’s. Place the ball in between the bags.
Execution: One DE and one DT will line up shaded to the left of the bags in a proper stance. On the snap each