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6 Tips for Improving Defensive Practice Efficiency

Jul 19, 2018 | Tackling, Practice Organization, Defense, Takeaways, Pursuit, Program Development, Fundamentals

Cody Fagan
Defensive Coordinator
Midlothian High School (TX)
Twitter: @Coach_Fagan30

Introduction

As most defensive coaches would tell you it’s hard to find time to build a game plan and stay focused on fundamentals during the grind of a football season. At Midlothian High School, we get 50 minutes per day on Monday and Tuesday, and 30 minutes on Wednesday to guarantee our defense is ready to stop our opponents’ normally fast paced offense. That’s just over 2 hours of on field practice time a week to practice fundamentals, implement a new game plan, and ensure the kids are confident they know what they will see from our opponent and are ready to stop them. I have been blessed to work for some great defensive coordinators and elite head coaches in my 10 years in this wonderful profession. Like many of you, I have “stolen” some great ideas along the way to help maximize defensive practice time.

Tip #1: Practice with a “Conditioning Pace”

In order to get the most out of our 2 hours and 10 minutes of on field defensive practice a week, we have trained our coaches and kids to practice like every second counts. I know this is not a new or revolutionary idea, but sometimes I think we have to remind ourselves and the kids that the game is won Monday – Thursday in the film room and on field preparation. Normally, the better prepared team comes out on top. We try to alternate segments of practice from “slower paced” (although nothing we do on the field is very slow) to “Full speed” (get as many reps as possible in that 5-15 minute segment). By doing this, we guarantee they are well rested during the times we have to slow down and teach. 

Tip #2: Circuits for Maximizing Reps

Like countless other defensive coaches we take advantage of a few circuits during our practices to make sure we never get to far away from the basics during our preparation. Vince Lombardi once said “some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist but football is only two things; blocking and tackling.” With that in mind, we make sure we are always practicing tackling and getting off blocks. Below is a description and diagram of our 2 most commonly used circuits during the season.  

Panther Tackle Circuit

Our tackle circuit consists of five varsity defensive coaches stationed around the field each doing a different tackling drill. We will divide kids into five groups of 10 players and each group will spend 2 minutes at each station. Our circuit is as fast as possible with coaches coaching every rep. We will adjust our stations periodically to practice what we need based on recent success and failures in our tackling. For the most part these, are the five tackling drills we do day in and day out:

  1. Track the hip / leverage

  2. Inside out full tackle “right” (rolling dummy)

  3. Perfect form (from the knees)

  4. Inside out full tackle “left” (rolling dummy)

  5. Shimmy and react (full tackle)


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Panther Defensive Circuit

Our defensive circuit consists of 5 Varsity Defensive Coaches stationed around the field in the same locations as the tackle circuit each doing a different type of defensive drill. We will break kids into 5 groups of close to 10 players and each group will spend 2 minutes at each station. Our circuit is as fast as possible with coaches coaching every rep.  We will adjust our stations periodically to practice what we need based on recent success and failures in our defensive productivity.  But for the most part these are the 5 basic defensive drills we do day in and day out:

  1. Interception/ tip drill, ball on the perimeter for d-line

  2. String out: Cage and defeat a block, rip of a block, tackle rolling dummy (right)

  3. String out: Cage and defeat a block, rip of a block, tackle rolling dummy (left)

  4. Get off block gauntlet: 3 vs. 1 defeat 3 blocks and get to dummy then recover in a crowd

  5. Defeat a cut and recover ball on the perimeter


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Tip #3: Play Sheets

We got tired of slowing down the pace of practice to huddle up the scout team and show them the play, so we have bought in on using the play sheet format shown below (Diagram 11).

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We use these sheets for all group settings; inside, 7 on 7, and team segments. Each sheet is numbered in a different color to safeguard against kids having the wrong sheet during the wrong segment of practice. Each player will have a sheet and know what their position is. For example, the X receiver looks to see wher