Sack Attack – Troy’s Defensive Ends Coach Randy Butler reveals their strategy to attack the quarterback.by: Curt Block
© April 2011
Troy’s Defensive Ends Coach Randy Butler reveals their strategy to attack the quarterback.
Today’s passing offenses are more prolific than ever. It’s not unusual for teams to throw for over 300 yards a game on a consistent basis. Not only is it tough to defend a pass-happy offense in the defensive backfield, rushing the passer is more difficult than ever before because of the three-step, five-step, play-action, boot/waggle and sprint-out protection. Also, today’s rules favor the offense in pass protection. Rushing the quarterback and getting a sack, hurry, knockdown, or a batted pass are clearly more difficult in today’s game.
Don’t tell that to Troy University’s Defensive Ends Coach Randy Butler. Two seasons ago the Trojans defense recorded 37 sacks, third best in college football. Last fall, Troy recorded 40 sacks and finished fifth among all 120 FBS teams.
Butler has been coaching college football for 30 years, the last three at Troy. He believes that putting pressure on the passer is an essential part of an overall defensive package. His system has helped develop two talented DEs advance to the NFL, Cameron Sheffield of the Chiefs and Brandon Lang of the Chargers. Most importantly, Butler believes that designing and implementing strategic, situational pass rushes and blitz packages will provide a major defensive advantage.
AFM spoke with Coach Butler and asked him to share some of the principles that have contributed to Troy’s pass rushing superiority.
AFM: In preparing for your opponents, what do you try to learn from looking at their offense?
Butler: We want to take advantage of every tip we can get, like what we might see in a lineman’s stance. For example, we studied a tape last season and saw a right tackle whose stance almost always gave away that the play coming was going to be a pass. When we saw that, we adjusted. If we had a run play defense called and we saw the lineman come out in that particular stance, our DE would give a call to alert the other defensive linemen.
We know there are certain areas on the field where a team is more likely to come out throwing. We know when a team is usually going to be conservative when they’re facing a second and six but when they get out in the middle of the field, they’ll be a little more open. We try to study that and predict when they’re going to be throwing the football.
We’ll study the other teams’ five offensive linemen when they’re throwing the ball and we may see there’s one that has a little trouble in protection. Then, we’ll gear up a rush or a blitz to take advantage of him. Most teams put their best protectors on the back side of the QB. If the quarterback is right handed, the left guard and left tackle will be their best linemen. In that case, the right guard will be the poorest protector of the bunch. He’s in the face of the quarterback so if he gets beat, his quarterback can see the rush coming. If we see that weakness, we might take one of our DEs over that guard and let him go.
How do you decide when to step up your pass rush?
Sometimes you’re facing a team that has everything in their arsenal. They sprint out or they three-step drop. The quarterback might be in the gun or take either a one, two, three, five or seven-step drop. That week we might have to place emphasis on playing a cut block. The OL may drop back and protect by gaps. When we see on the tape they’re retreating in their stances whether we had called a rush or pass defense and they have a vertical set, we don’t use any pass rush moves or go straight to a power rush. If the lineman you’re up against is in a vertical set, we’ll just use a power rush so we really become the offensive lineman.
When you’ve got a rush or blitz called, you’re freer in your alignment so we can get by the lineman easier. But, if we’re in a run defense and an offensive lineman gets in a vertical set, we have to transition from power to speed where you have to turn and get away from the offensive lineman who is squared up. We have to work to get our pads perpendicular to his pads. If you stay squared up, the more time the quarterback will have to throw and not feel the pressure.
What mistakes do young defensive linemen make in the pass rush and how do you change their technique?
Young players often try to do too much. If they’re working on too many different moves, they’re not going to be good at anything. Often, players get so caught up in a specific move that it’s telegraphed by stuttering their feet. You become more into the move than getting by the guy and he can see it coming.
When a good mobile QB sees a defensive lineman leave his feet, he’s gone. We teach our guys to stay on the ground, never leave their feet, continue to run at the quarterback and get your hands up in the air. When you see the quarterback take his front hand off the football, the ball is coming to come out. When you see that, get your hands up, but don’t jump.
What basic rules for rushing the QB do you teach your players?
If you’re blitzing from the right side and you’re got contain on the left, whether it’s a defensive end, linebacker of defensive tackle, the quarterback will feel pressure from the blitz side and run away, so your contain must never jump inside an offensive lineman or back. You know help is coming from the other side. If you blitz on one side and lose contain away, you’re going to pay. You never, never, ever jump inside a block when you’re away from a blitz. You must build a wall to get the quarterback held up and the blitz will take care of the rest.
One of the moves we stress in teaching is that once a ball is thrown, the defensive end plants and turns. Do not look for the ball to see if the pass has been completed. You put on the brakes to turn and sprint straight back upfield in the rush lane you just left. While you’re retracing these lanes, you can look for the ball and change your pursuit angle to help out on the play. Take three or four steps in your original lane and then look for the ball.
Is your primary objective to sack the quarterback on passing downs?
Sacks are great, but quarterback knockdowns, deflections, flushes and hurries are just as important. If you get around a quarterback early and get a little bit of a rush later on, he’s always looking and he won’t set his feet as well. We want to constantly put pressure on him in every passing situation.
Is there a favorite drill you use to improve a defensive lineman’s pass rushing skills?
One of the best teaching tools for getting to the quarterback is using the hoops. I tell kids if you don’t have hoops, take a water hose, twist it into a circle and use that. Running the hoops teaches players to bend at the bending places, ankles, knees and hips. It also teaches you to lean. You learn to be low, shoulders down and turn the corner. Feet must stay tight to the hoop, toes can’t turn out and lean with your inside shoulder inside the hoop. It teaches good body control and pressure points.
How important is the get-off for a DL and how do you work on improving it?
It’s critical on every play. I don’t care if we’re in a right or left handed stance. It just has to be the best stance that gives you a chance to get off. When the ball is snapped it’s like I’m in a 40-yard dash. I’m ready to explode out of my shoes with the biggest first step I have. Turn your head, see the ball, anticipate the snap count. Sometimes I set them under a chute so they come out low. Then I put them on a stationary sled, like a five-man sled and work on flipping the hips. They stand parallel to the end dummy on the sled and club three or four times to each side of the dummy. We’re trying to teach flipping hips to get on the edge of that dummy.
What type of rushing technique do you feel works best?
We partner up, face each other and work on reach. One player might reach with his left hand for the right shoulder pad of the lineman in front of him. What that teaches is getting your pads turned. You’ve got to be perpendicular to that lineman. Reaching and opening your hips teaches that. It takes a little while but then they see it, they get it, they feel it. They feel their hips opening up and feel their pads getting perpendicular. We do that three or four times on each side. Then we flip it. We incorporate reaching, opening our hips and then we grab the back side pad and pull it which helps propel us up the field. So we reach and pull and work on arm over. Then we come back and work a club and a rip with it. We tell them it’s very elementary man-on- man. You can practice it in your dorm room or apartment at night away from the field.
What about the importance of counter moves?
Most of the time your initial move is not going to get to the quarterback because of what the offensive linemen can do with their hands, especially on the outside where they let those defensive tackles line up so deep. You must have a counter move off your first move. When our players know we’re in a rushing defense before the ball is snapped, you’ve got to know what pass rush move you’re going to use to counter. If you’re planning to club and rip, the offensive linemen are going to clamp down on that rip. You have to be ready to counter. If the rip sticks, you have to come right back with an arm over. The next move is to throw their hand down. It’s like sticking a spear in the ground to come right back with a quick arm over the top of his hand or shoulder but not over his head.
We practice that by partnering up and have the offense start backing up. The defense works the arm over move. The offensive lineman knows when he sees the arm over move coming over the top to jam the hand right into his armpit. Once they feel the jam, they convert it to a rip. It’s very simple. Off of the rip, the counter is an arm over. Off of the arm over, the counter is a rip.
We also work on a transition move where you’re half an offensive lineman and if you feel him getting heavy on one side, you stab him to that side and work a club move in that direction because he’s already heavy-up to that side. Then we’ll work on an arm over or a rip off of that counter move. We work on counter moves every day – they’re an important part of every practice.