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Techniques and Drills for Pass Protection

by: Derek Moore
Offensive Line Coach, Upper Iowa University
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At Upper Iowa, our offensive linemen go out before practice and then stay after to work on proper pass protection techniques. If these drills are instilled on a daily basis, the players can work on their own technique and know what results to expect. When I was hired in January of 2006, my first priority was to have our offensive linemen dedicate themselves to fundamentals and techniques. Last year our offensive line averaged 270 pounds and two of our starters had never played O-Line in their respective careers. At the end of last season, our offense finished number one in total offense in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and 15th nationally in Division II. We gave up 29 sacks in 400 passing attempts in 2006. Prior to my hiring, the offense gave up 40 in 200 passing attempts. This improvement was made possible by a great dedication to fundamentals and technique and our three step drop passing game.

I believe there are three areas of concentration you must address when coaching pass protection. The first area of emphasis must be the feet. Regardless whether you are working pass protection or run blocking, footwork must be a priority. We start out with footwork in pre-practice. I believe in getting a lineman's feet active right away. Our belief is that you must think with your feet. I try to have our linemen read the page in front of them and not the whole book. This means if we have a 4i lined up on us at tackle, we better start thinking pinch, especially if another defender is on the line of scrimmage outside of the 4i. In turn, we put an emphasis on our post foot. Two drills we do daily to wake up our feet are the ‘Toes On the Line Drill’ and ‘Toes on the Line and Turn’drill (See Diagram 1). These two drills encourage quick feet, balance and the ability to react quickly in space.

Diagram 1: Toes on the line drill/toes on the line and turn drill

We have two sets we take for our base pass protection. The first set is the kick set which is especially used by our tackles. We set extremely vertical from the line of scrimmage. The foot we initially kick with depends on the side we are lined up on. For example, right tackles and guards kick with their right foot and just the opposite for the left side. Our kick foot must match the speed of the defender taking the outside rush. Our post or inside foot is used to push away from the line of scrimmage. We try to keep our toe pointed at the line of scrimmage for two reasons: it always helps us think about an inside counter move by the defender and it also helps us keep our shoulders square to the LOS. By doing so, this takes away the ‘two way go’ from the defender or at least helps counter the possibility of it. The second set is a snap set. This is used by our guards and centers. Our guards use this when we set on three techniques while centers use this when they set on a nose guard or a zero technique. The most distinct difference between the kick set and snap set is the depth of the initial kick. The reason we do not kick as deep is because we are expecting contact sooner.

The main drill we use for our sets is the ‘Change of Speed Drill’ (See Diagram 2). The offensive line divides into two single file lines. They gather into the line according to the side that they play on (centers switch lines). The lineman starts in an even-toed two point stance with his hands behind his back. On the cadence, the lineman kicks with the corresponding foot and strives to keep his face out of it and keep a big chest. The defender can take an inside or outside move and he can speed up or slow down his rush; the offensive lineman must match the speed or react to the defender's movement with his feet. A good tip for this drill would be to have the offensive lineman put his inside foot on a white line on the practice field. This ensures pushing off the inside foot, keeping shoulder square and prevents the lineman’s feet from coming together.

Diagram 2: Change of speed drill

The second area of concentration is the face. The face should never get involved in pass protection. This prevents us from being push-pulled by the defender. We try to do as many as possible live pass protection drills without our offensive linemen wearing their helmets. This might sound a little barbaric but one time being popped in the nose sure cures a lot of leaning with the face problems. Our face can be used as a valuable tool. The tackles try to make sure their outside eye is even with the defender's inside eye. This tends to keep us in a good relationship with an outside speed rush from a defensive end. Our guards and centers try to get more of a nose-to-nose relationship with the defender. The reason for these focal points is that we want the defender to rush through all of our body. Defensive linemen are coached to work an edge all the time. This does not allow them to get to that edge as quickly and allows us to protect against the bull rush better. The drill we use for this is called a push-push drill.

You assemble in the same lines and stance as the change of speed drill. The only difference is the defender now has one hand on the neck and the other hand on the offensive lineman. At the snap, the offensive lineman kicks accordingly and the defensive lineman pulls on the neck and pushes at the chest. This teaches the offensive lineman to keep his balance point and not get pushed back or pulled forward.

The final area of concentration is the hands. Obviously, in pass protection hand placement is crucial to win. We teach our linemen to have ‘ready hands.’ I ask them if four guys were coming after them in a back alley to kick their tails, would they keep their hands down? Therefore, we have to keep our hands ready to deliver a blow at all times. We punch straight from the chest. With all the bench pressing done in the weight room, this becomes a natural motion for all O-Linemen. We are like everyone else in regard to keeping our elbows in and thumbs up to deliver a good blow. Our aiming point with our hands is the chest plate of the defender. I tell our linemen to protect our numbers and steal theirs. This means we always want to fight for inside position. One drill we use everyday is the ‘Leaning Tower Drill’ (See Diagram 3). Four offensive linemen stand in a straight line. The live offensive lineman starts at one end posting across with his inside foot while delivering a solid blow. The four linemen lean all of their weight forward towards the offensive lineman so he must deliver a powerful blow.

Diagram 3: Leaning tower drill

In conclusion, I feel very fortunate to be part of a great program like Upper Iowa University. I work in an excellent offensive system created by our offensive coordinator Ben Morie. I am fortunate to be trusted by our head coach Mike Kroll who allows me the freedom to do my job that ensures these drills are making us a better team. Most of all, I am blessed to be able to work with offensive linemen that have dedicated themselves to becoming the best.


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