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Defense

Defense begins with pressure.  Whether it is a good pass rush on the Quarterback, or pressure at the running lanes.  It really doesn't matter.  This author spits on the "Give (or Bend) but don't Break" philosophy of Defense.  The Great Defenses never "gave" anything.  What's more, they fought tooth and nail to deny every yard.   Now that's defense!
It all starts and ends with the Line.  The reason?--
--that's where 90% of all games are won or lost.

    Overview
    Buddy Ryan's observation best reflects my personal philosophy of what it takes to win at the game of football.  All the X's and O's are real pretty on paper and are important strategical ways of outlining a game plan.  But!, they do not win football games.  What wins football games are the same things that have always won them, blocking and tackling.  Search your own personal recall archives  for verification.  How many "great" touchdown runs or catches started with a simple broken tackle or a great block? 
Techniques
Philosophy of Defense Pass Coverages
Linemen Techniques LB Techniques
Tackling
Defensive Formations Stunts and Blitzes
Defensive Back Techniques
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Drills
for Defensive Backs, Defensive Ends, and Defensive Linemen
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Tackling
    Sound tackling is the cornerstone of a great defense.  Ideally, defenders should not tackle with the arms or hands first, rather with the shoulders and chest area.  After aggressive contact, the first tackler raps his arms around the ball carrier lifting the player and driving the carrier backwards pumping and driving the legs forcefully.  The second man to the tackle "tackles the football" or otherwise attempts to strip the ball loose from the offensive player.  Sound tackling techniques are to be demonstrated and practiced on a regular basis through tackling drills and scrimmages.  The best tacklers are "agile, mobile, and hostile" football players as observed by the great Hank Gathers.


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Defensive Line Techniques
    Football coaches want their defensive linemen to be aggressive, strong, quick, and durable.  Notice large is not a prerequisite (although it certainly doesn't hurt).  Defensive Linemen react quickly to the snap, neutralize a dozen different offensive blocks, rush the pass, tackle with their shoulders making first contact, and grasp firm the runner and drive him backwards.  On each and every play every defensive player not in on the tackle is expected to be in full pursuit of the play until the whistle blows.
    There are several effective pass rush techniques.  Let's examine a few.
    The Swim Technique is a technique often used by pass rushers.  The Swim gets its name from the fact that when properly executed the player has the appearance of a swimmer's upstroke.  In the swim the defender hits with the open hand the side of an opponents shoulder pads at about chest level.  With the other hand the defender reaches out and over the shoulder of the blocker.  The elbow is brought down to hook behind the defender.  This technique is sometimes employed when a defender has an obvious size and/or strength advantage.
    The Rip Technique is a technique usually employed by defenders and special teams players but especially by defensive linemen.  The idea is to raise the arm close handed backwards beneath the elbow and punch past the opponent's shoulder.  The Rip does not involve unnecessary contact.  The object is not to hit the player full breath, rather to propel one's own torso beyond the shoulder and torso of the blocker.  Then raising the elbow and coming backwards with it in a hooking motion further positioning oneself past the blocker.
    The Bull Rush Technique calls for the defender to get his hands up under the armpit area of the blocker and drive him back into the back field by vigorously pumping the legs and "bull rushing" into the backfield.
    Here are a few basic techniques for linebackers, defensive ends, and defensive linemen.
Middle (Nose) Guard Techniques:
    The "0" Zero Technique calls for the nose guard (NG) to line up directly in front of the center.  The read and react keys for the NG are the offensive guards (OGs) and the Center.  The NG's order of responsibilities are listed here in descending order.  #1=Attack the Center at the snap of the ball remaining conscious of both OGs.  #2=Defeat the Center.  #3=Draw responsibility until the the QB passes the FB.  #4=pursue all runs from side line to side line.  #5=Pass rush.
    The "1" Technique assigns the NG to line up on the right or left shoulder of the offensive center.  The exact position is determined by how wide the gap between center and Guard.  The bigger the gap the more centered in the gap the NG becomes.  The read and react keys for the NG are the off guard and the center.  The responsibilities are as follows.  #1=If the gap is wide, penetrate head up and find the football.  #2=If the gap is narrow, attack the Center and play against the pressure of the Center or Guard.  #3=If the play is a pass, work way to the middle of the Center, look for Draw or Screen.  #4=Rush passer after QB passes FB.
    The "1" Gap Technique positions the NG directly centered in the gap between the Center and Guard.  The NG keys both players.  Responsibilities are #1=Explode through the gap one to one and a half yards deep.  #2= Find and pursue the football.
    The "2" Technique calls for the NG to completely shift over and line head up with the offensive guard keying first the Guard, then the Center and Tackle.  Responsibilities are #1=Use the hands to keep the Guard from coming within the frame of the body.  #2=Defeat the Center.  #3=Draw responsibility until the the QB passes the FB.  #4=pursue all runs from side line to side line.  #5=Pass rush.
    The "3" Technique calls for the NG to line up on the outside shoulder of the Guard keying the Guard and Tackle.  Duties include (1) defeating the Guard while remaining to his outside shoulder.  #2=Keep the OG off the LB.  #3=Watch for the Trap and Draw.  #4=Pursue the running play.
Defensive Tackle Techniques:
    The "2" Technique places the DT at the inside eye of the OG keying the Guard.  Responsibilities are as follows.  #1=Defeat the Guard and pursue the play.  #2=Check for the Draw.  #3=Rush the drop pass passer.
    The "3" Gap Technique aligns the Defensive Tackle (DT) in the gap between the Offensive Guard (OG) and Offensive Tackle (OT).  The DT keys the movements of the OG and OT.  Duties are as follows.  #1=Explode through  the gap one to one and a half yards with the head up looking for the ball.  #2=If the gap is narrow make contact and read and react resisting the flow of the play.  #3=Look for the trap, then flow to the play.  #4=Rush the passer.
    The "4" Technique (Strong Side) calls for the DT to line up head to head with the OT when a TE is present and key the actions of the OT.  responsibilities are #1=Defeat the OT and control both gaps.  #2=Rush the passer.  #3=Keep the OT off the LB.  #4=If the OT blocks down (inside) crash down on the OT's hip.  #5=Check for the Trap, then pursue the play.
    The "5" Technique aligns the DT at the outside eye of the OT, keying first the TE, then the OT.  Duties are to (1) keep the OT off the LB.  #2=DT can't be blocked singularly by the OT.  #3=Check for the Trap.  #4=Rush the pass.
    The "5" Gap Technique places the DT squarely in the middle of the gap between the OT and TE.  The DT keys the gap.  If the gap is wide, penetrate one to one and a half yards head up and look for the ball.  If the gap is narrow make contact, read and react, and resist offensive pressure.  Flow to the play.  Rush the passer.
    The "Weak Side" Technique calls for the DT to line up at the inside eye (or head up with) the OT when no TE is present.  The DT keys the OT with the primary objective of defeating the OT.  Read and react responsibilities prevail.
    The "7" Technique has the DT line up at the inside eye of the TE keying the OT.  Duties are to smack (1) and read the TE.  If the TE blocks, defeat the TE and find the ball.  If the TE releases and the OT blocks down, close on the Trap.  Otherwise, read and react.
    The "X" Technique has the DT line head up with the OT.  The key is the snap of the ball.  At the snap of the ball, the Dt slams through the head of the OG.

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Drills for the Defensive Line
React and Read -- A play on words (to the Read and React technique).  Two or three defenders take their respective stances at the line of scrimmage.  A Center snaps a ball to a lone back who takes off at full sprint to either sideline.  A coach calls out the snap count trying to draw the defenders offside.  On the snap the defenders fire off the line and pursue the ball carrier.  When time and or manpower allow, two offensive linemen and an extra ball carrier can be used to perfect the defenders ability to "find" the football.
Conquer -- A lone defender squares off against a lone blocker.  The blocker is assigned a direction to take the defender.  The defender is to read the will of the blocker and fight through the pressure to the ball.  The object of the drill is as simple as the game of football itself--beat your man!
Sled Work -- Defensive Linemen should utilize the five or seven man sled much as the Offensive Linemen do.  Defensive Linemen can line up single file in their respective stance and fire off and strike the dummy hands extended, then shuffle (slide down) or roll (on the ground, rising quickly) to the next dummy.  Contact can be driven on coach's commands or not.  Defensive Linemen should also use the one man sled to perfect the various techniques listed on this page.
Defensive Linemen must learn to never stop pursuing the play until its conclusion.  Film will show players who do not pursue each play through so that these players might be replaced.  Defensive Linemen learn to use their arms to keep would be blockers away from the torso and legs.  Defensive Linemen are skilled players who know how to strip the ball from the ball carrier and scramble aggressively for the football.  Actual tackling techniques are closely monitored and practiced extensively.

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Defensive End Drills and Techniques
    The "6" Technique lines the DE head up with the TE.  The DE keys the nearest offensive back inside the TE position.  The DE's responsibilities are as follows.  #1= If the TE blocks, defeat the TE.  #2=keep the TE off the OT.  #3=If the TE tries to go out for a pass, smack the TE with both hands, then rush the passer from the outside in never allowing the ball to the defender's outside shoulder.
    The "9" Technique lines the DT at the outside shoulder of the TE.  The DE keys the nearest offensive back inside the TE position.  The Duties of the technique call for (1) smashing the TE's outside shoulder with the defender's inside shoulder keeping the outside of the torso free to contain all plays back to the inside and pursuit.
    The "8" Technique lines the DE one and one half yards wide of the TE.  The DE keys the nearest offensive back inside the TE position.  This set is used to ensure containment of the outside play.
    The "Crash" Technique calls for the DE to line head up with the TE and shoot the inside gap.  if no TE is present, the DE lines one and one half yards out from the DT keying the OT.  If the OT steps forward to block, the DE steps up and plays containment.  If the OT steps back for pass protection, rush the pass from the outside in, maintaining containment.


Drills for Defensive Ends
Drills for Defensive Ends include fighting the double team, containment, pass rush, and short zone coverages.  Ends must quickly recognize when they are being double teamed and strive to punch through the blockers with the rip technique.  If the shoulders are turned in this effort, they must quickly be squared again to the play.  The rule of thumb is for the End to never be driven back or out of the hole.  Ends are taught to go to the ground if necessary to avoid being expelled from their area of responsibility.
Often the primary responsibility of the defensive end is containment.  The End takes on the blocker with the inside shoulder keeping the outside shoulder and hand free to the sideline side.  The defensive end drives through the blocker and attempts to close down any inside running lanes forcing the ball carrier to the outside where the End has a free arm pinching the runner back into pursuit.  The End's ultimate responsibility is not to allow the runner to his outside shoulder or beyond.
Defensive End's run the passer in a looping motion and never in a straight line.  This forces the passer up and to the inside rather than allowing the passer to get to the outside of the End.
DEs also must be able to guard a small area against the pass in certain situations.  Knowledge of the short passing zones and pass patterns are therefore a must.
Any drill that optimizes the outside-in theory prevalent to the DE position, or that improves foot speed and getting the hands up for the pass should be used.


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Linebacker Techniques
    Linebackers work as a unit when pursuing the ball. The Linebacker closest to the ball carrier runs directly at the runner, the deeper linebackers take a deeper angle to the runner.  Linebackers are hard hitting players who always go through a blocking sequence before reacting, vary their stance according to their position, "read and react" to the play pursuing it aggressively, drive the ball carrier they are tackling, works as a unit with the rest of the linebackers, and effectively blitzes the quarterback.
    Linebackers are masters of the read and react technique and use it extensively.  As a rule linebackers play the run first and the pass second, but obvious instances often call for the inverse.  Linebackers are sure tacklers who work with the defensive linemen on a wide range of coordinated stunts and blitzes, and often figure prominently in short pass coverages.
    The default responsibility for the Linebacker is to read and react to the open offensive lineman to the LB's side of the field.  Usually, this is a Guard but may be the Tackle in some alignments.  If the offensive lineman recoils in pass protection, the LB steps back and to the outside a few steps offering pass coverage in the short "hook zone."  If the OG blocks down, the LB slams down with his outside shoulder on the OT's inside shoulder and looks for the play inside.  If the OG pulls to the other side of the line, the LB trails him over to the running lane and plugs the hole.  If the OG pulls around the same end, one option has the LB trailing him and filling the lane outside the last down lineman.  Another option is to crash the vacant hole the OG deserted.
Other typical LB techniques and stunts often employed by LBs are shown here.



Defensive Backs Techniques
    Generally speaking, defensive backs push off with the front foot, then take a short step
back with the rear foot.  Defensive Backs are tough players who always are alert to the snap on every play, react quickly and decisively in pursuing the play, make solid tackles, stay between the receiver and the goal line on all pass plays, quickly recognize pass patterns, and effectively strip the ball from the carrier.
Defensive backs and linebackers (and occasionally defensive ends) combine to form a variety of 
Zone and Man to Man pass coverages
"Deep Thirds" (shown in 5-2 Formation).............................(shown in 4-3 Formation)



The "2 Deep" or "Deep Halves" ...................Man to Man coverage (2 Deep)
    In the Man to Man Coverage Defense the "open" DE and the strong side LB are responsible for the back coming out of the back field, and the DE to the strong side is responsible for detaining the TE on the line of scrimmage.



Drills for Defensive Backs
Backpedal Drill -- Defensive Backs must learn to reach backwards with each step pulling the body over the feet.  The feet remain shoulder width apart and the player is bent at the waist.  A common drill has two or three backs backpedal then cut to an area designated by a coach's pointing.
Crash and Burn -- DB's start by backpedaling.  The coach makes one of four hand signals, the backpedal, right, left, or forward.  Players sprint at full speed in each called direction while the coach crosses up the directions.  A coach should be present for every one or two defenders in motion so as to insure that coaches get a good evaluation of player stance, footwork, foot speed, technique, effort, and attitude.
Any drill designed to improve overall speed, foot speed, hand to eye coordination, or discipline is a good drill for defensive ball defenders.  DBs should be taught that when the ball is in the air it is more theirs than the receiver's.  DBs keep themselves between the goal line and their opponent at all times.  DBs are taught at great lengths how to strip the football from a ball carrier.  DBs should also participate with receivers in the running of pass routes so as to gain a more comprehensive understanding of pass routes.

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