Defensive linemen can push right through their opponents, but even the most physically gifted players won’t make it on the field without a firm grasp on the fundamentals.
The best defensive linemen in the game can tackle like bulldozers and grind through offensive lines like knives through butter – they’re strong, fast and mean. D-line play starts at practice and in the gym. Hone these skills before kickoff and you’ll do more than hold your own.
Here are the defensive lineman drills and exercises you’ll need to make your team take the W.
A player’s performance starts with his stance. No position on the field has a more important stance than the defensive lineman. Depending on where you start on the line, or what play your team is running, you could start in a multitude of various starting positions, from two-point to four-point. The standard defensive lineman stance is the three-point stance, with one hand on the ground, rear in the air and weight forward ready to explode. Explosion is what it’s all about on the line, pushing offesnive linemen back – it all starts with the stance. To practice yours, work on the Stance and Start and similar drills.
The Bull Rush Push
Whereas a linebacker’s and a defensive back’s primary responsibilities are reading and reacting, a defensive lineman is responsible for causing havoc on the line of scrimmage and forcing the opponent to react. To be an effective defensive lineman, its essential to make first contact with the offensive line. For this, hands are essential, and forearm strength exercises should be a major focus of any strength and conditioning program. Just as essential are explosive drills with sleds and tackle dummies that test reaction time and emphasize force. Knocking off a guard for even a split-second can be the difference between a 15-yard run or a no gain. Explosion starts with the stance, but it extends up through the hips to the torso, arms and hands.
Push-Pull-Rip, Swim and Spin
Getting in a solid strike is a great start to an effective rush, but a defensive lineman has to pull a few tricks out of his bag to be a true menace on the line of scrimmage. One of those tricks is the push-pull, a lightning-fast move that capitalizes on throwing an offensive lineman off balance. Practice the push-pull against offensive linemen who know it’s coming, focusing on the fundamentals: a quick, hard push and sudden grip and pull. The push is where your tactics begin, but work on more advanced moves, too, like the swim and spin. Combine the tactics to be a true terror on the line, but remember, one fast and deliberate move is nearly always more effective than a combo.
Reading the Play
You’re not going to get to the ball or even disrupt a play unless you effectively read what’s going on on the field. Blindly attacking upfield will only get you so far before you realize the play has passed you by. Defensive linemen need to keep arms extended upon their offensive counterparts, keeping space so as to maintain sight of a developing play, but this is only the start. Effective defensive linemen need to also pay close attention to where the offensive line is trying to push, identify giveaways over the course of the game and capitalize. For a nose guard, that means learning to time the snap just right. For an end, that means identifying a play to the outside and maintaining contact, as opposed to a more aggressive rush. Reading the play takes a lifetime to perfect, but you can start training right now.
Put It All Together
From fingers in the turf, through the explosion across the line of scrimmage, to destroying the target, nearly all facets of defensive line play are on display during the brutal gauntlet drill. Most pro and college teams opt to keep on-the-ground contact like this off the practice field, but the gauntlet is an effective test of a defensive lineman’s strength, creativity, stamina, raw athletic ability and drive to be the dominant force on the field. Consistently hit the tackle dummy in practice, and you’ll be making opponents look like dummies on game day. Hard work pays off on the D-line.