By Jesse Currier
Defensive Tackles and Recruiting Coordinator
South Dakota State University
At the defensive tackle position, the top priority is always having guys that are physical at the point of attack vs. the run. The commonly used phrase, “You have to earn the right to rush the QB,” will always hold true because most teams will continue to run the ball until you prove you can stop it.
With that being said, disruptive pass rushers on the inside can change a game and force offensive coordinators to adjust their pass protection schemes.
At South Dakota State University, we have been very fortunate to have some gifted pass rushers on the interior of our defensive line. We have had a different defensive tackle finish the season with at least six sacks in the last three consecutive seasons. The most successful of those pass rushers led all 2013 Missouri Valley Football Conference linemen with nine sacks.
Fundamentals of Pass Rush:
When teaching pass rush, there are four fundamentals that we focus on. These fundamentals are not specific to the defensive tackle position, but they are an essential starting point.
- Eyes: The area that young players struggle with the most is their eye discipline. The biggest reason for this is they were able to be successful at the high school level simply by over-matching their opponent. The natural reaction to a pass read by a young lineman is to get their eyes to the QB immediately. The coaching point that has helped guys understand the importance of where their eyes are is by relating it to a boxing match. You cannot hit what you don’t see. If you are looking at the QB, you will get punched by the blocker and not be able to react because you don’t even see the hit coming.
- Hands: Violent and quick hands are an invaluable asset when rushing the QB. As a pass rusher, we want to avoid getting locked up with a blocker. We want to attack the edge of blockers and keep their hands off of us. In order to do this, we must always have our hands ready. Relating it to boxing again helps. When you are throwing a punch you can’t wind up and swing wildly. You have to be compact, quick, and violent. The other key aspect to using your hands when rushing the passer is that your hands and feet need to be tied together. We use the common coaching point of “same arm, same foot.” This is something that needs to be drilled consistently because it is a very unnatural movement.
- Hips: An indispensable attribute for successful pass rushers is hip flexibility. A pass rusher’s ability to rotate their hips accomplishes three things. The first is that it reduces the surface area for the offensive lineman’s block. The second is that it generates more force when striking the blocker’s arms. The last benefit to hip flexibility is that it enables pass rushers to square up the quarterback when they come free. Many opportunities for sacks are missed because the rusher is unable to get their hips to the quarterback and they are left reaching out to grab with one arm.
- Feet: The key coaching point for feet is that you don’t want your feet to come together or cross over. The reason for that is we don’t want to be off balance when the blocker tries to punch.
Once we have established the ground-work of fundamentals, we work on trying to find what is going to be the most successful go-to move for each guy. I encourage guys to find one move that they feel comfortable with and focus on refining that move every day. We will introduce and drill a variety of moves so guys have options, but I guard against trying to be a ‘jack-of-all trades’ when it comes to pass rush.