Individual and Unit Pass Rush Teaching Progressions

Nov 13, 2015 | Pass Rush Mechanics, Position Groups, Defensive Line

By Joe Coniglio
Defensive Line Coach
University of Rhode Island



rhodeislandAt the University of Rhode Island we want to develop our defensive line as a unit based off cohesion and trust. In passing situations, we will disrupt QB rhythm with a pre-snap plan (straight rush or game). Our unit will be master communicators, giving us the best opportunity to rush the passer as a group. We will be active, violent pass rushers who play with effort and a relentless motor. Our objectives are to have a winning get off, work a pass rush every snap, and counter (at QB level) to keep him in the pocket. We believe if we do these three things, it will equal success.

Our Edge

The underlying principle of Rhode Island defensive line play is 'stimulus response' (get off). This is the speed of our reaction when our visual target moves. This principle is used on every snap. Our goal is to have the best "get off" in the country. In passing situations we teach our players to rush on 'their terms', which simply means to make the offensive lineman make a decision before he is prepared to. With this, we must stress the offensive lineman with speed and make him reactive to us. Every week we will identify what moves first on an offensive lineman, or a cue from an offensive player and focus on it the entire week. That is what we consider our 'weekly target'. There will be certain instances when we will key the football such as in silent counts or when the offensive lineman is slow out of his stance. Once our target moves or the ball is snapped, we will race and attack half-a-man taking a course to the QB. A great 'stimulus response' gives us the opportunity to rush on our terms. This forces the offensive lineman to give us his hands. In turn, we will work a violent move that highlights our strengths as a pass rusher. We take our numbers (his aiming point) away and flip our hips working them towards the QB. There are two ways to flip our hips, skate our feet or step our back foot in front of our lead foot helping us to direct our body. We will then accelerate to our aiming point on the QB.

Individual Pass Rushing Technique

Pass rush lanes are crucial to our development as an affective pass-rushing group. Once we understand the how to create an even pass rush we must focus on our development as individuals. Teaching our inside players and outside players to rush the passer are completely different teaching progressions. Our base belief is that defensive tackles (inside) are set on a horizontal plane and our defensive ends (outside) are set on a vertical plane in passing situations. With this, nothing changes in terms of their stimulus response and their active, violent get off. Instead, we understand that the defensive tackles must defeat a quick/horizontal sets rather than soft/vertical sets. We teach the 'open square principle' to enhance our defensive tackles block defeat skills against these sets. The way we instruct this principle is once our helmet aligns with an offensive lineman, we must take the vacant square.


Their aiming point with their hands will be the elbow nearest the open square they are attacking while working half-a-man. The basic pass rush move for our interior defensive linemen is the club rip or swipe. We do not teach the swim as a finish due to the ability it gives the offensive lineman to give us a violent strike inside the breastplate and knock us off course. A swipe is a violent punch above the near shoulder pad, leaving a very small strike zone for an offensive lineman to recover. This principle has helped our players develop a symmetry with their hands and eyes giving them an opportunity to anticipate a quick set and have tools to defeat it.