Last week we held our first annual senior high football camp. Our campers wore their helmets during the camp. It reminded me of my days recently in high school when we were required by the state of Florida to go three days in helmets before we could dress in full pads. Defensive coaches are limited to what we can do on the field with just helmets. But, it is a great time to teach and review the fundamentals.
Alignment & Read Step
We teach our linebackers to align five yards from the football. At that depth, they can read the triangle. The triangle is the outside leg of the near guard to the deepest back to the far outside leg of the backside guard. On the snap, the linebacker will take a short two-step read, stepping forward to four yards. The read step allows the linebacker to read the triangle and react to run or pass. Repeat the read step in every drill you can to place an emphasis on the importance of reading the triangle.
It is vital to get your linebackers in a position where they are comfortable and can react quickly on their read step. We want our linebackers to place their feet shoulder-width apart and angled straight ahead, parallel to the line of scrimmage. We want them to bend their legs enough to get on the balls of their feet leaning slightly forward, keeping their back as flat as possible. Elbows should be at 45-degrees downward with open hands and thumbs up. They should be able to be balanced leaning forward and be able to move side-to-side on the balls of their feet without getting out of their stance. They should be ready to read and attack without any wasted motion.
While taking the read step, we want to teach them to react quickly to run or pass. A simple drill to reiterate the importance of the read step is to have each linebacker go out and align at proper depth in their stance and read you (imitating the quarterback). Stand at five yards depth (shotgun) with a ball. Give each linebacker a variation of flow reads – dive (A Gap), isolation (B Gap), power (C Gap), sweep (D Gap), QB draw (A/B Gaps), drop back (A/B Gaps) and sprint out (C/D Gaps). For each flow the linebackers will place their read steps at the angle to the gap they are attacking. If they read run, we want them attacking on the downhill (coming forward). If they read pass, we want them to open to their zone throwing their elbow at a 45-degree downward angle to where they are opening. The downward motion of the elbow will keep their shoulders low as they drop. Emphasize over and over staying low in every technique you teach.
Who says that football players and coaches never use geometry? Angles are so important when playing defense. Any rounding of angles is unacceptable and wasted motion. It can be the difference in making the tackle or giving up a touchdown. Playing great technique requires to stay low and cut at angles. Drilling these angles can be done with degree drills (45-up, 45-back, 90 and 180). Emphasize the lead step in each drill at the proper angle. It takes 10,000 reps to become an expert in anything so rep properly and settle for nothing less than perfection.
45 Degrees Back
45 Degrees Up
Day one is a great time to teach underneath and intermediate zone areas. The underneath areas consists of the flat, curl and hook zones. The flat area is from the furthest receiver out (#1) to the sideline. The curl area is from the end man on the line of scrimmage (offensive tackle) to the #1 receiver. The hook area is from the interior offensive front from one end to the other (tackle to tackle or tight end to tight end). Each zone begins at the line of scrimmage and continues up to 10 yards. The intermediate zone is from 10-25 yards from the line of scrimmage.
Your linebackers will be exposed to every route that your opponents throw at you. We teach them to drop to a specific drop zone and 10 yards deep. We want them to drop under receivers two yards inside and two yards in front of the receiver. Our linebackers are taught to slide to position themselves into windows where the quarterback perceives them to be open. Drop and position your linebackers in a position to be successful to intercept, not just a drop point in an open area.
Alignment, read step, stance, reacting, teaching angles and teaching zone drops should set the base for what you are trying to teach your linebackers fundamentally. Coach them every day teaching sound technique. It takes 10,000 reps to become an expert in anything so rep properly and settle for nothing less than perfection!