Multimedia Kits

View Cart

Coaching Articles Return to all Coaching Articles

Coaching Defensive Linemen

Coaching Defensive Linemen
Originally published on 6/6/2007 at
Part I: Philosophy, Constants and Key Points
Mike Walker
Defensive Line Coach, Ishpeming (Mich.) H.S.

The following is an excerpt from the Coaching Defensive Lineman series at

Regardless of the defensive scheme you run, to teach it effectively you must break down the techniques and skills that each position requires, and you must have a system to communicate and teach those techniques and skills.

In other words, as a coach it is your responsibility to give your players the tools and confidence they need to be successful in what you are asking them to do.

The system to teach those techniques and skills consists of philosophy, drills, and key/code words. However, coaching isn't always about what you teach. It is often about what you emphasize. The trick is to make sure you are teaching what you emphasize.

For example, if a coach emphasizes turnovers, but never practices the techniques and skills necessary to create them, then he shouldn't be surprised his team doesn't create a lot of takeaways.

As a defensive line coach I must have a specific, organized and realistic approach to practice so that the techniques and skills my players need are developed and fit into the overall defensive concept.

Before I get into my approach of accomplishing this though defensive line progressions, I want to discuss 25 philosophy, constants and key points of coaching defensive linemen.

1. Our defensive players are always either in a football position or running. Anything else is a waste of time and energy, and isn't contributing to us being a dominating defensive team through technique and pursuit.

2. To play defense you must be able to run and tackle. You intimidate an offense through relentless tackling and pursuit play after play. Get players on the field who can run and tackle.

3. Demand effort. You don't have to be a great athlete to give great effort. Effort is a mental skill. Great effort is demonstrated through consistent technique and pursuit. A defensive lineman giving great effort gets off of blocks, never stays on the ground, changes direction quickly, doesn't get passed in pursuit, and gets into the "pile" before the whistle.

4. Team speed is not based on a stopwatch. Team speed is based on effort. If all 11 defenders on the field run a 5.0 in the 40, then it is my responsibility to make sure they are all running at a 5.0 effort from the first play of the game to last play of the game. If they do that, then we will have team speed. A lack of team speed is often an indicator of a lack of team effort. It could also indicate that players are confused regarding their technique, assignment and responsibility.

5. Most drills that begin with the defensive linemen in a stance should start with some form of a snap simulation. I use a cadence, but it's only to get them used to ignoring the cadence. We tell our players not to listen to quarterbacks because they lie. We want to be deaf on the line of scrimmage and go on the snap of the ball ("Attack the snap!"). If you want them to do it in the game, then you must emphasize it in practice.

6. When the center touches the ball in practice and in the game, defensive lineman yell "Ball!" This does several things for us:
- It sets the defensive line. We are in our stances and ready to play football. We want our defensive line set before the offense is. If players get caught out of position (weak end on the strong side, etc.), once "Ball!" is called they stay on the side they are on (but play the correct technique, for example the weak end would then play as the strong end, etc.).
- It reminds us what we are keying on - the ball.
- It reminds us to "attack the snap" instead of the quarterback's cadence.

Instead of yelling from the sideline "watch the ball", "be disciplined", "nobody jump" we just yell "Ball!" to communicate all of those important points.

7. We want to be the world's fastest 2-yard sprinters. A 2-yard sprint puts our heels on the heels of the offensive lineman and reestablishes the LOS on their side of the ball. We don't want our defensive lineman any deeper than a yard across the LOS unless they are attacking the ball. Ball carriers have to come to the LOS, so we want to control the LOS without creating seems and cutback lanes.

It is during the 2-yard sprint that we read offensive linemen and blocking schemes. If it takes defensive linemen longer than that to read blocks they can't consistently stop trap, defend the reach block, or defeat a double team.

8. The only thing that a blocker is allowed to touch on defensive linemen is the top of their arms and the top of their shoulder pads (get your chest on your knee and keep you butt away from the blocker). This reinforces keeping our pad level low.

At the start of every defensive practice I ask the players to show me what the offense is allowed to touch. They immediately get into a good football position with their shoulders behind their shoulder pads and run their hands over the top of their arms and shoulder pads.

From this position a blocker shouldn't be able to get to their numbers, hips, or legs. This stance also puts us into a good power angle and allows us to use full body strength to take on blockers and ball carriers.

9. The single most important factor in controlling the LOS is a low pad level. I call it playing "chest on knee". We literally want to practice at that level, with our shoulders that low and our back that flat while attacking the LOS and defeating blocks. If I can see the number on the front of your jersey your pad level is too high.

All through practice you will hear me remind players to play with "chest on knee" and to make their "numbers disappear". The intensity, speed and excitement of a game will cause a natural rise in pad level, but by emphasizing this low level during practice we still play at a good level during the game.

10. We want to keep our power angle on all contact. We don't rise up on contact to defeat a block - we don't snap or roll our hips on contact. Instead, we control the LOS and defeat blockers by keeping our pad level low and not giving up our power angle while moving forward - not up.

The most important muscle groups for defensive linemen are their gluts and thighs. When we talk about a power angle we are talking about keeping our body in a position so we can take advantage of our gluts and thighs on all contact. The power angle consists of a "Z" in the knees, ankles behind the gluts, feet and knees pointing to where we want to go (not pointing out), hips locked to keep a flat back, shoulders behind shoulder pads, shoulders squared to contact, and eyes/head up so we can see where we are going and what we are hitting.

Again, during the game there is a natural rise, but if we emphasize the power angle throughout practice we will play much lower when we attack blockers on Friday nights.

Click here for the PDF version of this article. The PDF Version includes additional illustrations of key coaching points..

Click here to read the rest of this article

Reproduced with permission from