At this time, I would like to talk aboutsome fundamentals that I think are impor-tant to playing the game of defense.
Toe heel stagger, down andready, eyes up.Teach your players to get good stancesand to have exact alignments. If you aretalking about a crotch alignment, a widefive, loose five, tight shade, those align-ments, have a specific way a young mancan tell if he is aligned. It may be to put hisfoot down the middle of the offensive man'scrotch, or to put his foot on the outside fromthe lineman. Whatever alignment you aretrying to reach, make it specific in natureand check him every time that he lines upto see that he is doing it exactly right.
Placement, grab cloth.So many times we, in passing, talk to aplayer about where to place his hands, butplay after play we watch him and he does-n't put his hands in the right place. I thinkevery single down, you should coach yourplayers on hand placement. Each play youwatch on video, you should check the play-ers you are coaching to see that they haveproper hand placement because it is vitallyimportant. Not only is placement important,but using your fingers, which you areallowed to do on defense, in grabbing holdof the offensive linemen is extremely impor-tant in trying to escape blocks.
Man, ball.You should start every play with a visualmovement key. Whether you are keying onthe man or keying on the ball, every drillshould start with using a visual key, not anaudible key. So many times in the off sea-son program or pre-practice routines,defensive coaches start the drills with set,hike, or other audible sounds instead of avisual key.All you are doing is training yourguys to jump off sides on an audible cue.
Object of defense is not toplay blocks.I don't like to see a lot of one-on-onedrills unless the ballcarrier is used becauseI think the players develop bad habits andget an unrealistic look. You should practiceone-on-one with the object of separating offthe block and getting to the ballcarrier.
- React down the line.How many times have you seen thedefensive lineman get penetration in thebackfield and then round off his turn wherehe puts himself in a chase position againsta 4.4 tailback that he never catches. Thesame guy, if he flattens his path down theline and uses angles, can get back into aposition to make the play.This must bedrilled. An effective drill that I've used overthe years is to lay three bags down aboutthree yards deep in the backfield. Standbehind the defensive lineman with a backlined up opposite you behind the threebags. Have a manager give the defensiveline a visual cue with the football. As theycome off the line and get penetrationacross the line, you give the back a direc-tion where he goes right or left, laterallyand around the end of the bags. The line-man then must turn flat when they crossthe line and go flat down the line and try tocut off the back before he can cross the lineof scrimmage.
One-on-one, two-on-one.The drill we work on every day with all ofour defensive players that has paid greatdividends for us is the strip drill. We do itone-on-one where the defender runsbehind the offensive player who has theball tucked away. The defender frombehind puts his off arm over the shoulder ofthe offensive player and takes his own sidearm and either punches from behind orclubs from over the top to try to knock theball out while insuring the tackle with the offarm.The next drill we do is a two-on-one stripdrill where two defensive players are facingan offensive player.The offensive ballcarri-er comes straight ahead, the first defenderfronts him up with a form tackle straightahead while the second defender comes inand goes directly to the ball and tries to pullthe ball loose. This not only helps ourdefense create turnovers but we do it allthe time in practice and I think it has madeour offensive players much more aware ofball security and thus, has helped reduceturnovers from our offensive side.
2 .S t a n c e :
No hands on knees, nob o b b i n g .One of the things I really hate to see alinebacker do is squat with his hands on hisknees. I don't think you can move from thatposition. Invariably, when a guy gets tired,he tends to rest by putting his hands on hisknees and applying his weight downward.From this position, the only way one canmove is to raise up, lift the weight and thenmove. This allows for wasted time.Linebackers on every play should get in agood stance with their weight over the ballsof their feet and in a position where theycan move without altering their verticalposition. I don't know where some guys gettheir stances, but I see them and they areall hunkered down in an abnormally lowstance from which they have to pop straightup as soon as the ball is snapped beforethey can go anywhere. At other times, yousee guys who are so high, they have todrop down before they can move. Whatyou want is the guy to be in a stance where,when the ball is snapped, he is ready tomove without any vertical movement of hispad level.
Don't cross over.Unless a play is an absolute straightahead play coming at a linebacker, everystep should start with a lateral shuffle. Ihate to see a linebacker start forward, getcaught up in all the traffic and then try towork outside on an outside running play.Our base alignment is four-and-a-halfyards deep. I would like for that linebackerto shuffle laterally at that depth until he isready to come downhill and take on ablocker or tackle the ballcarrier.
.On every play, I think the linebackershould mentally focus on identification ofthe strength and the back set. Is it I-backs,weak back, empty, etc?
Back, linemen,flow, run or pass.I think linebackers should have a pro-gression on every single play that they use
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Former Texas A&MAll-American DatNguyen is one of several Aggie defend-ers now playing in the NFL.