Drills Report: Fumble, Strip and Interception Drillsby: Jeff McDonaldLinebackers Coach • Wesleyan University
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As I watched bowl games in December and January, it amazed me how many errant passes were dropped by defenders and how many lost fumbles ended up going just past or through a defender’s hands. It reminds me of the old saying, “If your defense caught all of the dropped interceptions during a season, you would lead your league in interceptions every season.”
We all work on creating turnovers during the pre-season, but during the season, it can be difficult to find time. That is why this past season we went to what we called, “The Ball Carnival” on Fridays at the beginning of our individual periods.
Ball Carnival is a 8-10 minute drill that involves the players getting in three or four lines, with one ball for each line. Every player in each line needs to catch three balls, recover three balls and strip the ball carrier three times. We have each line go on their own, with an upperclassman in charge of each line.The coach stands behind and repeats the key points for each drill while also making sure the techniques are being used correctly.
Fumble Recovery Drill
Diagram 1: Fumble Recovery Drill
Key points that we stress in the fumble recovery part of the drill (Diagram 1):
• First, bend at the ankle, knees and hips to get your body’s center of gravity lower.
• Second, scoop the ball and do not pluck it. Get your knuckles on the ground, use your hands like shovels and scoop the ball up. If you miss the ball, worst case, knock it forward. That way, with your momentum going forward, you will be able to have another chance to recover the ball. This is the correct technique, as opposed to trying to pluck the ball and taking a chance that the ball ends up behind you, opposite of your momentum.
• Third, if necessary, pull the ball into your midsection and roll on your side. Protect the tips of the football with your hands and bring your knees to your chest. Close your eyes and your mouth while squeezing the ball tightly.
Diagram 2: Interception Drill
Key points in catching the interception part of the drill (Diagram 2):
• First, see the point of the ball as you position your body to frame the ball.
• Second, depending on the situation, come back to the ball or catch the ball at its highest point. Get to the ball before an offensive player can knock it away.
• Finally, catch the ball with your thumbs together above the waist and pinkies together below the waist.
Stripping the Ball Carrier Drill
Diagram 3: Stripping the Ball Carrier Drill
Key points in stripping the ball carrier drill
• First, always use your non-ball hand to secure the tackle. Do this by bringing your arm over the top of the ball carrier’s shoulder or around his waist and grab cloth or pads. This is to prevent the ball carrier from getting away if you miss the strip.
• Second, if you see the back tip of the ball, punch it out.
• Finally, if you do not see the back tip of the ball, then RIP it out of the ball carrier’s ribcage. Strip the tips of the ball.
The lines continue until each player in each line has completed three of each. A dropped ball does not count as one in the interception part of the drill. A strip without a secure recovery does not count as a strip. A fumble that gets behind the defender does not count as a recovery.
During this time, players must remember that this is about repetition and muscle memory. Because success on defense is much more than producing or forcing fumbles and errant passes from the QB. It is about turning those opportunities into true turnovers where our defense gets off the field with our offense gaining possession.
About the Author: A frequent contributor to both American Football Monthly and Gridiron Strategies, Jeff McDonald recently completed his fifth season as linebackers coach, special teams coach, and recruiting coordinator at Wesleyan University. He previously coached at Towson, Yale, Central Connecticut State, New Hampshire, and Quincy University. Coach McDonald is a 1995 graduate of the University of South Florida.
He recently completed a four set series of DVDs on linebacker play, available at www.AFMvideos.com.