Coaching Beginning Defensive Line

This is my second to last post in my series on coaching specific positions when you have new players to the game of football. I feel as if these drills can be used from youth through high school, but especially in the earliest stages of learning the fundamentals. This article focuses on Defensive Line play.

I’ve learned most of what I know about fundamental DL play from Ron West. When West was at Clemson he produced some fantastic linemen and put out a Coaches Choice DVD on DL play. I enjoyed West’s scientific breakdown of the position, even if the DVD is essentially taught out of order. I filled a notebook with ideas and info from his DVD, and a clinic I watched him teach plus a few articles about his defense I’ve found around the internet.


Stance and takeoff are huge for DL. I prefer a DL to be in a three point stance with a toe to heel alignment with the feet, the hand closest to the ball in the dirt, and the off-hand cocked around the thigh pad. From there, the takeoff should be a tight, quick step keeping the shoulders square and body in control. A tip would be to have the DL stand inside of a hula hoop and the step cannot end outside the hoop.


We teach our DL two techniques for getting around an offensive lineman and off the block. To get around an OL, we prefer the wrist-pull technique or the slap and rip. With the outside hand, grab the OL’s wrist, and then rip with the inside arm. Another technique is to slap the shoulder of the OL with the off hand and rip with the inside arm.

  • We never teach a spin move or a swim move.


Another drill I like to use is and rip and chase drill. We set up the heavy bag from the sled, and the DL will slap and rip through the bag, then play 1 1/2 yards behind the OL. As the ball carrier progresses toward the LOS, the DL should scrape and close in on the back.


A conditioning drill for DL is called a figure 8. You can set up two hula hoops about a yard apart diagonally, and have the DL chase a ball carrier around until he catches him. It’s a difficult drill and will condition DL during practice.


Lastly, I like to take my DL have have them side lateral over 3-4 trap bags. Once they clear the bags they fit up a ball carrier and drive their feet. You can add a wrinkle by having the RB run counter, and the DL will have to stop and change direction in the side lateral.