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Dominate the Perimeter by: Ron Brown
July 2002 Copyright American Football Monthly
I have one of the greatest privileges in the game of football. I get to teach young men in this self-oriented, egocentric world how to do the most unselfish, team centered activity in football – BLOCK! Wide receivers no less. You know, the ‘pretty boys’ – the smooth, silky, dancers and prancers with their jerseys neatly tucked, clean uniforms with no mud and no grass stains. You know those guys in their slick upright stances before the ball is snapped, and their dazzling routes, catches, and runs. It’s fun to watch those wide receivers in the passing game isn’t it? But what do these ‘white collar’ speedsters do when the offense is running the ball? I know what they do at Nebraska. In a sense, they take off those white shirts and ties and put on overalls, a hard hat, grab their lunch pail and block like wild men. Almost every receivers coach that I’ve ever talked to at every level – junior high, high school, college and professional – want receivers who will block ferociously. But in most cases there is a gap between ‘want’ and ‘have.’ Most ‘want’ to see the opponent’s defensive perimeter dominated by their receivers, but few ‘have’ experienced that. What closes the gap between ‘want’ and ‘have’ is EMPHASIS and REWARD. For example, a wide receiver won’t make an All-American team on his blocking. He could be the best blocking wide receiver in America, but unless he has high numbers in catches, yards and touchdowns he will seldom get recognized. Therefore, as his coach, you must recognize him and reward him openly and often for the unselfish and unheralded job of blocking the perimeter. At Nebraska we run the ball 75-80 percent of the time. Over half of our running plays come wide to the perimeter. To run the ball effectively, the defensive perimeter must be blocked. Therefore the wide receivers at Nebraska must not only block the perimeter but DOMINATE the perimeter. It is nonnegotiable at Nebraska. It is highly emphasized, appreciated, and rewarded when done well. It has ‘playing time consequences’ when it does not happen. With this emphasis comes accountability from other position players and coaches. Our football team counts on the wide receivers and their coach – yours truly – to deliver the goods. Nothing like a little peer pressure, huh? The greatest reward I know for a wide receiver who emphasizes his blocking is to see a ball carrier sprint into the end zone largely due to a block from him. There are several types of blocks wide receivers must execute. In this article, I want to zero in on the “Stalk Block.” The ‘Stalk Block’ is a one-on-one block where the wide receiver is usually blocking a defensive back on the perimeter while the ball carrier is running wide that way. The term “stalk” is like a lion stalking its prey. The lion is moving to its prey under control, leveraging the distance while getting close enough to pounce on its dinner. The wide receiver cannot charge the defensive back recklessly and try to take the home run swing in the open field. The athletic defensive backs will make you miss. Therefore, in teaching the “Stalk Block” technique, I break it down into four areas – ABCD: A. Alignment of the defensive back This is a pre-snap read. Based on the defensive back’s pre-snap alignment, the wide receiver fixes his aiming point in his mind. If the defensive back is deeper than five yards from the line of scrimmage, the wide receiver’s aiming point will be to get his nose to the outside jersey number of the defensive back. That is ultimately where he will want to make contact. The defensive back, if loose, has probably been told to be a “secondary force” man. This means he won’t be the primary defender to turn the perimeter run inside, but he will eventually have to support turning the
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play inside, keeping the outside part of his body free. If the defensive back is five yards or less from the wide receiver then the wide receiver must be prepared for quicker support. Therefore, the aim point for the wide receiver versus a closer defensive back is the inside number. B. Bead Getting a ‘bead’ is simply taking the proper leverage approach toward the defensive back. Once the wide receiver has ascertained the depth of the defensive back, he makes his approach. No matter what the defensive back’s pre-snap depth is, the wide receiver should always come off the line of scrimmage with speed. Make every run look like a pass initially so the defensive back does not ‘cheat.’ If the defensive back is looser than five yards, the wide receiver should angle to the defensive back’s outside number on his jersey. If the defensive back is aligned outside of the wide receiver, the wide receiver should chase the outside number of the defensive back with an inside angle. At some point with the defensive back backpedaling and wide receiver chasing the outside number, the cushion between the two should diminish. When that cushion hits four yards, either because the wide receiver’s speed closed the cushion or the defensive back recognized the perimeter run and began to support, then the wide receiver gets into his “stalk.” (See Diagrams 1 and 2)
Diagram 2 The stalk position, remember, is an under control movement where your knees are bent, butt is sunk, feet slightly wider than shoulder width, and your feet are ‘buzzing’ in short, quick movements without crossing over or clicking the heels. It would be very similar to a basketball player defending a face up dribbler. The wide receiver, when he’s hit the four-yard cushion while stalking, should continue under control toward the defensive back. Too many wide receivers, when they close the cushion, tend to allow their feet to go ‘dead.’ If the defensive back decides to ‘bull rush’ the wide receiver with ‘dead’ feet then the wide receiver is in a more vulnerable position to get run over. When the wide receiver has lively feet and is moving to the defensive back, then the physics are more in his favor. When blocking a ‘squat’ defensive back (one who is lined up five yards or less from the wide receiver), it is crucial for the wide receiver to come off the ball with speed but now aim for the inside number of the defensive back. With the defensive back’s close proximity to the wide receiver, it would be too risky to work the outside number and prevent the defensive back to keep from blowing inside the wide receiver. Also, because of the close proximity of the defensive back, it is crucial that after coming off the ball with speed, the wide receiver should hit his stalk position when there is a 2-yard cushion from the defensive back. If the squat defensive back does not shoot inside to support the run, then the wide receiver should shuffle back to defensive back’s outside number to block him. (See Diagrams 3 and 4)
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Diagram 4 A good drill to teach the stalk shuffle would be to have the wide receiver put his hands behind his back and ‘mirror’ the movements from another player. Challenge the wide receiver to keep his nose at the level of the defensive back’s jersey number, while he buzzes his feet to mirror the defensive back’s movements. C. Contact When contact is eminent, the wide receiver’s rear end and shoulders should be parallel to the line of scrimmage. If that defensive back is going to force the run on a constricting angle (45 degree angle back to the ball through the wide receiver’s outside shoulder), then he should have to go through the wide receiver’s whole body to do it. (See Diagrams 5 and 6)
Diagram 6 When making actual contact the wide receiver again should have knees bent, feet buzzing slightly to the defensive back so there is a momentum advantage for the wide receiver. The wide receiver’s hands should shoot in a double uppercut fashion with quickness through the jersey number of the defensive back. The wide receiver should bring his feet with him under control while he makes contact- again for greater physics. The wide receiver’s feet MUST be under control. Don’t ‘swing for the fences’ in the open field because an athletic defensive back will make you miss. When shooting the hands into the chest, stress open palms striking with the heel of the hands with thumbs together and fingers spread. I do NOT teach holding! I am very firm about not holding, whether we can get away with it or not. If the C and D stage of the stalk block is executed well, there will never be a need to hold. If we have to hold to block effectively, then the wide receivers and their coach ought to get dismissed. A great drill for this is to have the wide receivers punch a teammate with shoulder pads on the jersey number. Do it numerous times so he gets used to doing it properly. Hand placement on the defensive back is the ‘steering wheel’ aspect of the stalk block. The only difference from an actual steering wheel is that we don’t grab. On contact, the wide receiver is not interested in recoiling his arms in “patty cake” fashion. Once he shoots his hands into the defensive back’s chest, he ‘locks out’ on the defensive back without losing contact again. D. Drive If contact is the steering wheel then the drive is the engine of the stalk block. This is one of the most under-coached principles of the stalk block. Yet, this portion of the stalk block is the “Thrill of the Hunt.” It’s in the drive that the wide receiver experiences the beauty of staying on a block 5-6-7 seconds long. It’s in the ‘drive’ where the wide receiver gets to do something that an offensive lineman enjoys - pancaking a defender. A wide receiver that excels at the ‘drive’ will demoralize defensive backs and secondary coaches. More
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importantly, a wide receiver that masters the drive will spring his ball carrier on numerous long runs. The drive is simply what it sounds like. After contact with the wide receiver’s arms locked out on the defensive back, it is just a matter of driving the legs. Take the defensive back wherever he wants to go. Just keep driving the legs while you steer him with your locked out arms and fingers. This is easier said than done. Wide receivers aren’t used to being coached this way. They’ve been taught to ‘shield’ defensive backs from the ball carrier. A ball carrier wants definition. Shielding a defensive back doesn’t provide real definition. A defensive back being ‘driven’ out of bounds, into the turf, or all the way to the back of the end zone is definition. Simply teach the wide receivers to drive on contact and open up a whole new world for him – and you. The wide receiver should drive his legs as if moving a Volkswagen. To do that, the young man would have to churn his legs in rapid fashion with body lean and the foot hitting the entire base – not the ball of his foot. He needs all of the force he can manufacture. You can drill this on a sled with more than one wide receiver driving at once. However, the drill I like the most is called “Toss and Throw.” A wide receiver faces the defensive back very close. The wide receiver locks his arm out on the defensive back. When I give the command, the wide receiver ‘drives’ the defensive back. I have the defensive back let the wide receiver take him without resistance for 2-3 yards. Then I have the defensive back grab the wide receiver’s shoulder pads and jerk them around trying to toss and throw the wide receiver off of him. It is a great drill to see how long the wide receiver can stay on the defensive back without getting ‘bucked off the horse.’ This drill teaches the wide receiver that the stalk block is not an upper-body wrestling match. It is an opportunity to run the defensive back into the turf or the cheap seats. This drill teaches the wide receivers about inertia, momentum and domination. When teaching the stalk block, get back to the fundamentals. The ABCD’s of stalk block gives the wide receiver coach an efficient teaching progression that will truly enhance our offensive perimeter running game. Get your kids to buy into it. Watch them take great delight in the most unselfish thing you can teach them in football – BLOCKING.