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irst let me say on behalf of the Oregon State University, Head Coach Dennis Erickson, our defensive staff and our players, it is a great honor to be asked by the American Football Coaches Association to contribute to the AFCA Summer Manual. Hopefully, after I share with you some of our thoughts and philosophy about defensive football, you will be able to take something from this article to add to your program. Philosophy At Oregon State University there’s a team philosophy that the entire staff believes in when teaching our players. As a staff, we constantly talk to our players about striving to be the best team offensively and defensively in the country. After finishing 7-5 in 1999 and 11-1 in 2000 it is a goal that we believe is achievable and our players have bought into being the best. As a team our offensive staff and defensive staff do have the same philosophy and that is to take an aggressive attitude and attack the opponent. The trademark of Oregon State University defense is an attacking swarming defense that gang tackles and makes big plays. A large part of our recent success on defense has come from creating a relentless defense built around team speed strength and not sizes. Our defensive principles work together with our team speed philosophy and evaluation of future players. Within our philosophy I will cover some important fundamentals of defensive line technique that are assets to our attacking aggressive style up front. Principles for Defensive Linemen The first principle of our defensive line is the get-off on the ball and swarm as a unit. The line charge or get-off is a drill you work on every day all day. You have to focus on explosive charge in all defensive drills you do each day. A great get-off and a swarming unit prevents scores. In the final analysis, the effectiveness of a defensive line is measured by who can attack blocks and control the line of scrimmage. Stance and Rush When teaching a get-off or rush by your linemen start with the base of the stance. A stance that a player is relaxed in but also able to attack the line of scrimmage As you already know most of your players are righthanded so they’ve been in the right hand stance their entire life. Here at OSU, I teach
players to play with their right hand or left hand down all the time. This will help you in overall planning of line stunts and charges. One piece of equipment I incorporate in our daily routine is a chute used by offensive line coaches. The chute is vital in the development of pad level and great charge and explosion with a flat back. Once I evaluate a player’s ability, I try to put them on a side where they will have the best success in the system. Once the lineman has a great charge, or get-off, We work on the hands. Hands Shiver Defensive linemen’s hands are crucial in defeating run and pass blocks. Hand speed can be developed through many drills. A good drill to try is done with both knees on the ground one yard in front of a sled with the fingertips on the ground. The coach stands in the middle with a football and on the snap of the ball, the player strikes the sled with both hands with thumbs together. The focus in the drill is on the hand placement with quickness. The coach should make hard counts and a fast tempo with the number of snaps. This is just one of many drills I use to increase hand speed. Another drill would be our speed bag competition. The development of using your hands as a defensive player is part of becoming good a lineman. Whatever rush technique the defender decides to use in combating the blocker, it must be done with maximum speed and smoothness, always using the hands. Eyes & Feet Where are your eyes looking once you put your hand down? This is a question asked each defender on every snap of the football. In our attacking style defense each player must know what he looks at and who is going to try to block him. In our scheme we ask our defensive linemen to see one thing on the snap and still play with an aggressive attack attitude. Vision is the toughest skill to develop because most players will slow their rush down to see. Your linemen can still see the football snap with their peripheral vision. In the teaching of the defensive ends, I try to give visual point of focus. An example would be the hip of the offensive tackle. Giving your player one visual point to attack increases the chance of success in gap control defense. Understand this in coaching your player’s eyes: One visual point to see attack the blocker and key the football. Get vertical, a
Michael Gray Defensive Line Coach Oregon State University Corvallis, Ore.
• AFCA Summer Manual — 2001 •
term used repeatedly in our communication with defensive linemen, suggests a line or direction rising straight up the field to a point. Remember, tighten your stance more with forward body lean. This is an up field line charge. A lineman’s steps change in the vertical mode with a much bigger first step to gain as much ground as possible. We incorporate many line stunts slant and move with our front so a player steps and footwork is key in the stunt success. There is a time where a two-step, power step is needed instead of a vertical step. For us that is on first down or in any run situation. Every player loves to get the vertical signal call because we can attack with a passion and an understanding where to go and how to get there fast. Beavers’ Run Defense The Beavers’base defensive alignment is a 4-3 strong front set to an opponent’s run strength. We base this on many keys, which could be tight end, the field or backfield strength. We do attack the opposition’s run game with line stunts and shifting but we’re always aggressive with some type of movement. The major reason for us to move and attack is the lack of size but really our strength as a defense is team speed. You can neturalize a blocker’s size and strength by striking with movement and leverage, which creates power. We enjoy the confusion created with one-man, two-man or threeman types of line movement (Diagram 1). Always use the KISS rule of thumb when inserting your run stunts with linemen and linebackers. When the linemen cancel a gap inside feet, hands and shoulder pad reduction is crucial for the best attitude when attacking the gap and offensive linemen. The linebackers and linemen work together on all line stunts run or pass. Coordination of the defensive line and linebackers is crucial in your development of line stunts and games because of our gap cancellation system. The defensive linemen at OSU all play their run technique on first down, which is to attack, flesh and restrict the gap. This attitude is not vertical. You are to attack the linemen, trying to get to heel depth then find the ball. A few keys in good run defense for your linemen teach the two steps punches with both hands attacking flesh. When your linemen develop a good two steps and punch first then you can teach line movement. I do believe after years of teaching these techniques to my linemen you can attack any blocking scheme with speed and pad level and win.
Diagram 1: Strong Slant/Pirate
Beavers’ Pass Defense The first line of pass defense is rushing the passer. A good pass rush has several objectives; the most obvious of which is to pressure the quarterback or tackle him. To pressure the quarterback into an errant throw is just as good as a sack. Sacking the quarterback must actually be considered a bonus against a good passing team because it is a difficult thing to do. The 4-3 scheme that we incorporate at OSU has been our most effective way to attack the passer. There are two significant approaches to the development of an effective four-man rush. The No. 1 approach is the overload principle. The No. 2 approach is the individual technique. Most teams like OSU probably rely on the overload principle since it is the simplest means of effecting an adequate rush and requires the least amount of coaching. The understanding of pass protection is crucial when designing your line stunts and games up front. Most pass protection systems are designed to provide three blocks on each side of the center. OSU incorporates this overload attack with three linemen and one linebacker on one side. The success of this approach rests on out-numbering, overpowering and attacking while surprising the blockers. Just as we will bring four players to one side, we just rush two linemen with a stunt giving the illusion more are rushing the passer. This is where we had success last season with our line games, attacking the offensive line with just a four-man rush but utilizing our team speed. Yes, we just rush four players most of the time with the understanding of the quarterback’s set-up point, the great get-off and how to attack the blocker. The second approach, emphasizing individual technique, is one of the most neglected phases of defensive line play. It all begins with the get-off, a vertical attitude in all of our stunts and games gaining ground on the quarterback. Give your line a focus
point. Examples: Seven yards up the field for defensive ends, the right armpit of the guard or the shoulder of the center. You must keep it simple so the players can maintain their edge of attack with speed. Its basis is to develop each defensive lineman’s skill in combating the pass protection blocker to the point where, working as a unit, four or five players can effectively rush the passer without an overload, leaving additional personnel available for coverage. The use of your defensive lineman’s hands are crucial when attacking an offensive lineman in pass blocking. You must destroy his balance. Defensive tackles in our scheme work their rush move off of a power attitude, making it a physical rush trying to get vertical and gain ground on the quarterback. Our design of line stunts is the same as most defensive fronts in the country with the ends and tackles exchanging rush lanes. The difference comes in the teaching of the attack points. The attack point can be the hip or shoulder of the guard or arms of the offensive tackle. This gives your player something to focus on during the attack of the blocker. One of my strongest beliefs is 80 percent of pass rushing is the player’s get-off and effort. The other 20 percent is the player’s ability to use his technique and hands when attacking the blocker. Afew of the individual pass rushing techniques I teach are the butt, shiver, club rip, judo chop,stiff arm, the slip move and the fake and roll-out. You may find time to work on individual techniques before practice, during special teams or post practice but you must find the time to be good at any of the techniques. There are many factors involved in creating a successful defensive line. I feel that the one thing I try do as a coach is teach them how to play fast and make the play right as much as possible. Confidence when we step on the field is important. We will out-physical the opponent ane execute assignments with an attack mode on ever play. Again, on behalf of the Oregon State University players and coaching staf f , we would like to thank the A F C A for the opportunity to contribute to this year’s Summer Manual. I would like to thank all the coaches who, through the years, that have influenced and help develop my growth as a player and as a coach in this great profession. I hope this article can be some benefit to you and help you in the development of your defensive linemen.
• AFCA Summer Manual — 2001 •
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